Thursday, October 20, 2011

An Occupied Bear

(... or a Tale of Two Cities)

I'm back! - and with less than a month between posts which is much much better than my last gap of one year plus. I will tell you though that this probably won't be a super long post - for reasons which will become painfully evident. And, once again, please bear (!) with me as I start this off with a short history lesson.

Many years ago, there was an island nation called Cyprus. Over the years it was invaded and occupied by lots of foreign powers (because you humans are never satisfied with what you have - I mean, give a bear a cave and some berries, and we're happier than clams), but finally, in 1960, it was officially made The Republic of Cyprus after its Greek Cypriot community agreed to halt plans to unite with Greece and the Turk Cypriots agreed to stop their plans to partition the nation. Nicosia (or Λευκωσία, or Lefkosia, as the locals say) was made its capital. But just a few years later, tension & hostilities began to bubble to the surface between these two 2 communities.

Now it gets icky.

Nicosia was essentially divided in half with Greek Cypriots on one side and the Turk Cypriots on the other by the "Green Line" - so called because the UN official who carved up the city on a map used a green pen. Then, in 1974, there was an attempted coup d'état by Greek militarists who wanted to unite Cyprus with Greece which was really very silly because Greek Cypriots had agreed not to do this back in 1960. Turkey sent in its troops on the pretext of restoring the previously agreed upon constitution, but they did more than that. They effectively invaded the country, taking 37% of the island. Reports indicate that 4,000 Greek Cypriots were killed (killed in their own country!) - 4 times the number of Turkish Cypriots killed, and it is estimated that 1/3 of Greek Cypriots (200,000) were essentially made homeless and refugees in their own land while about 1,000 Turkish Cypriots found themselves on the wrong side of the line.

In 1975 the Turkish Cypriot community declared the creation of the "Turkish Federated State of Cyprus" on the part of the island occupied by Turkish forces, and 8 years later they proclaimed themselves the independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

Of course, the TRNC is totally illegal and not recognized by the UN or pretty much anyone else. No country flies into Occupied Cyprus apart from Turkey as the TRNC has no legitimate status in the world. It makes me sad that almost half of the island is occupied by a foreign power. Maybe, back in the 70' s, if Cyprus had been overflowing with oil, the world would have cared. (The UN cared: and sent in International Peacekeepers, but really - what's changed?)

Needless to say, the Bipedals and I were in a quandry about visiting Turkish Nicosia. Would we be condoning the illegal occupation of a foreign power by crossing the Green Line? After all, I had my reputation as a Freelance Goodwill Ambassador to consider. In the end, we decided to visit Real (i.e. Greek Cypriot) Nicosia, and decide once we got there. As you can see from the very top photo, peace is something valued highly in Cyprus. The peace mosaic and bench (an excellent place for engaging in deep thoughts) sits on the Greek Cypriot side of the checkpoint. That made me happy and sad at the same time.

We decided to cross because my bipedals realized they had Turkish lira on hand and my Male Bipedal wanted a beer. These days, it's quite easy to cross the Green Line - you just need a passport (or UN credentials in my case), but the Turks are not allowed to stamp it. Because they are not a recognized sovereign nation (except by themselves), the TRNC police stamp a piece of paper which you have to hold on to. Of course cameras are a no-no at the checkpoint, but here I am (photo, right) on the Occupied Side, which doesn't look a whole lot different from the south side, except it's in really rough shape with lots of bombed out and derelict buildings.

There are a few places to see on the northern side: namely beautiful churches since converted into mosques, Turkish baths, small neighbourhood mosques (and some very nice Ottoman architecture), and lots and lots of photos of Atatürk, but you'll not see photos of any them in this post because *a certain someone* forgot to recharge her camera battery the night before, so our photo-taking was done very very selectively - in other words, photos with Yours Truly were vetoed. (Anyone interested in applying for the position of Female Bipedal Attendant, please e-mail me at I got one throw-away photo (above left) - a milk sop really - at a small tavern where we stopped so I could get my bearings (bearings!). Notice I'm the one with the map.

I would add that on the way back into Real Cyprus, where our passports where checked by internationally recognized border guards, there was a UN sign that stated that some 100,000 Greek Cypriots are still missing, their fates unknown. Turkey has been asked to assist families in locating (probably) the remains of their loved ones - but Turkey has refused to comply. You humans disappoint me.

As a parting note, I'd like to direct your attention to the photo, up to the right: as you can see, it's a flag painted on the Kyrenia mountains. Well, it's a bit more than that. In fact, at 74,824 meters squared, it's the biggest flag in the world (as in the Guinness Book of World Records big!), and it's also the flag of the Turkish Republic of Cyprus which overlooks the Greek side of Nicosia. At night, the Turk Cypriots even light it up. You can imagine how much the Greek Cypriots love that! Talk about salt in an open wound (or a big permanent middle finger in the air as my Female Bipedal observed, but I'm not that crude). But really? - a giant in-your-face flag of the Occupying force? - honestly, there are times when I don't think you humans can suck any more as a species - but then you surprise me *again* and *again* and *again*.