Howdy. I wrote the following last month while I was in Northern Cyprus.
Hope you enjoy it.
* * *
Maras, The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus -- Attached to the rusting
chain-link fence I am approaching are several blood red signs, on which are
stenciled both the black silhouette of the top half of a faceless soldier
holding a rifle and a warning, in Turkish, that "Fotograf Cekmek Yasaktir
[To Take Photographs Is Forbidden]". The fence, no longer quite plumb in
the soft sand, seems to stumble across the beach, eventually ending at a
gently lapping Mediterranean. There a tangle of wires attached to the fence
extends a short way into the surf, making anyone's effort to outflank it
obviously intentional. The Turkish soldiers patrolling the non-man's land
beyond, to the south, could thus treat such an intruder, I suppose, in
whatever way they might see fit.
In the other direction, the fence, before it has completely left the beach,
cuts sharply north, running in front of the hulks of four empty resort
hotels. Above them in the deep blue of the pre-dusk sky hangs a crescent
moon, the same phased moon that graces the flags of both Turkey and the
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. One of the hotels still has the
remnants of an identifying sign, with just two of its six letter Greek name
remaining. Another hotel, the smallest and no doubt at one time the
quaintest, has slatted wooden shutters covering the windows and doors
leading out to tiny porches. Some of the shutters have rusted off their
hinges then fallen forward against the porch railings, and now point out to
sea as if giving urgent warning. Others hang limply, defeated, from a
single remaining hinge.
Most surprisingly, every one of the windows I can see in the hotels is
either missing or broken. I am taken back by such thoroughness, given that
the most likely motivation was vindictiveness. I struggle to find a loftie=
one, wondering if there was perhaps some valid security consideration, such
as making these somewhat strategically set buildings unattractive to
squatters. Maybe -- though I find this thought the most troubling -- it ha=
been done just for the fun of it.
The fence I am walking along marks the border between inhabited and
uninhabited Maras, the Turkish Cypriot's name for the town Greek Cypriots
call Varosha. The uninhabited part has been off limits since the Turkish
army invaded Cyprus in 1974. Before that invasion the small Turkish Cyprio=
minority had lived uneasily amongst the Greek Cypriot majority, though in
the years since 1960, when Cyprus was given its independence by the English=
periodic outbreaks of inter-communal violence had led to increased
segregation and emigration. The invasion, launched after a coup on the
island and another particularly vicious spat of violence, eventually put an
end to even this limited association -- as it did the worst of the violence=
The Turkish army went on to occupy roughly the northern most 40% of the
island, which was accompanied and followed by one of the last century's all
too familiar mass cross-migrations. The northern "half" is now home to
nearly all of the island's Turkish Cypriots, close to 20% of the total
The border between the north and south, known as the Atilla Line, is one of
the many UN patrolled "blue lines" in the world. Maras actually falls
within Northern Cyprus, with the Attila Line further to the south. It is
controlled now by the Turkish army. At the time of the invasion the town
had been a thriving, up and coming resort town, run mostly by Greek
Cypriots. Indeed, all over Cyprus, since its independence -- despite the
periodic, deadly violence -- tourism had been booming. But here in Maras,
at least, the boom is no more. The forty or so thousand Greek Cypriots who
once owned, ran or otherwise worked there, fled in panic before the
advancing Turkish army, reportedly leaving behind uncleared breakfast dishe=
on tables and washing on lines, some forgetting to turn off lights that
burned on and on for years.
UN sponsored "proximity talks" between the North and the South -- called
proximity talks because the negotiating leaders will not met face to face -=
started in New York on December 4th. They are set to continue in Geneva
this January 31st. The return of Maras to its former mostly Greek Cypriot
owners, or more precisely their return to it, is no doubt high on this
meeting's (thus far secret) agenda, as it has been over the years at the
many similar, though always fruitless, negotiations. This time around,
however, expectations are running higher than usual, primarily because of a
positive change in the dynamic between the two side's by far most important
sponsor states, Turkey and Greece. Turkey, for example, has recently
acquired candidacy status within the European Union, which commits it to
resolving among other things its disputes with EU member Greece. Greece, o=
the other hand, has lately suffered a series of embarrassments on the
international stage, the biggest of which was being caught last February
having given sanctuary to fugitive Kurdish separatist leader -- and
terrorist in most people's minds -- Abdullah "Apo" Ocalan. Coupled with th=
significant good will garnered in the wake of the tremendous assistance
Turkey and Greece gave each other after their twin earthquake disasters las=
year, the two countries just may be willing to push their client states
toward a deal.
The point where the fence meets the sea marks the end of the gentle curve o=
the short beach I am walking. Behind me, at this beach's other end, is
inhabited Maras' nicest hotel (oddly sporting an English name, the Palm
Beach Hotel). If you looked in that direction, taking in only the fine
hotel, the attractive beach, the dark blue sea, you might think you were in
a tourist paradise. But this is no paradise. As I walk the last few feet
to the fence I begin to see another beach emerge, much longer than the one =
am on, sweeping south most of the way to the horizon. There are more
hotels, which I knew from what I had read were also empty. But my reading
has not prepared me for the monstrous proportions of it all. First, in the
distance, one, two, three empty hotels quickly come into view, then, more
slowly, dozens more. At the fence, with the entire beach now visible, I
count more than thirty of them, and these just on the waterfront.
Just beyond the fence are a few pieces of ancient playground equipment
scattered about the sand. I try to imagine the happy cries of the children
as their parents, more than twenty- five years before, pushed them round an=
round in dizzying circles on the miniature merry-go-around, now rusted and
partially buried by drifted sand. There is a long slide too, though
half-tumbled down, one of its rusted supports having twisted and collapsed
after so many years of weather and neglect. My own memories of childhood
end at no such place now trapped inside a militarized no-man's land. How
different life must seem to those whose memories do. What sorts of dreams
are built on this type of innocence lost?
I turn around and walk to the Palm Beach Hotel, along the way wondering if
it was merely luck that had left it on the business side of the fence. On
its porch I chose a chair, since it has become cold, near a partly cracked
door through which comes a warm draft. I order a cup of tea. As the
evening grows darker, so does the abandoned town spread out before me. The
crescent moon is now higher in the sky and, together with a strategically
placed star, provides a tiny bright exclamation point over the entire disma=
At that moment two energetic young men burst through the door. The bigger
of the two is gripping the arm of the other, directing him forward to the
"Bak [look]!" he says in Turkish, gesturing out toward the sea with a broad
sweep of his free arm. "Harika, degil mi [Wonderful, isn't it]?"
"Evet, cok guzel [Yes, very beautiful]", his friend agrees.
They stand gazing out over the sea, though after a brief moment I see the
smaller man's head turn toward the darkened hulks that line the shore. The
bigger man glances at his friend, sees where he is looking, then looks
himself. They are both silent for quite some time before the bigger man
returns his attention to his friend, squeezes his arm. His friend, as if
awakening from a trance, slowly pulls his gaze from the ruins, smiles up at
his companion. After two identical, simultaneous shrugs, they chuckle
uneasily, shaking their heads as they do.
When they turn to return to the door, I holler out to them. "Baris mumkun m=
[Is peace possible]?"
They stop, look at me with frowns of curiosity. "Nerelisiniz [Where are yo=
from]?" It is the big one who had taken the lead.
"Amerikali"yim [I'm an American]."
His frown deepens, though now for a different reason. "Belki dort, bes yil
sonra [Maybe four, five years from now], belki hic bir zaman yok [maybe
"Ama, ne hakkinda otuz bir ocak, bir yeni baris gurusmesi [But, what about
January 31st, the new peace negotiations] =01(?"
"Hah!" he exclaims, interrupting me. "Her zamen yeni baris gorumesi var
[There are always new peace negotiations]!"
He thereupon dismisses my inference with the same sweeping arm gesture he
used to introduce, to his friend, the sea.
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