Cyprus has been divided into a Turkish-Cypriot northern region and a Greek-Cypriot southern region since 1974. The United Nations Force in Cyprus [UNFICYP] is responsible for the area that separates the two sides, or the Buffer Zone. The Green Line has been in existence since Christmas Day in 1963, when fighting between the Turkish and Greek communities of newly independent Cyprus resulted in the self-imposed partition of the city into two halves. The UK brokered a cease-fire between the two sides, and the Green Line, named after the green line drawn on a map by a British officer to show the division between the Greeks and Turks, came into being. Since then the barrier has grown from the odd overturned bed and oil drum into a genuine barrier, with an UN-controlled buffer zone that ensures the two sides don"t meet. Occupying 3% of the island, it measures 7.4 kilometers at its widest point and 3.3 meters at its narrowest point - in central Nicosia. More than 10,000 people live and/or work in the buffer zone.
Nicosia was divided into Greek and Turkish sectors on either side of a buffer zone as a result of a spate of inter-communal troubles of 1963 and 1968, but more drastically since Cyprus' invasion by Turkey and the occupation of nearly a third of the territory in 1974. The Turkish invasion had, inter alia, the consequence of the displacement of nearly 200,000 people from the occupied areas, which amounted to about one third of the population of the island at the time. This had dramatic effects in relation to regional imbalances with the sudden and massive influx of people to the areas that were not occupied.
UNFICYP is one of the longest-running UN Peacekeeping missions. It was set up in 1964 to prevent further fighting between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities on the island and bring about a return to normal conditions. The Mission's responsibilities expanded in 1974, following a coup d'etat by elements favouring union with Greece and a subsequent military intervention by Turkey, whose troops established control over the northern part of the island. Since a de facto ceasefire in August 1974, UNFICYP has supervised the ceasefire lines; provided humanitarian assistance; and maintained a buffer zone between the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot forces in the north and the Greek Cypriot forces in the south. UNFICYP's Chief of Mission also serves as the Secretary-General's Special Representative in Cyprus and in that capacity leads efforts to assist the parties in reaching a comprehensive settlement.
The Green Line extends approximately 180 kilometers across the island. In some places in old Nicosia it is only a few meters wide. In other places it is a few kilometers wide. Its northern and southern limits are the lines where the belligerents stood following the ceasefire of 16 August 1974, as recorded by UNFICYP. In the eastern part of the island, the Buffer Zone is interrupted by the British Sovereign Base Area of Dhekelia, where the UN does not operate. Another area the UN does not control is Varosha, the former resort town near Famagusta, now under the control of the Turkish military.
The communal and physical division of Nicosia obviously affected its economic and living conditions and thus it's potential for natural growth. The Green Line splits the city into two from east to west running through the center core. Once in place, the barrier separating the two parts became a major factor in the urban pathology of Nicosia. The Nicosia buffer zone is an unnatural boundary forced on the city arbitrarily. Despite numerous efforts for cooperation, the two parts of Nicosia by and large have developed independently.
Exploring South Nicosia and continually bumping into the Green Line makes visitors appreciate the physical division of Nicosia, but only by crossing the buffer zone into North Nicosia can visitors appreciate the social division. North Nicosia has absolutely no Greek lettering anywhere, instead using the Turkish alphabet, with its Roman letters littered with cedillas, circumflexes and umlauts; the people look Turkish, with darker skin and leaner features than the distinctly Greek look of the south; and instead of churches peppering the streets, mosques are everywhere, their minarets instantly making North Nicosia feel more like the Middle East than the Mediterranean. As far as tourism is concerned, the sights of North Nicosia are on a par with those in South Nicosia, and both sides have put a lot of effort into building up attractions for foreign visitors.
Since April 2003, a number of crossing points have opened up between the north and the south. On April 23rd 2003, a few points along the green line were "opened" by the Turkish regime formovement to and from the two parts of Cyprus. This meant that the demands on the policewere enormous, as they had (and still have) to control the movement of persons to and fromthe two parts, making sure that no unauthorized and illegal person comes to the south.
The crossing points are located as follows:
- Ledra Palace checkpoint in central Nicosia (Pedestrians Only)
- Ledra Street in central Nicosia (Pedestrians only)
- Agios Dometios in Nicosia
- 2 in the Eastern Sovereign Base Area: (Black Knight - Nr Ayios Nikolaos) and Pergamos (nr Dhekelia)
- Astromeritis (near Morphou, and 30kms west of Nicosia)
In line with UNFICYP's mandate to work toward a return to normal conditions, parts of the buffer zone are farmed and/or inhabited. There are several villages or special areas (called Civil Use Areas) within the buffer zone, where more than 10,000 people live and/or work. Civilians may enter these areas freely. Elsewhere in the buffer zone, civilian movement or activity requires specific authorization from UNFICYP. Located in the eastern region of the buffer zone, Pyla is the only village where Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots live side by side.
Other areas are largely untouched by human activity. Remnants of old villages, shops and other reminders of lives once lived are scattered throughout the zone. In old Nicosia, 'new' cars from the 1970s sit in an underground garage once owned by a car dealer. As Cyprus has experienced heady development, the buffer zone has remained a haven for flora and fauna, thriving on the near absence of hunters and most other human interference.
UNFICYP keeps permanent watch over the buffer zone with patrols in vehicles, on foot, on bicycles and by helicopter. Additionally, a highly mobile unit stands ready to respond to emergencies within the buffer zone.
Approximately 1,000 incidents occur within the buffer zone each year, ranging from name-calling to unauthorised use of firearms. Civilian construction is also a regular issue and UNFICYP always has to consider security, ownership and operational requirements in its effort to encourage a return to normal conditions in the buffer zone.
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