Cyprus – an island sojourn?

Bright blue skies, and temperatures in the high 20s… no, not Wales in a Spring heatwave – I was in Cyprus for a week, invited for a visit with friends.

Leaving Larnaka airport, I stepped out into wall-to-wall sunshine. And the short drive to the house in Voroklini involved car windows down, and a glimpse of pink flamingoes in a nearby pond. Oh, and a Welsh flag in a neighbour’s garden. And yet, when people have asked me if I ‘liked’ Cyprus, I couldn’t answer in the affirmative. Rather, it left me with a feeling of unease, an undercurrent of tragedy and violence and hatred that lay just past the smiles and greetings, and the warm sunshine.

Have you ever been there? I hadn’t, so read beforehand about the island’s recent (20th century) history, and its various rulers, from the British to independence for a few short years, and then the Turkish invasion and subsequent annexation of the northern part in the 1970s.

I can understand that if tourists go to Cyprus and simply spend their time on the beaches, and in the nearby American-style bars and eating places, then they will come away with an impression of a sun-filled seaside trip.

Go further into the island’s interior, and the mountains and forests, and that’s where Cyprus shows more of her emerging, yet still a bit rickety, tourism face – a wine route that wends its way though a working quarry (Stop for Blasting! signs), and across a reconstructed wooden bridge that would definitely not pass a Health and Safety check. And there there are the almond blossom trees, and the orange, lemon and grapefruit groves, and little restaurants serving Greek food. And couples with dogs, come out for a walk in the forest.

And then, go further yet, up near the Green (formerly Buffer) Zone, where gun towers are manned by UN, Greek Cypriots, and Turkish Cypriots. And where people in their 30s have never been across to the other side ‘because I don’t want to show them my ID’, and men sit in the cavernous concrete cafes and alternately glower and leer at every female that passes. And there is a tangible feeling of uneasiness.

And then go across the border to Turkish Cyprus, to the walled town of Famagusta, being checked along the way by border guards who have the serious expressions worn by such people everywhere; the guns are real. In the town, the muezzins call the faithful to prayer, the strident demand drowning out even the bird song. Most of the Christian cathedrals and churches are in ruins, barred off from entry with iron grills. Peering through a crumbled hole in a wall, I saw where machine gun fire had punched fist-sized holes in the face of the saints on the wall murals. Less than 50 years ago.

On the way back to Greek Cyprus, feeling cold despite that blazing sunshine, I passed entire empty villages, which Greeks had been forced to abandon with less than a day’s notice. Those families have never been back.

So, do I ‘like’ Cyprus? No, that’s not the term I would use. There is some hope of unification of both sides – stronger than it has been for years.
Perhaps then it will become an island to like.


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