NY Times Article

1995 N.Y. Times News Service

NICOSIA, Cyprus - On the deserted asphalt tract that slices through the center of the world's last divided capital, there is a small painted triangle. For fifteen minutes each hour, Turkish troops are allowed to move from their border posts and stand inside the white lines. The arrangement is part of a deal negotiated by the United Nations to give Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots access to several disputed areas along the 110-mile border that separates the north from the south. And it is a potent reminder that once the folly of war is over, folly itself is often all that remains.

"It's really a game of hopscotch," said Maj. Richard Nixon-Eckersall, a British peacekeeper. "You see, the Greek sentries, over there, can't see the lines. Are the Turks inside the lines or not? A lot of rock-throwing and insults are generated over this triangle. Last year the Greeks fired off five rounds at the Turks. This is considered one of the most volatile areas along the Green Line."

A buffer zone along the Green Line, set up after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and patrolled by U.N. soldiers, has prevented the resumption of a civil war that began in 1963. The last clash took place two years ago when Turkish forces shot and killed a Greek Cypriot soldier.

The buffer zone - four miles wide in spots, narrowing to just a few yards in others - cuts through farmland, mountain passes and Nicosia. Many of the houses and shops in the no man's land have furniture and goods still stacked inside. Some doors have signs warning of booby traps. The deserted Nicosia International Airport with its gutted terminals, the seaside resort of Varosha swallowed up in thick vegetation, and the whitewashed Olympus Hotel are crumbling from neglect and inhabited by stray dogs and cats.

The buffer zone is lined with earthworks, barbed wire, trenches, bunkers and watchtowers manned by troops with automatic weapons. There are about 43,000 Turkish and Greek Cypriot troops, including 30,000 Turkish soldiers sent by Ankara to the island, stationed along it.

On one side is Northern Cyprus, which has one-fifth of the island's 650,000 people and a government recognized only by Turkey. It is a dreary collection of towns and villages that look like working-class districts in Istanbul. It suffers from constant shortages and high rates of unemployment and is propped up by the Ankara government with an estimated $200 million a year.

The south has a per capita income of $12,000 a year, equal to those of Ireland and Spain. Luxury hotels and shops selling designer clothes, bone china and computer software nestle along tree-lined avenues.

As if the war had ended only a few days ago, the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots denounce each other in repetitive weekly editorials and political rallies. The Ayios Demetrios Church in Nicosia, in one of the stream of Greek exhibitions portraying Turkish perfidy, has just mounted a photo display of the desecration of more than 200 Greek churches in the northern part of the island.

"For over 20 years our young men have been trained in the art of war," said the Greek Cypriot president, Glafkos Clerides, seated one afternoon in his hilltop Presidential Palace. "They are trained not to fight an external foe, but an internal enemy. This has had a devastating effect on the younger generation."

The war between the Christians and Muslims in the Balkans is viewed by many on the island as an extension of the religious clash that grips Cyprus. The mayor in northern Nicosia, whose father disappeared in the violence in 1963, keeps a poster denouncing the siege of Sarajevo on his office door.

U.N. officials, along with Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders, say it would take little to trigger the conflict again.

"The two peoples cannot be put back together," said Rauf Denktash, the leader of the Turkish Cypriots. "One single incident, one crime involving a Turk and a Greek, would ignite the whole thing. We can't play with the fears of the people."

At the Ledra Palace Hotel checkpoint, where only foreign visitors who do not have Turkish or Greek names can cross, the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots have set up competing billboards. Each side displays gruesome photos of the atrocities they have endured.

"Enjoy yourself in this land of racial purity and true apartheid," read a billboard directed at those headed to the north. "Enjoy the sight of our desecrated churches. Enjoy what remains of our looted heritage and homes."

Red and white star-and-crescent flags flapped over the Turkish Cypriot guard posts, about 400 yards away, and a sign welcomed visitors to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. An enlarged photo showed the bloody bodies of a Turkish Cypriot mother and her three children in a bathtub. Another showed a priest firing a rifle with the caption, "A Greek Cypriot priest who forgot his religious duties and joined to the hunting of Turks."