A dozen meters marks the fate of any newborn in Nicosia. If you do it on the Turkish Cypriot side, the horizon of your life will be limited to a piece of land of a state only recognized by Turkey. If you do it from the other side, you will be a member of the European Union and free to travel all over the world. Nicosia is a 21st century anomaly. The main Cypriot city is the last divided capital of Europe. Since 1974, a strip of several meters has been cracking the space between two territories that live on their backs and that constitute the best example of the walls that the Pope asked during his visit – only in the Greek Cypriot part, the others lamented – that they be demolished forever. Despite repeated attempts at unification and the holding of a referendum to end the division was a condition for Cyprus’ entry into the European Union in 2004, the two territories are increasingly estranged.
A control in the heart of the city center, very similar to those checkpoinThe Berliners who separated the two Germanies for two decades underlines this gap. Police and metal fences surround a strip of land and a group of abandoned houses that constitute the open wound of the last frontier of Europe. On the other side of control lies the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, occupied in 1974 by Turkey – and recognized only by Ankara – after the coup orchestrated by a Greek military junta that removed the legitimate government of Cyprus. To access you must show a negative covid test and a passport. Just what a group of women does that transports all kinds of merchandise in giant garbage bags. “Forbidden to pass pirate objects”, reads a sign at the entrance preventing smuggling.
The noon prayer from a minaret of the mosque built next to the passport control receives the visitor from the small republic. Here begins another country, another language (they speak Turkish), another culture and other major religions (80%). A strategic place and periodically invaded by its neighbors for centuries. “We are different. We always were, also before the separation. And we don’t want to be Greek Cypriots. Just citizens of the European Union ”, says Professor Mete Hatay sitting on the terrace of an old downtown bookstore. “Pope? It is very good that you have come and talk about walls. But he has only opened one eye to see this country. He has not talked about us and he has not seen this part either. And there are Christians here too, you know? ”Hatay laments.
Some 300,000 people officially live in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – what the UN defines as an “illegal entity”, of which only about 110,000 have double passports. The rest will only be able to set foot on this piece of territory to the north of the island and travel to Turkey to study, do tourism or work. The authorities, aware of the situation, employ some 76,000 civil servants, which in practice means that there is an average public salary in each family.
In 2004, a few days before Cyprus joined the EU, a referendum was held on both sides of the fence (known as the green line, which is about 160 kilometers long). The result had to be positive in both countries for it to be binding. The Turkish side voted in favor of unification (contradicting the indication of its president). But the Greek rejected it, thus liquidating the dreams of a population locked up for 30 years.
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The problem, they said, was that the return of all Greek Cypriots expelled from the north in 1974 was not guaranteed. In 2015 the European Union piloted another failed attempt at reunification. All that accentuated the distance and rancor even more. Also the idea, increasingly nationalist and promoted by the current Government of Ersin Tatar, that the struggle must be directed towards recognition as a state and not towards being reunited in the other piece of Cyprus. The problem, explains Hatay, is that to differentiate themselves from the Greek brothers they amplified their Turkish side and today their identity has been even more diluted.
The relationship with Turkey is ambiguous. It is the only way out for many, but most do not share the cultural and religious inclinations of the Executive of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “This is not a religious state. And here we do not like totalitarianism. We don’t subscribe to many of those ideas, ”says Ahmet, who owns one of the jewelers at the entrance to the Turkish side. Despite this, the main support they have right now to become an independent and recognized state is the boost that Erdogan has promised to give. But the European Union, through the mouth of the president of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen, has already warned that it will not allow it.
The Pontiff: “Migration is the war of our days”
Pope Francis heard yesterday in Cyprus the testimonies of migrants arriving in that country from the European Union (EU), the one that receives more refugees compared to its population. The Pontiff assured that “they are not outsiders, they are citizens” and that the drama of migration “is the war” of our days.
In this act with which Francis closes his two-day visit to Cyprus, the Pope also listened to the words of several young people arriving from Sri Lanka, Cameroon, Iraq and Congo while several dozens of migrants crowded outside the church. The place was also attended by 12 refugees of different nationalities who will travel to Rome at the will of the Pope. The ceremony was held in the Church of Santa Cruz, which is located right on the edge of the so-called blue line, where the United Nations blue helmets are located.
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