Island frozen in time as invader hangs on
NICOSIA LETTER:Turkey is showing no willingness to relinquish control over northern Cyprus, writes BRENDAN O CATHAOIR
Welcome to Nicosia, the last divided capital city in Europe. The government-controlled and Turkish-occupied sectors are separated by the “green line”, a demilitarised zone maintained by the UN. A buffer of urban decay disfigures this ancient city.
During its EU presidency, just ended, the government of the Republic of Cyprus focused on a European agenda rather than its domestic problems (which now include a recession). The Cyprus question remains a frozen conflict of the Mediterranean – long eclipsed by the latest atrocity.
Turkey shows no willingness to relinquish control over northern Cyprus, which it invaded in 1974 on the pretext of an attempted coup against President Makarios (organised by the Greek military junta and its Greek Cypriot collaborators).
Ankara imposed de facto partition and ethnic segregation, uprooted more than 170,000 Greek Cypriots living in the north and continues to flood the occupied area with settlers (who outnumber the Turkish Cypriots it ostensibly intervened to protect).
The Turkish government, with one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, wonders why it is not being welcomed into the EU. The answer lies in the recent Nobel award – the European movement is ultimately about peace, not trade. Turkey cannot expect to join the EU while it continues to occupy illegally more than one-third of a member state.
The strategic importance and beauty of the island have been valued since the ancient Greeks set sail for Cyprus in the 8th century BC and gave birth to a splendid civilisation. Its history is one of the oldest recorded in the world. Its natural wealth and position at the crossroads of three continents made it a desirable territorial acquisition.
Cyprus retained a predominantly Greek identity throughout its history. As early as AD45, when it formed part of the Roman empire, the apostles Paul and Barnabas arrived to preach the Christian faith. During the Byzantine era (330-1191), it became known as the “island of saints”.
Periods of Frankish rule and Venetian occupation were succeeded by the Ottoman conquest in 1571. Britain leased Cyprus in 1878 and granted it independence 82 years later.
Today the island is an open- air museum, where one can visit prehistoric settlements, classical Greek temples, Roman theatres and villas, early Christian basilicas, Byzantine churches and monasteries – 12 of which are Unesco world heritage monuments – Crusader castles, Gothic cathedrals, Venetian fortifications, mosques and British colonial-style buildings.