Front Line Nicosia: Divided they stand, separated by eternal hatred and suspicion

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The Independent Online
"TIGER" STALKS the bottom of Ledra Street. Round the long-broken sewers and garbage and ricochet-lashed houses and mined streets, he prowls the undergrowth, a brown-and-grey presence amid the weeds. George, a Greek Cypriot national guardsman, watches the cat without emotion. "Tiger takes food from the Turkish soldiers," he says, nursing his rifle in his little sentry box. "Then he comes over here and takes food from us."

So pull down the Turkish and Greek flags. Clear the streets of mines. Forget "Greek murderers" and "Turkish barbarism". Call the United Nations. Get through to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. Here, after more than a quarter of a century, we have discovered a Cypriot who is at home on both sides of the Green Line, who relies on both Greek and Turk for his survival.

But alas, Loizos Theofaris' shop, coated in grime, windows broken, his peeling blue name still visible above the facade, will not reopen. Mr Loizos went back, with his daughter, to collect his belongings after the 1974 Turkish invasion but was shot dead on the overgrown pavement by a Turkish sniper. Nor will the owner of 35-37 Ledra Street be able to return. Artin Bohdjian is an Armenian name and the Turks allow no Armenians to return to their property behind or along the Green Line; they did, after all, commit genocide against one-and-a-half million Armenians in 1915.

The Greek Cypriots have installed a little museum at the bottom of Ledra Street with fading photographs of the 1974 Turkish invasion, largely cleansed of references to the suicidal Greek colonels' coup against Cypriot President Makarios, which prompted the Turkish military intervention. The damp little room is clearly modelled on the exhibition that once graced Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie.

Behind the Turkish line there is another museum, in a villa where Greek Cypriots massacred the Turkish inhabitants. Visitors are encouraged to look at a small piece of brain matter that still adheres to the ceiling after more than a quarter of a century. Talk to John Hadjijoseph, Cypriot Catholic Maronite who runs his little estate agency 40 feet from the Turkish line, and he says the two sides may be reunited "in many years". Drop in at Spyros Eleftheriades' shop - a mere 30feet from the Turks - and he shrugs.

"It is up to the Americans and the British," he says. America doesn't want a war between Nato allies. And Britain first divided the two communities on the island in the 1950s. It was a British officer who drew the Green Line on a map in 1964 - with a green pencil.

Mr Eleftheriades - his name derives from the Greek word for freedom - is clutching his mobile phone, as symbolic of the "new" Greek Cyprus (per capita income pounds 7,400) as George's rifle is of the old. Could he not just call up a Turkish Cypriot on the other side of the line if he wanted? "But I don't know anyone there," he replies. "And I don't speak Turkish." Indeed. Only the Cypriot bank notes now carry their denomination in Turkish. The only transcommunal agreement is over the city's sewage; the treatment plant is on the Turkish side. "We send our shit to them," a Greek Cypriot journalist remarks.

So an uncomfortable, unutterable thought goes through my mind as I prowl these dank streets parallel to Tiger. The Turkish Cypriots want a confederation of Cyprus recognising two states, including their own self-declared statelet in the north, but no return of Greeks to homes in Kyrenia or Famagusta. The Greek Cypriots want a reunified island with the return of all refugees. Or say they do. The problem is that they want the unity of their country - but not of its people.

"Turks are barbarians and we are civilised," a Greek carpenter tells me (his back wall only 15 feet from the Turkish line). Even the tourist magazines agree. The latest issue of the Greek Cypriot publication Hermes, available in posh tourist hotels, recalls Turkish "savagery" at the siege of Nicosia 400 years ago and the fate of the Greek Cypriot governor of Famagusta in 1571. "Finally he was flayed alive, his skin stuffed and paraded about on donkey-back ... before it was sent to Constantinople." What does all this say about the Greek Cypriots?

If this is their history lesson, what is their future to be? If they want the unity of their island, why do they no longer learn Turkish? Why, if the Turks are so keen on a confederated state, don't they encourage their children to appreciate Greek culture? For years after the 1974 invasion, the Cyprus telecommunications authority continued to print the disconnected numbers of thousands of Greeks in the Turkish-occupied north. No longer. Turks now live in those homes, just as Greeks now live in Turkish homes in the south.

True, the violent division gave the Turkish Cypriots 37 per cent of the island when their population might only entitle them to 28 per cent. But equally true, half the 120,000 Turkish Cypriots appear to have emigrated from their bankrupt statelet since 1974 and latest European Union statistics suggest 111,000 of the inhabitants of the north are now settlers from the Turkish mainland. "I not from Cyprus - I from Turkey," a closely shaven, smiling teenager shouted down to me through the wire from behind Mr Hadjijoseph's shop, jabbing his forefinger into his chest.

As for the 650,000 Greek Cypriots, they have made an economic success out of their truncated island. President Glafkos Clerides still insists on his lunatic plan to install Russian S-300 missiles here. But it now turns out he never discussed his plans with the Greek government, which - with the EU and the Americans - would like the rockets dumped in Crete.

The Turks say they will destroy the missiles - and Turkish air force flying time to Cyprus is about three minutes, an odd thing for a former wartime RAF Bomber Command man such as Clerides to forget. And if the Turkish flag taunts the Greeks above the medieval ramparts of Nicosia, the blue-and-white banner of Greece floats on the opposite side of the Green Line to remind the Turks of the old dream of enosis, the union of Cyprus with Greece.

So it's back to Tiger. I asked George, the national guardsman, if he would ever see a united island. "If I didn't think that, I would not be standing guard like this and doing my soldier's duty," he says. Then I realise that the front line he is guarding was here before he was born. And I wonder if it does not run like a solution through the mind of every Greek and Turk in Cyprus.