upstream and downstream

Kalimera from Nicosia,

Cyprus is an island divided.

When I vouchsafed to Turkish friends that I was off to Cyprus for a vacation, no fewer than three asked – without the interference of any other small talk – “Do you like gambling?”. The answer is an emphatic “no”. The unsolicited questions about gambling were puzzling until I discovered that gambling is illegal in Turkiye. Thus, an explanation for the frequent and cheap flights to Ercan International Airport in Turkish Cyprus.

Since 1974’s invasion by Turkiye there’s been a border between the northern third (Turkish Cyprus) and the southern two-thirds (Greek Cyprus). Before you think – like I did beforehand – that the border would be a loose concept, observed by an imaginary line which hindered no-one’s movement, think again. There is a formal border crossing, with passport control, cops with guns (!) and road blockages. Road insurance on one side doesn’t count on the other (a fact which gives insurance companies their sustenance).

So, when Cyprus falls five places on the happiness index (as it did this year), have they surveyed the Turkish Cypriots or the Greek Cypriots?

When halloumi is celebrated as a Cypriot invention, was it by a Greek Cypriot or a Turkish Cypriot?

in the no-man’s land between Greek passport control and Turkish passport control

It depends who you ask, but the historical evidence is strongly on the side of the Greeks.

The trouble is, most locals are not spouting much historical evidence to support the case. (Do we ever?) “The invasion was necessary,” says Zeynep firmly, as though it’s a fact. Zeynep quickly affirms that this belief stems from her schooling and parenting. But, on the other side of the border: “Cyprus has always been a Greek island,” says Marios. “That’s occupied land,” spits Koutsos with a resignation borne of frustration.

The Greeks had been on this island for centuries before the Ottoman invasion in the 16th century. The archaeological evidence in Paphos, Limasol and other places is more than a tourist attraction. It’s proof of the prior settlement. After the Sultans came, an unsteady co-existence saw the two ethnic groupings sharing the island. Before 1974, the Greeks and Turks appear to have lived in a kind of harmony where human decency overrode historical differences. After 1974, they are separate. The border arrangement says the Turks are not permitted to cross to the south.

Girne in the Turkish north (Kyrenia in Greek nomenclature) has become the gambling capital for Turks – from Turkiye in particular. As a consequence, Girne has a decidedly perfunctory look: lots of casinos, lots of cars and not much nature. The town of 33 000 is dotted with many casinos and concomitant upstream and downstream industries. If the Turkish law against gambling was ever repealed, this town would collapse.

As for who invented Halloumi, the name has been long subsumed by time, a bit like the anonymous inventors of the bag, the wheel and the drinking vessel. In the end it doesn’t really matter. It was probably someone who called themselves a Cypriot.

Avrio from Cyprus


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