Into Occupied Territory

After our day in Adana/Mersin, we got on a flight the next morning to fly to Cyprus, or more specifically, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a self-declared state that comprises the northeastern half of the island. Northern Cyprus is only recognized by Turkey, while rest of the international community considers it an occupied territory of the Republic of Cyprus.

After centuries of Ottoman than British rule, united Cyprus gained in independence in 1960, with a constitution that designated specific administrative roles to Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Unfortunately, this unity didn’t last long. By 1963, most Turkish Cypriots had vacated their government positions in opposition to a series of amendments proposed by President Makarios. Violence erupted between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, often between former neighbors, with significant casualties on both sides.

In 1974, the military junta back in Greece supported a coup d’etat of the Greek Cypriots, which removed Makarios from office and replaced him with Nikos Sampson. Under the 1960 treaty that created Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, and Great Britain had signed on as guarantors. Using this as legitimization, Turkey invaded the island in July 1974 under the pretense of protecting the Turkish Cypriot population. The army preceded to take over roughly 37% of the island, which remains divided even today by the “Green Line,” a border that UN forces continue to patrol. In 1975, the Turkish Cypriots declared a separate state, which was rejected by the Republic of Cyprus and the United Nations.

And so, almost 40 years later, the island remains paralyzed by this separation. In the meantime, a whole generation of Cypriots has grown up in this division. While there have been decades of relative peace, Turkey still maintains a large military force in the territory. The Turkish invasion and occupation of the TRNC continue to be condemned by the UN Security Council each year.

In 2004, when Cyprus was admitted into the European Union, it did so without resolving the conflict that continues to divide the island. In the same year, Cypriots voted on the UN-proposed Annan Plan to reunite the island, which was put to the people as a referendum. Interestingly, the proposal was supported by 65% of Turkish Cypriots, while 76% of Greek Cypriots opposed the plan. As it remains, there seems to be little impetus to finally reach a solution in Cyprus, even as the division approaches its 40th anniversary.

Nevertheless, if Turkey ever wants to join the EU itself, its accession hinges on its ability to reach a solution in Cyprus. At the moment, several chapters of the accession talks are closed until a resolution is met. (This is one of the issues that we’ve been discussing in my class on Turkey and the EU.)

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We arrived in Cyprus on a beautifully clear day, and immediately drove to Famagusta,  a city on the east coast of Cyprus. After lunch (and some amazing dessert), we had some time to walk around the old part of the city.

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In the heart of Famagusta, I was surprised to find an old, gothic-style cathedral. While today it is known as the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, it was built as Saint Nicholas’s Cathedral between 1298 and 1400 A.D. by the French Lusignan dynasty, who ruled Cyprus during the Middle Ages. It was consecrated as a Catholic cathedral in 1328, then converted into a mosque after the Ottomans captured Famagusta in 1571. It remains a mosque even today––check out the inside!

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The city itself was beautiful, as well.

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However, a part of Famagusta remains abandoned to this day. Prior to 1974, the Varosha quarter of Famagusta was once the number one tourist destination in Cyprus. However, during the invasion, its primarily Greek Cypriot inhabitants fled, leaving behind their houses and extensive tourist developments. Today, no one is allowed to enter the area besides military personnel, leaving the huge hotels and apartment complexes empty.

You can only drive by the outskirts of the quarter by bus, so I wasn’t able to get too many good photos. Here are some I found online:

So eerie!

Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel, where we had the opportunity to talk to a Turkish Cypriot family whose son was a student of one of our professors. It was fascinating to hear their stories, but also heartbreaking to hear about how former neighbors could suddenly turn into such enemies.

After dinner, Alex and I went exploring around our hotel in Girne, going a walk that ended up being a 2-hour fast-walking (because we don’t walk any other way) odyssey where we managed to get lost, twice. We ended up at our hotel later absolutely exhausted.

The next morning, we decided to try at it again, and went exploring down by the harbor in Girne.

Afterwards, the group met with a representative from the EU Coordination Organization in Nicosia, the group who is working on aligning the laws of the TRNC with EU acquis––an interesting arrangement, considering that the EU officially doesn’t recognize the TRNC.

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The man who talked to us actually was trained and educated as an attorney in England, before he moved to Northern Cyprus to work as a law professor. Now, his specialty is intellectual property law, where his task is to comb through old laws (many dating back to the British colonial period) and make recommendations about how to bring them up to match EU acquis.

After our discussion, we then had the opportunity to cross the Green Line itself. Since the border opened up in 2004, movement between the two sides of the island is relatively easy––although I had to show my passport and get a stamp before crossing through.

(I edited out my personal information.)

(I edited out my personal information.)

Once we passed through to the Republic of Cyprus, suddenly we were inundated with all the symbols of Western consumerism: Starbucks, McDonald’s, Coldstone, Topshop. Instead of Turkish, many signs were in Greek in addition to English. The streets were packed with all kinds of shoppers––since the borders opened in 2004, many Turkish and Greek Cypriots regularly cross the borders to go shopping on the other side.

At this point, I have a confession to make. After months of Turkish food, there was nothing that sounded better than some McDonald’s fries. And so, Alex, Amanda, and I caved and went to McDonald’s for lunch.

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Since we had already made the jump, we figured that we might as well finish off our meal allowance with Starbucks. (In Turkey, most of the coffee we drink is the powdered Nescafé stuff, so it’s hard to find some normal brewed coffee.)

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There’s something comforting about the fact that every Starbucks you go to looks exactly the same, down to the comfy arm chairs and music soundtrack.

And then to top it off, we headed back to the McDonald’s to get some McFlurries for dessert.

Feeling somewhat sick, we spent the rest of our time in the RoC walking around the streets and looking into all the shops. But after 4 months on the Turkish Lira, I’m fairly stingy on my purchases when it comes to how expensive things are on the euro––next semester in Italy is going to be a rude awakening having to pay for everything in euros.

We headed back over to the other side of the border to meet up with the group, then took a bus ride over to Bellapais, a small village in Northern Cyprus. The village is home to the site of the Bellapais Abbey, built by the French, that has a long view down to the Mediterranean Sea.

After that, we headed to the airport for our flight back to Antalya. We happened to be in the airport at the same time the Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş soccer game was going on, so everyone in the airport was glued to the two televisions that were showing the game. So much so, in fact, that the airport employees were so involved in the game that someone neglected to display our flight on the screens until 10 minutes before our flight was scheduled to leave.

With a short flight over the Mediterranean, we were soon on the bus ride home to Alanya, getting ready for our final stretch here in Turkey.

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  1. Pingback: Perché no? | To Infinity and Abroad

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