Nicosia, known as Lefkosia, is located not far from fabulous beaches. However, before we reach them, we collide with the reality of a city marked by international conflict. Stepping out into its streets, we are greeted by barbed wire, armed soldiers, guard towers and a no-photography zone. All this is “dressed” in murals that remind us of distant but still living events. Cyprus is divided into two separate states – Southern Cyprus and Northern Cyprus. The former is Greek Cyprus – a member of the European Union, while Northern Cyprus belongs to Turkey – an internationally unrecognized state. Its full name is Kuzey Kıbrıs Türk Cumhuriyeti.

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Nicosia – the landmark 1970s. Xx century

To be able to understand the backstory of the conflict, it is necessary to move back in time. By the 1960s. In the 1970s, the island, which was under British rule, was inhabited by Greeks and Turks. Everything changed on August 14, 1974, when the coup in Cyprus took place. The troops of mainland Turkey bombed Nicosia. At that time, many residents were killed, the city was taken over by the Turkish army. The failure to reach an agreement between the authorities of the two parts of Cyprus resulted in half of Nicosia and border towns such as Famagusta and Varosha officially becoming territory belonging to the Republic of Northern Cyprus, and the island was divided by the so-called “Northern Cyprus”. Green Line, monitored by the United Nations.

Since then, Nicosia has been the only capital in the world divided between two countries dominated by two completely different cultures. After the painful events, residents in the south of the city were not given the opportunity to return to their old homes and their old lives – moreover, it became impossible even to visit the northern part of the city. Only after the parties’ agreement, since 2003, has it been possible to cross the border freely.

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Nicosia - one city, two countries
Nicosia – one city, two countries

Human drama in no man’s land

One island – two separate lives and a city so painfully experienced. Is it possible to forget the past in Nicosia and does it affect how it works today? These questions, are best answered by those on whom the Turkish invasion has left its mark. The memoirs of Elena Papalamprou, a resident of Nicosia who participated in the events of 1974, are the best evidence of this.

“I was 15 years old when we were forced to leave our home. The day before, my uncle – the owner of the village cooperative bank – had been murdered. Fearing for my life, not having a driver’s license, I got behind the wheel of my father’s car, taking my mother and younger sister with me.” – recounts Elena’s family drama.

“Within hours, I had to grow up. I felt responsible for our safety. After the escape, we lived in tents waiting to return home. No one believed that we had lost everything. We still had hope… So many years have passed and I still believe that the day will come when we can go home again. Everything was left there… our photos, our family possessions, our memories. It’s unfair that my parents died missing their home and hometown. In 2020, we were able to get to the house. It is located in a closed area, surrounded by barbed wire. Everything has been stolen… even the doors and frames…”

Today, Elena leads a quiet life among a loving family, in the southern part of Nicosia. On a daily basis, he doesn’t revisit the events of the past – it’s been a long time. However, they are still painful.
Elena is not the only one feeling the effects of what happened. Despite the fact that the events of 1974 are in the distant past, and the region is peaceful and safe today, the effects of the assassination are taking their toll, best exemplified by the story of Veronika Molinskaya’s recently deceased grandfather.

“Grandfather was a Pole who lived on the northern side of the island. He died there and cannot have a recognized death certificate in Poland, because the Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus is considered an occupying power, not legally recognized as a state, anywhere in the world. Any documentation from there therefore has no legal validity or right to exist.”

Two faces of the city

Despite the depressing atmosphere of unrest in the southern part of Nicosia and the painful memories of its older residents, it is now a very peaceful place. Tourist-wise, Nicosia doesn’t stand out for anything special – a small number of monuments, a few pubs with delicious coffee and old men playing chess in front of their homes.

One city, two countries

The other side of the Green Line can be easily accessed by showing a valid passport. There, it is a bit more colorful – the mosques, colorful stalls and marking their separateness with a large number of flags are conspicuous.

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