For Andrea, there was only a brief mention of the Turkish invasion on the nightly news in her New York home and then silence. . . and agony as she waited for some word of her family's fate. After six months it finally came. They'd gotten out, all of them, one of the few fortunate families. Theirs was an in-tact family but without a home, without a village. Refugees forced to the other side of the island as a handful of political players, untouched by the tragedy, drew lines on a map, invisible borders that remain today.
The people are referred to as Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, both groups having lived peacefully as a diverse population of christian and muslim Cypriots until the invasion from mainland Turkey, which forced the Turkish Cypriots from their homes in the south as they feared repercussions from the injured Greek Cypriots. So they fled to the Turkish-occupied side of Cyprus while the Greek Cypriot refugees who were able to escape that war zone, relocated in the south.
There are ghost towns at the border that lie within something called the buffer zone, a sort of no-man's-land between the two sides. It's too dangerous to settle near there even though it's more than 40 years later. What would happen if one side or the other decided to take more land? Better to be as far from the border as possible. So we passed by completely empty shells of large villages with houses, town squares, and churches standing vacant against the cypriot-blue sky as nature slowly covers the stones, taking them back to the earth. . . a historical site for future generations to ponder over.
We were there to visit Pigi (Πηγη), Andrea's village, something she's dreamed of for years. The border has been open since 2003. Greek Cypriots who've been exiled from their homes for over 4 decades have trickled back to see their homes, but those houses are occupied by the enemy . . . kind of. Our Cypriot license plate identified us and most people understood why we were there. There were hesitant waves of welcome, a honk or two from a passing car with Turkish plates, a few meek nods of the head as we passed by cafes.
We walked through the village, while Andrea's husband followed in the car. The church where she'd gotten married still stood, defiled and unkempt. The symbols of christianity had been removed and the pigeons had taken up residence. There was the simultaneous joy of returning home, with the horror of what it had become, and it was emotionally confusing. I shot a brief video:
The woman led us around the house with two younger women following. It wasn't clear who they were but they were swept up in the emotion as Andrea communicated with the older woman the best she could while pointing out changes. I quietly snapped photos, tears welling in my eyes as I watched Andrea use all of her might to stay composed.
Afterwards, we got back in the car and drove away from the occupied area, away from the woman who occupied the house and back across the checkpoint, back onto a well manicured, wide-paved road of Greek Cyprus.
On one awful day in 1974, a handful of men from various countries separated the people of Cyprus, drew a line between their two religions . . . but they are all Cypriots many of whom simply yearn to go home.
The Nifi, Your Own Kind and Among the Zinnias are available with this link. And they're free if you have Kindle Unlimited. I hope you will give one of them a try!