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The only divided capital

November 16, 2009

Greek salad, souvlaki, tasisiki, post card pristine beaches…


Agia Napa beach

All of the above allude to Greece, correct? Correct. However, they are also some of the characteristics that Cyprus shares with Greece. How was it, after all, that the Greek were able to enroot their culture in Cyprus, still evident in present days?

Contrary to what many think, Greek influence in Cyprus does not come from colonization, but rather from trade. The Greek occupation initiated in 1500 A.C., which was just one of many: Romans, Phoenicians, Greek, Syrian, Persian, Egyptian, Arabs, Turks…

Despite the coming and going of so many civilizations, it was the Greek and the Turks who settled permanently in the island, keeping alive the bonds to their countries of origin.

In the midst of so many occupations, there had to be a European one at some point! In 1914, with Turkey’s cooperation with Germany, Great Britain incorporated Cyprus, which later officially became a British colony in 1925. As part of this “deal” – Greek Cypriots were recruited alongside British troops.

It was a harsh transition for the Cypriots… With Greece and Turkey in a tug of war, the USA interfered. So in the 1950´s an agreement was established: Cyprus would be independent and united. It wasn’t that easy. There was and still is a huge portion of the Greek community who wants to be part of Greece. The Turkish part was not too fond of that idea…

With recurring conflicts, including Turkey’s military invasion, the UN Security Council sent peacekeeping troops in 1964 and has been there ever since.

With that invasion, Nicosia, the country’s capital, was divided in two. It is the only divided capital in the world. Around 140,000 Greek Cypriots, almost one quarter of the country, abandoned their lives and left for the South.


check point in Nicosia

Around twenty years later, slowly but surely, the Republic of Cyprus was able to rebuild their economy, until they achieved the standards to become part of the European Union – but only the Greek side.

view of turkish side

view of the Turkish side from the Greek side

Well aware that not only the currency would change, but most importantly the economy as a whole, however, in fear of another Turkish attack, they were desperate to become part of the EU. The EU was synonymous to security. Nowadays, they feel safe, but live with an inflation that changed the lives of many; and surely is a subject for the long afternoon talks while playing backgammon and sipping large glasses of frappes – iced coffee with cream and/or milk.

The green line still separates the North (of Turkish influence) to the South (of Greek influence), and both parts have never really reached an agreement. Some “special conditions” were imposed by the European Union to the Turkish part: they cannot control or even interfere with the border and they cannot use their passports around the EU.


the border

One day a re-unification might occur. Or so believe the leftists, because the rightists refuse to even set foot on the Turkish side. They claim that crossing a border while having to show their passports in their own country would mean to succumb to the Turkish Cypriot mentality and would thus be losing their patriotic pride for the Greek Cypriot motherland.

Ok, enough of history…

All of this historic rambling was simply to tell that Greek is spoken in Cyprus however, English is widely spoken as well. In the largest cities: Nicosia, Limassol and Larnaca, almost everyone speaks English. In the company I worked in Larnaca the business language is English, but the “pleasure” one is Greek, of course, so for eight hours a day I was phonetically surrounded by Greek. Now, if you’re thinking I picked up some of it, not quite. To truly learn Greek, an intensive language course is needed. I did learn the alphabet, which my Calculus classes helped a bit, you know – solving equations with alpha, beta, pi, epsilon… and a few words – the basics… good morning (kalimera), please (parakalo), thank you (efharisto)…

During most of my days I listen to Greek but hardly speak (anything). But all this silence was broken when I went to Nicosia to meet up with my dear friend Nicolina (believe it or not I knew someone from Cyprus before moving there).


streets of Nicosia

Hmmm, does the prefix ‘Nico’ mean something in Greek? Nicolina. Nicosia.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2009 2:49 pm

    Interesting and good to read something off the track. Cyprus used to be one of the places to go but it hasn’t been written about for a while, at least in the magazines I read.
    Looks pretty laid back and relaxed as well.

  2. November 17, 2009 1:40 am

    It sounds SO interesting, and trust the British to have invaded/colonised/etc at some point…

    I was across the waters from there, in the greek islands, a few months ago. And I remember chatting to a Cyprian waiter, who was from Limassol but escaped there every summer to live his dream, running a bar on the sea front in Naxos, Greece!

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