Nicosia. The Divided City

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Although there were a great number of painted churches awaiting us in the mountains of Troodos, it is not every day that one can see an Orthodox christening, so we took our leave saying we would come back later, and went for a stroll along the valley. At eleven o’clock we went back into the church.

In the evening, I rang Diana and Kypros. We agreed to meet the following day in their workshop in Nicosia, next to the Byzantine Museum. They would take us to see the icons they had restored and in the afternoon they would show us the district next to Famagusta Gate, which is one of the “in” places of Nicosia. There, in Panagia Chrysaliniotissa Church, we would pick up her father and we would have supper at home. Elenitsa, Diana’s mother, was out of the city visiting her sister, but was due to come back the following day.



The workshop occupied a house with a stone façade and had a cross on the lintel. In the hall, there was a life-size statue, made in fibreglass, which represented a young man in uniform, holding a Sten automatic rifle in his right hand while his left hand was indicating an undetermined point.

“I was born in Australia.” Diana told us, “I don’t know if I told you that, I’m the granddaughter of Cypriot emigrants. In 1989, my father sold off everything he had and decided to come back. I was grown up by then, but the stories that my grandparents told me in Queensland about their youth in Cyprus had fed my fantasies as a little girl.”

“Who is that?” I asked.

Kypros’ expression became hard. His eyes searched mine and transmitted something special to me. Staring at the photograph, he answered:

“It’s my Uncle Andreas, who was born in Agios Minas, near Limassol. He was the first person to be hung by the British, together with his friend Michael Karaolis. The execution took place in the early hours of the 10th of May 1956. I accepted the assignment to restore the place of the gallows.”

On the table, there was a book. On the cover, there was the photograph of a cemetery crossed with barbed wire. In it, there were open tombs, empty graves and broken crosses.

“Just to try and find a ring or a gold tooth? What class of human being is capable of doing this?” Diana asked with a bitter voice.

“Where are these photographs from?” I asked.

“From the area occupied by the Turks” She answered.

In the studio, the statue of another young warrior was lying on top of the table. It was weather beaten. I asked Diana for some rubber gloves and the two of us started to scrub it firmly with brushes. It was all I was able to do to express my solidarity.

We worked until somebody said that it was time to have something to eat. We washed our hands and went out for a kebab with pita bread, on the way to the Episcopal Museum. There, we stopped before the Paleochristian mosaics in Kankaria with particular interest. They had been plundered from the occupied zone and recovered after long legal battles and had been restored by our friends.

The four of us went for a stroll in the area near Famagusta Gate. At the end of each street, we found the inevitable cement and wooden barricades, reinforced with oil drums, with posters forbidding entry written in Greek and English. There were barriers made of sacks full of earth that left gaps for installing machine guns. Everything gave the impression that it was provisional, that it was clear that the barricades had been put up to staunch a wound and that later… one would see.

We decided not to talk about politics during supper, but as Christiana, a friend of the family, showed interest in talking to us, we agreed to meet her the following morning in the Folklore Museum, where she worked. Christiana was with Eleni, the person in charge, not much older than her.

“Why did you vote no in 2004?” I asked.

“That decision was not easy. The night before I had nightmares. The Turkish aeroplanes continually violated our airspace. If a Greek aeroplane did it, they would shoot it down. Kofi Annan’s plan was in the strategic interests of Washington, London and Ankara, but not ours. That is why 75% of us voted against it.”

“How happy I am to be Turkish!” a large hoarding declared as soon as we got on to the motorway that led to Kyrenia, in the occupied zone, where we stopped to have lunch in the harbour. While we were waiting, we started to chat with someone selling trips in a schooner, who answered to the name of Mehmet and who had been born in Turkey, near the border with Syria.

“We are ready to take control of the south of the island in 10 minutes” he boasted. “Turkey doesn’t have aircraft carriers like the USA and therefore it needs Cyprus. Ali Talat, our Cypriot President, studied in Turkey and then in the United Kingdom. He is intelligent, but he cannot do anything that Ankara doesn’t authorise. He proposes doing this or that and then Erdogan or the Turkish army stop him from doing it.”

The receptionist of our hotel in Salamina was a son of Kurds. His parents had come from Turkey to Cyprus.

“These images were taken eight months ago in Kurdistan. Look what the two policemen do to this child” he indicated, turning the screen so that we could see it.”They twist his arm and break it, just like that”. He opened another video. In it, a group of police drove their truncheons into the body of a man until they pulled him down. “Who on earth is capable of doing this?” “Only beasts are capable of it.”

We spent the morning visiting old Famagusta. The entire perimeter within the city walls is dedicated to tourism. It is hardly surprising; they have many Gothic churches in ruins or converted into mosques, palm trees grow everywhere, the houses are low and painted in pale, cheerful colours.

The Citadel, which the Turkish army had recently abandoned, is known as Othello’s Tower. It was given its name by the British, because Shakespeare’s play is set in Famagusta. The interior, the Gothic rooms and the casemate are inhabited by pigeons; the floors are full of ammunition. On the other side of the walls, the Turkish patrol boats boasted the bright red flag with its half moon.



Larnaca Airport is small and you have to share a table. When I got to the table with our food, Nicolás was talking to someone.

“Listen Marina, listen to what he’s saying!” Nicolás said laughing. “ He is Robert Freeman and served for three years during the Cyprus war. He has been to Limassol more than 20 times, where he has a rented house with an option to buy”.
“Heroes to some, terrorists to others, these boys fought for their homeland, shit!” the man admitted, referring to the Cypriot patriots.



My body shuddered in Kypros’ embrace, lying in my studio in Barcelona. I felt the warmth of his breath on my neck, like a blast of incense. A penetrating odour of burnt wax enveloped me as if I were in a place of worship and it mixed with his, which was so familiar to me.

That odour had surprised me the day we energetically brushed the fibreglass sculpture. An odour that went well with turpentine and varnish. My hands caressed his short hair and his two-day stubble. The fire of his eyes penetrated me with complete voluptuousness.

On turning round, I tripped over tins of all sizes. One of them, on tipping over, started to pour out great quantities of red paint, viscous and fluid as if it were blood, which soon flooded the whole room. On the floor there was a simple wooden catafalque, on which the body of Pater Dionisos lay on a large purple cloth,. “All dead, all dead!” he repeated insistently…..

I was no longer with Nicolás and I was having these kinds of dream again. Rather like Cyprus, separated but communicated. It was best this way.

With Georgios Papandreu as the winner of the Greek elections, the door to the eventual acceptance of Turkey into the EC once again opens. And this will not happen without dealing with the theme of the territorial waters of the Aegean and the question of Cyprus. This time, the Greek Cypriots could accept a confederation if the island were demilitarised and the path were paved to receive compensation.

The Cyprus business is like a game of poker with several players. Turkey will be a great country if it follows the right path, but it needs time. It has been at the gates of our continent for ten centuries without being able to get in and will still have to wait a little more. It is not a good idea for Europe to surround itself with walls to contain Islam.

© JC Roca Sans 2009

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NICOSIA. The Divided City


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