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Media Watch 2003

25 August 2009
Source: Guardian
Author: Paul Hamilos
Comment: The following article appeared in the Guardian of London on 25 August 2003.
Paul Hamilos@Gypsos

The following article appeared in the Guardian of London on 25 August 2003 written by Paul Hamilos in Gypsos in the Republic of Cyprus (area currenlty under illegal Turkish occupations).
"Paul Hamilos@Gypsos


Ignoring the sign warning against wearing "unsuitable footwear", the woman ahead of us seemed set on climbing the steps to the top of St Hilarion castle in flip-flops. With the temperature a cooling 41C, and the peak a mere 732 metres up, her ascent was brave but short-lived.

She wasn't the first to have failed to conquer St Hilarion. A force of nature, seemingly carved out of the rocky mountain on which it sits, the castle has witnessed a string of battles since its patron saint, a Palestinian hermit, fled here in the 7th century. Now, the winding approach road passes through a Turkish army base at the castle's feet. There are more warning signs, this time forbidding stopping, walking and photography. Hard to believe, but St Hilarion is very much on the tourist trail in the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus.

Following the partial opening of the border with the island's Greek-Cypriot south in April, the castle is enjoying one of the more peaceful periods of its long life. Thousands of refugees from both sides have crossed the border, visiting their homes for the first time since July 1974, when the Turkish army invaded after the military dictatorship in mainland Greece overthrew the Cypriot government. St Hilarion and the enclaves around it were prime targets as Turkish paratroops made early inroads into the island, forcing Greek Cypriots to flee south as Turkish Cypriots scrambled in the opposite direction.

Now, sitting in the shade of the castle's terrace, Greek-Cypriot parents explain the site's importance to their children who were born after the invasion, while the Turkish cafe owner provides vital refreshments. It's almost as if the last 30 years never happened.

Almost, except that elsewhere the repercussions of the invasion are clearly visible. While tourism has brought rapid growth in the south, northern Cyprus - recognised as an independent state only by Turkey - has struggled for a place in the Mediterranean. It is a damaged mix of corruption and stagnated development, though there's not quite the level of poverty that Greek Cypriots had long been convinced there was. For the politically connected, the north is a playground of tacky casinos; for the rest, a land with very narrow horizons.

But now that the island is on the brink of accession to the EU, held back only by its divided status, reunification has become a serious business. For Turkish Cypriots it is the chance of a European passport and work abroad.

Driving from St Hilarion towards my father's village, Gypsos, we felt like tourists, with maps in hand. Place names had been replaced by Turkish ones after the invasion, and we were now heading for Akova. The maps weren't really necessary; after a half-hour drive we came to the village. The cemetery was desecrated during the invasion, though some attempt to restore the gravestones has been made since. A few were garlanded with plastic flowers, a sign that we weren't the first returnees.

The village itself seemed empty. Where once 2,000 people lived off the land, squabbling pigeons now provide the most visible sign of life. The Church of St George, where my parents married in 1973, has been converted into a mosque, its bells replaced with speakers for the call to prayer. Yet we saw few people who might answer its call.

Eventually we met an old Turkish-Cypriot man, who spoke in a mix of English and Greek, with a heavy Australian accent. Like many, he had emigrated in the 1960s, helped by the island's colonial ties, but now found himself unable to return to live in his home in the south. A mirror image of my father's experience, he was similarly keen to see a permanently reunited island: "Our leaders may hate each other, but we can live together. We are Cypriots, after all.""