The UN ‘Buffer Zone‘ that divides Nicosia in Cyprus is the ultimate symbol of a divided country. Keeping apart Turkish Cypriots in the north and Greek Cypriots in the south the line continues to remind the country of a turbulent past.
The zone stretches for more than 112 miles across the Mediterranean island and creates a partition that has been in place since 1974 following the invasion by Turkish forces in response to a Greek Cypriot coup – the purpose of the zone is to keep the opposing forces apart.
Also known as the ‘Green Line‘ – a name derived when the cease fire came into place and Major General Peter Young, a British Commander at the time, drew a line down the map to mark the cease fire line with, literally, a green crayon.
It marks the Southern most point across the island that Turkish troops occupied during the invasion and has only recently being opened to allow crossing over to the opposite sides. A move that has already seen an increase in revenue and helped to bring about some rejuvenation to a much needed part of the country.
The Buffer Zone, which can vary in width between many hundreds of metres in some areas to a little over 3 metres at its most narrow point in the capital Nicosia is patrolled regularly by the United Nations troops based on the island. Patrolling, more recently unarmed, either on foot, bicycle or in 4×4 vehicles and wearing their signature pale blue berets they continue to provide maintenance and restoration to the peace process.
The area within the Capital itself gives a glimpse of a life that seems suspended in time following the intervention. From the fighting and the subsequent decay from years of neglect the buildings are in various states of disrepair and dilapidation but, hidden away in the rubble or lying unseen in a cool, darkened room within a house or building can often be found small glimpses of the life that what was there before.
Normal, everyday items that at any other time would attract little attention suddenly come to life as you consider that many of them have remained untouched since 1974 and together create a remarkable living history of not only the city but of Cyprus.
Ink bottles – with ink still inside, slippers, books, pictures, slides from a photography shop, a book showing the city municipality – Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders together with the Mayor, an old piano that still has some of the strings attached inside and able to make, albeit a little out of tune, a rough note and even a framed picture of the footballer George Best!
Pictures from a mortuary or maybe a doctors’ office show a deceased man, a headshot taken prior to an autopsy or maybe for a Record of Death? Many answers will never be found but collectively they offer an interesting insight into the local history.
The Toyota Corolla’s that remain in a car showroom, driven from Famagusta to Nicosia in 1974 and in one example, with only 32 miles on the clock, remain in almost new condition – almost – but even inside when you sit in the soft comfortable leather seats there still remains that reassuring ‘new car’ smell of leather.
Despite the watchtowers and observation posts surrounded with barbed wire, defensive positions, sandbags and painted barrels to mark territory and used by both sides to show their presence and offering a degree of intimidation to each side and the bored soldiers facing each other the recent opening of the crossing points brings greater wealth to the surrounding area.
Maybe this is the first tentative step to reuniting a country that has for so long been at odds with itself – a country living apart, together.
View my latest Photofilm from inside the UN Buffer Zone HERE