Nicosia, Cyprus: Europe’s last divided capital

Nicosia: Europe’s last divided capital

I’ve been living in this city for 17 years now. To tell you the truth, it’s far from the most beautiful and comfortable city to live in.

Yes, it’s the hottest in Cyprus (in summer the average temperature is 5-7 degrees higher than in the seaside towns and 10 degrees higher than in the mountains). Yes, it has the highest concentration of dust and strongest air pollution, so hypothetically we live a year less than the residents of other cities of Cyprus (study). Yes, there is no sea in Nicosia.

But I love it anyway.

It’s so different and unlike any other city in the world.

The old city inside the Venetian walls is a world in miniature. There are modern stores and dilapidated buildings left untouched from the war in 1974, bright playgrounds and eerie streets – ghettos, where immigrants from India, Pakistan, SEA, Arab countries and Eastern Europe live.

Cozy coffee shops with huge couches, books, and the aroma of coffee, hipster restaurants with chia yogurt, quinoa salad, ravioli in cuttlefish sepia sauce, and, two meters away, the time-sagging kiosk of a grandfather cobbler, sitting on his decrepit chair from morning to night trying to earn a raise on his meager pension.

There are brand-name stores and, just down the alley, stores of immigrants from Syria, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, where you can buy inexpensive basmati, coconut oil, pomegranate juice, and spices. Here you can solve many problems of emigrant life: find a room in an apartment, send money back home, get a haircut from a salesman – barber at the same time behind the curtain, eat a portion of noodles, talk “about life”.

The old city is such a quintessence of smells, tastes, colors and times that every walk through its narrow streets is a little trip to another country.

The center of Nicosia, the ancient part of the city inside the Venetian walls, is the least prestigious area to live or invest in real estate. Here, historic buildings are juxtaposed with dilapidated buildings and trendy cafes and stores with creepy entrances without doors or lights, where economic immigrants are lodged. The reason for this is the border with the occupied territories, which runs right through the center of the city.

Nicosia has been the capital of Cyprus since the 10th century AD.

Now it is the most remote southeastern European capital. This city is a curious and fascinating mixture of vibrant street life, the ongoing confrontation between North and South and a rich history enclosed within the snowflake-shaped walls built by the Venetians in the Middle Ages, which have become a symbol of the city.

Each “prong” of the snowflake is a bastion. In total, there are 11 of them. “Dead zone” and the border with the occupied territories runs approximately along the center of the city and divides it into two unequal parts: 5 bastions are in the Republic of Cyprus and 6 are in the occupied territories.

This is how the walls look like now.

Despite its rustic appearance and unrepresentative buildings, Nicosia is the capital of a European country.

Here are the headquarters of Cypriot banks and are based regional offices of the world’s largest companies, investment firms, oil and gas companies, the headquarters of Wargaming is a futuristic building, the first of its kind in the capital, and is now a local landmark

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The city’s population is 336,000.

The Cypriot capital is the wealthiest city in the Eastern Mediterranean per capita. You can’t tell from the looks of it :) but in 2018, Nicosia ranked 32nd in the world’s richest cities by relative purchasing power.

80/20

You can’t talk about Cyprus without touching the history of this long-suffering land and the centuries-long confrontation between its inhabitants.

The barbed wire in the center of the city, the concrete barricades, the jeeps of UN peacekeepers, the border towers, the check points between the North and the South: this is our daily reality.

I am a descendant of the refugees from Western Armenia who miraculously survived in 1915.

I grew up with Armenian history books and from my childhood I was prejudiced against everything Turkish, from goods to people. As a matter of principle I didn’t buy Turkish goods and in Russia in the 90s it was hard to do so as almost everything, from school exercise books, chewing gum, food, to clothes and furniture was imported from Turkey. I didn’t watch Turkish films and I avoided listening to music. I switched the radio if I heard Tarkan. Maybe it was youthful maximalism, but there are good reasons for that.

My attitude – not to Turkey in general, but to individuals – changed for the better when I moved to Cyprus, when I met Turkish Cypriots.

When I was in graduate school, I had a classmate, Hatice, who is beautiful and intelligent, and we are still friends to this day. Her parents are wonderfully kind people and when I go to their house I feel like I’m at my in-laws’ house. More than once I have been helped by Turkish Cypriots on the roads.

I had many conversations with Cypriot Turks during my travels in the North. Those over 50 can still remember Greek and can hold a conversation on everyday topics. They are kind, helpful people who will never refuse to help and will drop their business to show you the way if you get lost in a remote village without signposts.

Our cell phone service in the occupied North, for obvious reasons, does not work (“us” and “them” have no diplomatic or any other ties, respectively, no roaming arrangements between mobile operators).

So if you do not have a navigator that works offline, all hope for paper maps – or kind people. And there are a lot of them there.

It is noteworthy that the Turkish Cypriots do not call Greek Cypriots in any other way, but only “Christians”, which speaks in favor of the theory about the Islamization of the Christian population of Cyprus during the Ottoman Empire and the common roots of the natives of the island.

By the way, the Turkish Cypriots do not speak well of their mother Turkey and many of them would prefer that this conflict did not exist, but that there be a united Republic of Cyprus, a member of the EU, where all citizens have equal rights.

The theory of common ancestry of Cypriots is supported by DNA tests: thus, the DNA of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots is the closest of all possible variants. The Greek Cypriot DNA has far fewer alleles with the mainland and island Greeks, and the Turkish Cypriot DNA has little in common with the Turks from continental Turkey.

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Approximately 20% of the population of Cyprus (the island, not the Republic of Cyprus) are Cypriot Turks.

Some historians claim that the Turkish Cypriots were Greek Cypriot converts to Islam who were too poor to pay the Ottoman “religious tribute” imposed on Christians under the Ottoman Empire.

Cyprus was a Turkish vilayet (province) for three long centuries, from 1571 to 1878.

Turkish Cypriots who lived in Cyprus before 1974, had Cypriot (that is, European) passports and enjoy all the benefits available to citizens of Cyprus, fly to Europe through Cyprus airports, receive here in the South, the medical care.

After the 1974 war, all the stores, restaurants and hotels in the occupied territories were taken over by a few families who came from Turkey, and the Turkish Cypriots were left virtually powerless in a country that was supposedly created for their security.

End of Ottoman rule, independence, coup d’état

After the Russo-Turkish War in 1878, Cyprus became a British colony by decision of the parties at the Berlin Congress, although de jure it remained part of the Ottoman Empire until World War I. Turkey signed an agreement with Great Britain in exchange for guarantees that the British would use the island as a base of defense for Turkey against possible aggression by the Russian Empire.

During World War II, Cypriots fought on the side of the Allies in the British army – and they mostly ended up in hot places like Libya, Ethiopia and Egypt. Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960.

As early as 1964-1967, there were outbreaks of inter-ethnic strife between Turks and Greeks, and the situation on the island was quite tense. By the early 1970s, some Greek Cypriots (“right-wingers”) were imbued with the ideas of the underground organization EOKA B (there was also the first, EOKA A) and demanded the annexation of Cyprus to Greece (enosis).

In July 1974, with the support of the Greek junta (“black colonels”), the president of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, was removed from power and control of the island passed to the “right-wing” group.

To protect its population, Turkey deployed troops so bravely that in a few days they managed to take 38% of the island. The Turkish army was stopped just in the middle of the Cypriot capital and the demarcation line now runs where the front line was and the fighting took place.

Did the Turkish population in Cyprus face any real danger? Was the introduction of troops and military action by Turkey justified, or did official Ankara simply use the opportunity to try to regain strategically important territories?

To this day, this question remains one of the most difficult to solve the Cyprus problem, which has been the focus of struggles by local politicians, supported by the EU and the UN, for the past ten years.

Yes, admittedly, Turkey’s deployment of troops to protect its population was justified. The Turkish population was already living in reservations and ghettos in the cities before these events. The Turkish Cypriots did not have equal access to education as the Greek Cypriots, they had no presence in government….

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My Greek Cypriot acquaintances, who lived at that time, say that the Turkish Cypriots were “second class citizens” and were treated like African Americans in America in the 1920s.

During the events described – the 1974 war – when “brother against brother” and even members of the same family from different political parties fought among themselves, the Turkish Cypriots would have been almost completely exterminated by “right-wing” groups who demanded “cleansing the Greek land of foreigners” and the annexation of Cyprus to Greece.

So a lot of blame for what happened (war and subsequent annexation of 38% of the island) lies with the Greek Cypriots – something, however, school textbooks in Greek Cypriot schools remain silent to this day, describing Turkey as the aggressor that invaded Cyprus without reason.

Was the further advance of Turkish troops into the interior of the island, the bombing, the hostilities, the killings, the taking of prisoners legitimate? The answer is unequivocal, but, as they say, à la guerre comme à la guerre – at war, as at war.

Alas, Turkey was given an excuse to invade, and it did not fail to take advantage of it.

A clear example when the disunity between the political parties and the differences between the Cypriot Right and Left led to disastrous consequences for the country

Cyprus after 1974

Cyprus lost 6/10 of its territory as a result of the Turkish invasion. The best resorts and idyllic beaches with white “powdery” sand and turquoise water remained in the occupied territories. About 300,000 people left their homes and became refugees overnight (which is almost half the population of the country – imagine the scale of the disaster!). To this day, more than 1000 Greek Cypriots and about 500 Turkish Cypriots are still missing.

In the first months and even years, Cypriots who had lost their homes lived in tent cities attached to churches and monasteries. The government of “Greek” Cyprus began building social housing within a year after the Turkish invasion, and within 5-7 years the basic needs for refugee housing were covered.

In the south – Limassol, Larnaca, villages near Paphos – there were also compact settlements of Turkish Cypriots. According to various estimates, about 50,000 people were forced to flee from the South to the North, also losing all their property.

The “Turkish” Cypriot government settled them in the homes of the Greek Cypriots who had fled to the South.

The question of land and property left on the “other” side is to this day one of the most difficult debates on the Cyprus problem. It is obvious that neither side will return land and property to the refugees, so the issue of compensation is being considered, and the whole redistribution and amounts is a Gordian knot in an already complicated issue.

In 1983, the Turkish sector proclaimed itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized by no one but Turkey.

In diplomacy, there are four conditions for the official recognition of a state: a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the ability to conduct full relations with other states.

The self-proclaimed Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus had a territory, a government and a huge ambition, behind which, of course, Turkey stood. To strengthen its position, Turkey decided to artificially create a population by bringing to Cyprus, so to speak, “Anatolian shepherds” – villagers from central and eastern Turkey. The repercussions of this forced displacement of peoples are still evident today. The Turkish Cypriots are secular and liberal. The demographic imbalance forces them to live according to externally imposed laws, from schools to religion, parliament and government.

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The artificially created population has not advanced the issue of recognition one bit and has only further complicated the problem. Naturally, the Republic of Cyprus refuses to recognize Turks as its citizens and to issue them passports. And what about the children of mixed marriages when one of the parents is a Cypriot Turkish and, therefore, a Cypriot and European citizen, and the other is an occupant Turkish who “came from Turkey”? Dilemma.

For decades after the war no one wanted to invest in the central part of Nicosia, and it gradually fell into decay. Now only the poorest residents of Nicosia settle there, the vast majority are foreigners from the third world.

In Nicosia the farther from the center, the more prestigious the area. However, it is uncomfortable to live at the very outskirts: there are no trees and parks, infrastructure (stores, pharmacies, schools, gas stations) is not developed. In summer, the landscape in this area, with its resemblance to the Martian desert, combined with the heat and dust, makes the inhabitants inevitably bored.

The best areas of Nicosia are Engomi, Agios Andreas, Agios Homologites, Agios Pavlos, Makedonitissa, parts of Aglantzha and Strovolos, Lakatamia, Latcha.

Here are the villas of the wealthy immersed in the greenery. The middle class prefers simple houses or townhouses – houses with a common wall with neighbors. Many live in apartments. Because of the high seismic hazard in Cyprus 20 years ago stopped building houses higher than three floors, so all new residential buildings in Cyprus are small apartments (no more than 9-12 apartments).

However, because of the same building boom (read: greed for profits in an effort to grab their share of the pie from the “citizenship for investment” program) the Limassol epidemic has spread to Nicosia – the fashion for skyscrapers, and the first of them is already being built in the city center.

There are embassies and consulates of many countries in Nicosia, there are theaters, museums and concert halls, periodic cultural and sporting events, there are several English schools, one French, as well as colleges and universities.

Apartments start at 70-80,000 euros (studio or one-bedroom apartment in an older building). A new one-bedroom apartment will cost at least 100,000 – 120,000 euros, an apartment with two to three bedrooms – from 130,000 euros to 300 – 500,000 euros, depending on the area.

The cost of houses starts at about 120,000 euros – it will not be a new house, requiring major repairs and is located in an area populated by immigrants. Something more decent will cost from 220 – 250 000 euros; the upper limit is not – in connection with the construction boom, real estate prices in Cyprus rushes into infinity.

Apartment in the center of Nicosia (a quiet green aristocratic “area of Agios Andreas) costs about 1.5 million euros, a house in the area would cost 3-4 million euros – almost as in Nice.

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The consequences of the crisis and Khamsin

Nicosia is still feeling the effects of the financial crisis that shook the island in 2013, when the island’s second largest bank, LaikiBank, went bankrupt and depositors of the largest bank, BankofCyprus, lost some of their deposits due to the so-called “haircut” demanded by the “troika” of euro creditors.

Reminders of these times are left in the city in the remains of unfinished buildings, empty lines of stores in the dusty windows of which are hung banned in the sun banners “for sale / for rent”. During the years of crisis, the Russian-speaking community of the capital has thinned – many have moved to Limassol because it was easier to find work there.

The biggest disadvantage of Nicosia is the lack of sea.

The capital is located in the center of the island. In ancient times, this was reasonable: the location of Nicosia provided protection from the raids of pirates, Arab and Ottoman conquerors, but now it is a drawback: the road from the city to the nearest beach will take about 40 -50 minutes. Therefore, most expats moving to Cyprus, choose the coast.

And in Nicosia there are also hamsin (literally – 50 days in Arabic, the name of the dust storms ). Between February and April our city looks like this.

Dust (microscopic particles of sand) periodically visits the island after the dust storms in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Due to Cyprus’ position at the crossroads, it reaches here alternately from the two continents. And it happens quite often.

During the period from February to April there is almost always a mist over the city, which sometimes turns into a thick veil, and then it’s better not to go out unnecessarily, in your apartment and car to turn on air conditioning to filter the air, more often to make a wet cleaning and humbly wait when, finally, the air is clean again, and the sky – blue.

Usually after a dust storm comes cold and rain, and after that everything turns brown or yellow, depending on the origin of the dust: African – red, Arabian – yellow.

Climate

Nicosia has the most “continental” climate on the island – summer is hotter than the coast and winter is much colder. The average daytime summer temperature is around +37, but for some weeks in July and August it can be closer to +40-42. In my memory, the absolute temperature record was +45.8 on August 1, 2010. Inexpressible sensations from a trip in the car parked in the sun :)

In winter on sunny days the temperature reaches +18 +25, at night – about +10, but sometimes it’s around zero. And then there is a fierce cold in our houses, and our foreigner friends ask us: “you are Russian, why are you cold?”

The summer in Cyprus is very dry, it almost never rains, except in the mountains near the dams and waterfalls, where we go to get some air.

Green Cyprus

In the next article I will tell you about the cost of living in Nicosia, rental prices, salary levels and other vital issues. Stay tuned :)

Photos: Pixabay, Cyprus from air , Manos Botrini, VK, Cyprusisland.net

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