DiscoverNicosia: the last divided capital in the world. Part I

Nicosia: the last divided capital in the world. Part I

I live in this city for 17 years. To be honest, this is not the most beautiful and comfortable city to live on earth.

Yes, it is the hottest in Cyprus (in summer, the average temperature is 5-7 degrees higher than in coastal cities and 10 degrees higher than in the mountains).

Yes, there is the highest concentration of dust and strong gas contamination, so hypothetically we will live a year less than we could compared to residents of other cities in Cyprus ( research ). Yes, there’s no sea in Nicosia.

But I love it here

It is so different from any other city in the world. The old city inside the Venetian walls is a miniature world. There are modern shops and decaying buildings that have remained untouched since the 1974 war, vibrant playgrounds and eerie streets – ghettos where emigrants from India, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, Arab countries and eastern Europe live.

Exquisite wineries, cosy coffee shops with huge sofas, books and the aroma of coffee, hipster restaurants, whose menu includes chia porridge, a salad with quinoa, ravioli in sepia sauce cuttlefish, and just two meters away you see a  time-old kiosk of and old shoemaker sitting on his decrepit stool from morning to night in an attempt to earn some money to survive given his meagre pension.

There are posh high-end stores – and next to them grocery shops for the poor emigrants from Syria, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka where they sell cheap basmati, coconut oil, lentil flour and spices. They also serve like centers fro solving multiple issues: to find a room or the roommate, end money to the family abroad, have a haircut from the seller – part-time barber right there in the store behind the curtain, eat a portion of noodles, to talk about everything and anything, to have a nap on the shaky sofa… 

The old city is such a quintessence of smells, tastes, colours and times that every walk along its narrow streets is a small trip abroad. 

Nicosia’s centre, an ancient part of the city inside the Venetian walls, is the least prestigious area for living. Here, historical buildings are adjacent to decaying buildings, and trendy cafes and shops are just a breath away from scary lobbies of the terrible porches without doors and lighting, where economic immigrants huddle.

The reason for this is the border with the occupied territories that runs right in the centre of the city.

Nicosia has been the capital of Cyprus since the 10th century A.D. Now it is the most remote southeastern European capital. This city is a curious and fascinating mix of the vibrant street life, the ongoing confrontation between North and South, and the rich history enclosed inside the fortress walls shaped as a snowflake.
The walls were erected by the Venetians in the Middle Ages and had become the symbol of the city.

Each ray of the “snowflake” had been used as a bastion. There are 11 of them.

The no man’s land and the border with the occupied territories was settled approximately in the centre of the city and thus dividing it into two unequal parts: 5 bastions are located on the territory of the Republic of Cyprus, 6 – in the occupied areas.

This is how the walls look now

Gate, Wall, Old, Architecture, Stone, Monument


Despite its’ uneasy path and division, Nicosia as capital of a European country hosts the headquarters of the Cypriot banks and regional offices of major world companies, investment firms, oil and gas companies, and so on. 

The population of the city ad the nearby villages is estimated around 336,000.

The capital of Cyprus is the wealthiest city in the Eastern Mediterranean per capita.

Maybe it sounds a bit surrealistic, but in 2018, Nicosia was ranked 32nd in the list of the richest cities in the world in relative purchasing power.


It is impossible to talk about Cyprus without touching the history of this long-suffering land and the centuries-old confrontation between the people who live here.

Barbed wire in the city center, concrete barriers, jeeps of the UN peacekeeping force, border towers, checkpoints between the North and the South are our daily realities.

Cyprus was a Turkish vilayet (province) for three long centuries – from 1571 to 1878.

About 20% of the population of Cyprus (islands, not the Republic of Cyprus) are Turkish Cypriots. A number of historians claim that Turkish Cypriots are Greek Cypriots who converted to Islam, who were too poor and could not pay the “religion” fee introduced by the Ottomans for Christians during the Ottoman Empire.

Turkish Cypriots who lived in Cyprus until 1974 have Cypriot (i.e. European) passports and enjoy all the benefits available to Cypriot citizens, fly to Europe through Cypriot airports, and receive medical assistance here in the South.

After the 1974 war, all the shops, restaurants and hotels remaining in the occupied territories passed into the hands of several families who came from Turkey, and the Turkish Cypriots remained in a practically powerless situation in the country, which was supposedly created for their safety.

It is noteworthy that the Turkish Cypriots call the Greek Cypriots nothing else, but only “Christians”, which speaks in favour of the theory of the Islamization of the Christian population of Cyprus during the Ottoman Empire and the common roots of the island’s indigenous people.

DNA tests also prove the theory of the common roots of Greek and Turkish Cypriots: for example, the DNA of the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots is the closest of all possible options. DNA of Greek Cypriots has much fewer alleles with DNA of Greeks from mainland and island Greece, and DNA of Turkish Cypriots has little in common with DNA of Turks from continental Turkey.

The end of Ottoman rule, independence, coup

After the Russo-Turkish war in 1878, by a decision of the parties at the Berlin Congress, Cyprus became a British colony, although de jure it remained part of the Ottoman Empire until the First World War. Turkey signed an agreement with Great Britain in exchange for guarantees that the British would use the island as a base to protect Turkey from possible aggression by the Russian Empire.

During World War II, Cypriots fought on the side of the allies in the British army – and they mostly fell into hot places like Libya, Ethiopia and Egypt. Cyprus gained independence from Great Britain in 1960.

Already in 1964-1967, there were outbreaks of ethnic hatred between the Turks and Greeks, and the situation on the island was quite tense. By the beginning of the 1970s, part of the Greek Cypriots (“right”) was imbued with the ideas of the underground organization EOKA B (there was still the first, EOKA A), and demanded the annexation of Cyprus to Greece (enosis).

In July 1974, with the support of the Greek junta (“black colonels”), the President of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, was removed from power, and control of the island passed to a group of “right-wingers”.

To protect its population, Turkey sent troops, so bravely, that in a few days they managed to capture 38% of the island. They managed to be stopped just in the middle of the Cypriot capital, and where the front line passed and fights went on, a demarcation line now passes.

During the events described — the war of 1974 — when “brother went to brother” and even members of the same family who belonged to different political parties fought among themselves, Turkish Cypriots would expect almost complete extermination from the “right” units, demanding that the Greek land be cleared from all the foreigners and Cyprus to unify with Greece (enosis).

Therefore, what happened (war and the subsequent annexation of 38% of the island) is partially guilt of Greek Cypriot – a fact about which, however, school books in Greek Cypriot schools are still silent, where Turkey is described as an aggressor who invaded Cyprus without reasons.

Turkey was given a reason to invade, and she did not fail to take advantage of this.

A good example, when the disunity of political parties and the differences between the Cypriot “right” and “left” led to disastrous consequences for the country.

Cyprus after 1974

As a result of the Turkish invasion, Cyprus lost 6/10 of its territory (around 38%). The best resorts and idyllic beaches with white “powdery” sand and turquoise water remained in the occupied territories. About 300,000 people left their homes overnight and became refugees (which is almost half the country’s population – imagine the scale of the disaster!).

To this day, more than 1,000 Greek Cypriots and about 500 Turkish Cypriots are missing.

In the first months and even years of the loss of their homes, the inhabitants of Cyprus lived in tent towns at churches and monasteries. The government of “Greek” Cyprus began building social housing a year after the Turkish invasion, and after 5-7 years, the basic housing needs for refugees were covered.

In the south – in Limassol, in Larnaca, in villages near Paphos – there were also compact settlements of Turkish Cypriots. According to various estimates, about 50,000 people were forced to flee from South to North, also losing all their property.

The government of “Turkish” Cyprus settled them in the homes of Greek Cypriots who fled to the South.

The issue of land and property left on the “other” side is still one of the most difficult debates to resolve the Cyprus problem. Obviously, neither side will return the land and property to the refugees, so the issue of compensation is being considered, and all this redistribution and amounts are the Gordian knot of the already complicated issue.

In 1983, the Turkish sector proclaimed itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, not recognized by anyone other than Turkey.

In diplomacy, there are four conditions for the official recognition of a state: a resident population, a certain territory, government, and the ability to maintain full relations with other states.

The self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus had territory, government, and enormous ambitions, of which, of course, Turkey stood. To strengthen its position, Turkey decided to artificially create a population, bringing to Cyprus, relatively speaking, “Anatolian shepherds” – residents of villages from central and eastern Turkey. The echoes of this forcible displacement of peoples are still having an effect. Turkish Cypriots are secular people with liberal views. The demographic bias makes them live according to laws imposed from the outside: from schools to religion, parliament and government.

The artificially created population did not advance the issue of recognition by one iota and only made the problem even more complicated. Naturally, the Republic of Cyprus refuses to recognize the Turks as its citizens and issue them passports. And what about children from mixed marriages in cases where one of the parents is a Turkish Cypriot and, accordingly, a Cypriot citizen and a European, and the other is a Turkish occupier who has “come” from Turkey? Dilemma…


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