This month marks 15 years since the easing of border restrictions at the Ledra Palace crossing point, allowing Cypriots to cross north and south. What followed in the coming years was the opening of a number of crossing points across the whole island.
The first time I crossed the Green Line into north Nicosia was in early May, 2003 just a few short weeks after the ‘borders opened’. I was 18 and studying for my A’levels.
I crossed because I was curious. Why not? There was no fear, just excitement and safety in the feeling that we were crossing in vast numbers, with hundreds, maybe even thousands of Greek Cypriots that day. My mother and I waited in a queue of cars leading up to the Ledra Palace crossing point, from early in the morning until nightfall, until we got fed up waiting so parked and went on foot.
Fifteen years and probably hundreds of crossings later, I still feel strange making that brief trip across the buffer zone to the north; a sense of uneasiness coupled with the feeling that I’m doing something wrong and I’m about to get caught. My own feelings of uncertainty stem mainly from many of the strange experiences I’ve had at the crossing points at the hands of both Greek and Turkish Cypriot police officials (read more about that here).
The borders have been open for fifteen years now; some people cross and some don’t. In some circles it has become virtually taboo not to cross and in others, not crossing is worn like a badge of honour. However, I’ve learnt that nothing is that black and white; there are those that lie somewhere in the middle. Perhaps they haven’t crossed because they have simply never had the chance to? Maybe they haven’t had the chance to form an educated opinion on whether they want to cross or not, and why they don’t want to? Others don’t feel comfortable. We Nicosians forget sometimes that not everyone is used to – or even comfortable with – drinking coffee or having a beer up against the Green Line. To be able to get on with our lives we have normalised the situation.
I keep recalling something I witnessed some years ago now, when I saw a couple of tourists ask a Cypriot man in his early thirties how to get to the Ledra street crossing point. I watched him as he proudly explained to them that he never shows his passport to go somewhere in his own country. He was so passionate in his declaration, but it was lost on the tourists who were simply asking for directions.
I cross because I’m curious and because I believe that I owe it to myself to know all of my country; every district, every bay and every village I’ve never heard of. I want to know the new name of every village, the old name and the given name by Turkish Cypriots – yes Turkish Cypriots have their own name for certain places (Morphou/Omorfo) which may not be its official name. I find it interesting that the village of Diorios in the north is called Yorgoz by Turkish Cypriots, but its new, official name is Tepebaşı.
My roots begin in Potamia and emanate to every corner of this island, because first and foremost I’m a Potamitissa/Bodamyalı (meaning of Potamia village) and then a child of Cyprus. Knowing my country means knowing myself.