By Laura Brody
June 11, 2015

On my first day in Nicosia I began to wander around the city without any real destination in mind, just a goal of taking in the atmosphere around me. I ended up arriving at what I had no idea was the Ledra checkpoint to cross between the Greek Cypriot side of Nicosia to the Turkish Cypriot side in the north. The checkpoint was opened in 2008, over thirty years after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 that resulted ultimately in the division of the island between the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in the north and the Republic of Cyprus (ROC) in the south.

Photo from within the UN buffer zone.

Photo from within the UN buffer zone.

The invasion and the division of the island came after decades of inter-communal tension and violence between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots living on the island, both before and after Cyprus gained independence from the British Empire in 1960. Luckily I had my passport with me at the time I arrived, and was able to cross to the northern side. One of the officers controlling the checkpoint asked me if it was my first time crossing, and when I answered yes, he asked me how long I had been in Cyprus. At my response that it was my first day on the island he expressed great surprise not only that I knew that Cyprus was divided between the TRNC and ROC, but that there were checkpoints in Nicosia to cross between the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot sides.

Abandoned home in the UN Buffer Zone.

Abandoned home in the UN Buffer Zone.

His surprise shocked me and made me wonder how many unsuspecting tourists they find wandering to the checkpoint, as it is located at the end of one of the main shopping streets and tourist centers in Nicosia. After crossing through to the northern side, I felt immediately that I was in a new place. The atmosphere was much more calm than that of the southern side, an interesting dichotomy considering I could still see the hustle and bustle of the Greek Cypriot south just a few yards behind me, only separated from it by a few wooden barricades. I wandered around the northern part of Nicosia, known as Lefkosia in Turkish, for about an hour before returning.

Büyük Hamam in Lefkosia

Büyük Hamam in Lefkosia

Whether it is the ghost of conflict or simply of the island’s long and unique history, much of Nicosia gives off an almost haunting vibe. The city’s rich and diverse history can be seen in landmarks from different periods of rule in Cyprus. While in the Turkish Cypriot north I ended up finding Selimiye Camii, a mosque that was formerly known as Ayia Sophia Cathedral during the French Lusignan period of rule in Cyprus, and after wandering some more the Büyük Hamam, a public bath from Ottoman times that was also a place of entertainment and socializing throughout both the Ottoman and British periods in Cyprus. There are also the Venetian walls surrounding the original border of the old city from the Venetian period of rule, as well as Victoria Street named after Queen Victoria from the British period of rule on the island.

Through working at the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR) I am learning much about Nicosia’s history by helping to create an online game that tells the story of the city’s evolution through its different quarters, landmarks, etc. Thinking about the incredible transformations of certain areas over time, there is undoubtedly a haunting feeling in strolling throughout the city’s different quarters, including within the UN buffer zone.

Home for Cooperation (H4C) during an AHDR event

Home for Cooperation (H4C) during an AHDR event

On my first day working with AHDR I was unsure of what to expect knowing that the office was located in the House for Cooperation, one of AHDR’s projects that is now home to several inter-communal NGOs, which is located in the UN buffer zone between the ROC and TRNC. The building itself was formerly home to an Armenian Cypriot family and was heavily affected during the period of inter-communal violence in the 1960s, during which the first floor was rented to UN peacekeeping forces. It was entirely abandoned in 1974 when it was included in the buffer zone, which was established after the Turkish invasion of the island.

Through the office window at AHDR I can see clearly the famous Turkish Cypriot flag that is painted on the slope of the Pentadaktylos mountain range in the TRNC, facing the Greek Cypriot south. One of the women I work with lives in the northern part of the city and made the statement that she only really sees the flag if she is in the AHDR office or on the southern side, alluding to the flag’s existence as a political statement addressed to Greek Cypriots rather than solely as a source of nationalistic pride for the Turkish Cypriots.

Turkish Cypriot flag on the Pentadaktylos Mountains.

Turkish Cypriot flag on the Pentadaktylos Mountains.

These symbols of the still existing divisions between the two main communities on the island, Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots, set the backdrop for my project regarding representations of the Greek Cypriot nationalist movement. I will look at this specifically through the National Struggle Museum in the former Archbishopric Palace located in the southern half of the city. However, the project is not so much about the movement itself, but about the political motivations behind how its narrative is represented within the context of still existing inter-communal divisions – those that have been highly evident in my initial observations here in Cyprus.