Divided Lefkosia: the Green Line

Dear Reader,
Crossing a check-point has always made my trips exciting and adventurous. And in this case it has never been weirder and easier than the Green Line of Lefkosia. The check-point and Green Line of Nicosia are fascinating; while barely visible, when you do notice them you kind of get a bizarre and odd edge about the city. The check-point I’m referring to is the one located in Ledra Street (not to be confused with Ledra Palas). Ledra Street was sealed in 1974 during the Turkish troops invasion on the North and was reopened in 2008 following recent defrosting events in the South and North relations. Now almost everybody can cross the border regardless the point in which you entered the island. They might ask for further controls if you’re not an EU citizen but normally it doesn’t go beyond that (for Turkish people who wish to visit the Southern side they are basically asked to enter via any legal entry point in the South). The Ledra Street check-point, the only one made for pedestrians, was opened in 2008 it is located in such way that it appears out of nowhere right in the middle of the market. So, back to my adventure. It was on our fourth day of travelling around that we finally decided it was time cross to the North, I wanted to do that sooner, but I was not alone to decide. As we planned on a road trip starting from Paphos, we were warned that the same car rented in Paphos was not allowed to cross to the North. In spite of additional insurance that are normally offered before crossing the Green Line, it was better to avoid further risks. So we drove to Nicosia (Lefkosia) and left our car in a parking lot and we started walking towards Ledra Street, the only check-point for pedestrians, right in the middle of the city. And when I say right in the middle I really mean it 🙂 Lefkosia is a touristic stop and often crowded, especially if you go towards the market and the Old City area. lefkosia busy Plenty of tiny streets filled with shops and people

lefkosia star

We knew that the check point would be just in Ledra Street, at some point, but as we kept walking I saw no sign or anything that will indicate “Check-point, 50 mts” or “Passport Control this way”. Nothing. So we kept walking with a Starbucks coffee in our hands. Not even 30 meters later, we finally see the UN signs of Green Line

The buffer zone is about 180 km (110 miles) long, and is controlled by United Nations peacekeepers. According to this U.N. force, the Green Line is almost seven and a half kilometers across at its widest point, and takes up about three percent of the island. The buffer zone is most visible in Nicosia, where it is common to see streets blocked off by concrete walls, barrels and barbed wire. Outside of built-up areas the Green Line seems more symbolic. It is monitored by checkpoints and watchtowers, but is not marked by a great wall or fence. Occasionally roads will be blocked off and abandoned towns dot the route. But the area feels more like a wildlife preserve than a zone where troops operate. It can be a frustrating place to work as a photographer. Photography is not allowed in or along the Green Line, and I had to get special permission and be accompanied by a U.N. observer to enter. On a number of occasions, police and soldiers told me to move on, and I was stopped and questioned by a U.N. patrol.

© Stanito, 2013

Stanito at the UN Buffer Zone about to cross the Green Line

© Stanito, 2013

A corridor of 30-40 meters with a handful of people, leading to the actual Passport Control

20130508_152829© Stanito, 2013

20130509_154854© Stanito, 2013

20130508_152826© Stanito, 2013

As I stood back in the line I saw that the control was very quick and simple: the visa form is basic and requires only full name, document number, and signature. No more than that. The officer doesn’t ask any questions as per “Why are you here?” or “Where will you stay in the Northern side?” or “Are you carrying any dangerous items in your bag?”, none of that, which seemed strange to me as most countries with partition lines will at least put you through a minimum interrogation. But this wasn’t the case. After you fill in the tiny document they stamp it and let you know that this piece of paper has to be given back once you return.
So my mother and cousin took 2 minutes for the whole thing and got their stamp on the piece of paper, but I wanted it on my passport 🙂 !
So when it finally came to my turn, this was the dialogue:
Me: “Can I have the stamp on my passport? 🙂 ”
Lady: “Really?”
Me: “Sure, why not, I mean what could possibly happen if I have it, right?”
Lady: “Why do you want it on your passport?” she took her reading glasses off which made me laugh a bit 🙂 seemed like my request surprised her.
Me: “I collect stamps…” I was a bit emarrased, I knew how childish I sounded and she looked so serious that made me feel silly. But damn I wanted my stamp!
Lady: “Then give me back the piece of paper, you cannot have two stamps, one is enough”
Me: “Oh, ok, I was hoping I could keep both, but sure, no problem 🙂 ”
Lady: “One stamp is enough madam”
Me: “You are right. Will I get the stamp on my way out when I return?”
Lady: “No, you will not. One stamp, is enough” She was visibly annoyed  and I was amused, normally they stamp your passport twice 🙂 ! So why would she say that? Is it  because I was crossing to an unrecognized area that one stamp was enough proof? Some sort of bad feeling? Or she simply didn’t like me? In the meantime I didn’t realize that behind there was a huge line of people waiting and probably wondering why it was taking so long (they must have thought “Ha! Another Italian complaining about something”). My mother and cousin approached me worried and asked what was going on, so I said “The lady said she can stamp my passport, but only once :/”. To their annoyed reply “And that’s why you’re taking so long?!” I thought yes, maybe I was being the Italian who often complains… But who cares, I have my stamp 🙂

20130518_172224 (1)© Stanito, 2013

And then welcomed to North Lefkosia

65691_10151640741015225_1316633594_n© Stanito, 2013

20130509_155105© Stanito, 2013


17 thoughts on “Divided Lefkosia: the Green Line

  1. basically you have destroyed your passport. With the same luck you could draw a stamp by hand. They are not a recognized state and some other states might not accept your passport if they find this one. That is the only reason why those white pieces of paper are there.

  2. Hello Alice, well this might have been an issue long ago for those traveling to/from Greece, but not anymore. Honestly, there are stamps that are way worse than this one from North Cyprus 😉

    1. it is still an issue. I am not saying there will be problems, but there might be, meaning there is such a probability in countries whose customs do bother to look through the visas, if you ever visit them.

      long ago there was no way to go to the occupied area of the north from Cyprus. the same as for us there was no way to go to Turkey (they checked for the Larnaca/Paphos entry stamps).

      As for the rest I would totally agree with Dean Plassaras, especially because unlike many exotic countries they did work out a way to “comply” with the law.

  3. Actually Stanito you should not encourage an illegal state to act a legal one. You are cute and your thoughts are cute but play acting with a pseudo-authority only encourages criminal behavior. According to the EU the entire island of a Cyprus is a full EU member with the republic of Cyprus having de jure control over the whole island. Therefore, setting aside that you are an Italian beauty for a second, and strictly as a European citizen you should not have put up with the pseudo-authority pretending to have a say in your free movement within EU territory. The illegal Turkish pseudo-state has enough inferiority complex as it is. And the reluctance of the customs Turkish lady was just that. They don’t want evidence on EU passports showing Turkey openly disregarding the acquis communautaire, in other words the EU law. And you as a citizen of old Rome you should know well about the importance of the law. BTW, there is no such thing as north Cyprus nor south Cyprus for this matter. These are all Turkish fabrications for their own self-serving purposes none of which are European in nature or law. 🙂

    1. Hi Dean and thanks for your comment, is very interesting 🙂
      I understand what you say (and Alice too) and I agree that Cyprus should always be referred with one name, in spite of the different communities inhabitating the island and religions. But the same thing you say regarding the Turkish Cypriots can be found when you hear them out, with a different and probably more arguable perspective of course. I do not have a stake in thisconflict and I can freely say I preferred the Greek side of the island (more my kind of place), but the Turkish Cypriot community is there whether you like or not, and they do have a very different point of view.
      My mission is not to encourage any sort of rebellious movements but rather unveil facts that not many people know of. Would you say that going to Palestine is a similar issue as well? 🙂
      Please have your say, I’d like to know more from your point of view.

      1. My opinion can be biased. I grew up in Limassol where most of the refugees are. I never hide how hard it was for me to go to the North for the first time and I have many friends who do not go there out of principle only because they have to show their passport where they shouldn’t be showing it. I will try my best to avoid the bias.

        I have friends on the North who are actually Cypriots, have Greek Cypriot grandmothers or grandfathers, and what they say is very different from what the continental Turks say. There were idiots paid to kill people on both sides and these idiots were one of the reasons for a great propaganda which is going on for almost 40 years now. Many continental Turks come to study, train or live there for various reasons and, hearing these stories they happily join the propaganda and consider it a game where one must say the Greeks are bad (historically Greece gained independence from the Ottomans in 1825 only and was under their rule before that).

        At the same time the Cypriot Turkish, unlike the continental Turkish, do want to reunite and they all say it is Turkey that prevents them from doing it. Turkey pays salaries to the civil servants (and triple of those on the continent), Turkey has monopolized the imports of the Occupied territories and basically has their own little resort which actually the English and the Cypriots built. There are maps where all Cyprus is a part of Turkey. Occupied lands have what Turkey doesnt – casinoes, remote unspoiled beaches, amazing churches and castles, a cleaner sea (than even in the South), lots of army camps where kids from all over Turkey pass their training. Now the occupied lands also would have been entitled (if anyone besides Turkey accepted them as a country) for the vast gas reserves found East of Famagusta. Given all that I see little chances that Turkey will ever let us go.

        At the same time the Greek Cypriots may be louder in denouncing the Turkish, you will be damned if anyone finds out you buy clothes on the occupied side (many do because it is cheaper). But that is because of all the pain that was caused by the 1974 invasion and because Greek Cypriots who remember it are still alive. But that is all they do. They speak and say how bad is it that the Turkish attacked them.

        And it can never be compared with Palestine. It is not a ghetto, all people who lived in Cyprus before 1974 were entitled to get a Cypriot passport when the borders opened, they can freely come to Cyprus or anywhere in Europe, as well as Turkey, they do anything they want there, they reclaim the lands they owned before the war on the South and sell them if they wish (I have examples) so they way I see it this problem was created by Turkey and maybe some metropoles, but not so much by the Cypriots themselves.

        I tried to describe it, but I described a small part of a greater problem which the politicians are unwilling to solve. At the same time the problem is always being used by the politicians (promising to solve the problem in return for voting for something). Yes, it is painful for me, although I have no Cypriot blood in me (lots of Greek blood though).

        If you ever go to Cyprus again I highly recommend to visit Famagusta and especially the Varosha area. There is an amazing beach (the one all celebrities loved) and from it you see the great but abandoned hotels, office centers, multystorey buildings etc. Basically in 1974 it was abandoned and nothing changed there ever since. But Limassol (the most industrial city) is becoming so developed only now, in 2012-2013. Famagusta had all that 40 years ago already.

    2. Stanito:

      Sorry, I just saw your reply and thus the delayed response. I don’t know the background on Palestine perhaps you could help me understand it better. As far as Cyprus is concerned all the Turkish Cypriots are EU citizens therefore afforded some of the best individual citizen rights on this planet and far more advanced than say Turkey. The other issue on Cyprus is that the illegal partition is contrary to the EU idea of unity. If you allow Cyprus to split in different countries then Spain could do the same and anything south of Rome could revert back to about 50 Greek city states of Magna Graecia. 🙂 You simply don’t do such anachronisms in modern society. Finally the tragedy on Cyprus is that at least DNA-wise they are the same people. Those converting to Islam during the Ottoman times were spared of taxation. Those who opted to continue as Christians had the right to do so upon some special tax levy. So now you tell me, by Jupiter, isn’t it a bit silly in this day and age to perpetuate a religious difference masking as some sort of pseudo-ethnic issue? Not only such nonsense is unacceptable but it is an affront on common intelligence. No one would ever harm the Turkish Cypriots. They are citizens of the Republic of Cyprus and citizens of the EU. Instead they are being used as a pretext for Turkish troops to have a military base on EU soil. Don’t you find such simple outrageous? because I do.

      1. Dear Dean
        so sorry but I just saw your message.

        I agree with you as in Religion should be part of our freedom no matter where we are, no matter how diverse our country is.
        Problem is Religion, for certain ethnicities, means also power, therefore the right to exert their right to dominate and “convert”. See what happens in the Middle-East. The issue starts as a Religion thing but in the end it develops into a power war where those who profess a different religion or even opinion are beheaded. So yes, it is outrageous.

  4. No, you didn’t “destroy” your passport. I have stamps from a whole range of countries that don’t exist including places like Transnistria, Somaliland and Nagorno-Karabakh and no one cares at all.

  5. As of 2013 when I went through the Ledra passport control I did not get my passport stamped even on my request. I was very disappointed. I plan to visit TRNC so I hope I will get my passport stamp.

    1. Hello Martin, thank you for your comment.
      I’m sorry you couldn’t get the stamp you wanted. For me wasn’t easy really either, I asked and insisted until the lady took my passport and behind me a whole line of people waiting.
      Mm you know what? Next time time, if you can, you go try and look for the friendly-looking officer and then you ask for it. This might help as their excuse for not wanting to stamp your passport is because they try and avoid causing complications as the territory is not really recognise by anyone except Turkey.

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