When the plane touched down in Larnaca, I didn’t know what to expect. When I was planning this trip, I was only looking to visit a country I had not been to for which my long-term Schengen visa would be useful. A country I preferably knew nothing or little about.
That’s how I found myself in Cyprus, an island country in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Geographically, it belongs to Western Asia but its culture and geopolitics are predominantly Southeastern European.
Turkey lies 65 kilometers north, Syria, 100 kilometers east. And 770 kilometers northwest of Cyprus, lies mainland Greece.
The people of Cyprus come from two ethnic origins: Greek and Turkish. Greek Cypriots who comprise 80 percent of the population are primarily Eastern Orthodox Christians. Turkish Cypriots who comprise 20 percent of the population are Sunni Muslims.
The differences between the two groups, however, which have resulted in power struggles throughout history, have been secular rather than religious. The Greek Cypriots wanted eventual union with Greece. The Turkish Cypriots, however, wanted partition and independence.
In 1974, Turkish troops invaded the north and managed to snatch one-third of the island. This invasion was in response to a military coup in Cyprus backed by the government of Greece.
The Turkish-occupied north is what is now called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a country recognized only by Turkey because this partition is illegal in the eyes of the global community.
Two-thirds of the island remains under the control of the Greek Cypriots. This is the Republic of Cyprus, the internationally-recognized country that became a full member of the European Union in 2004.
But because Cyprus was a part of the British Empire under military occupation from 1914 to 1925 and a Crown colony from 1925 to 1960, the British, until today, retain control of a portion of the island called the British Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia.
So, on this island country of 1.4 million people, the third largest and most populous island in the Mediterranean next to Sicily and Sardinia, fly three flags: Cypriot, Turkish and British. And for many Cypriots, this is a tragedy.
There is a lot to know, see and experience in Cyprus.
Our group based ourselves in Larnaca where the main airport is located. And from Larnaca, we explored the archaeological city of Paphos, the capital city of Nicosia, the second-most important city of Limassol, the ghost-town city of Famagusta, the popular Troodos Mountains as well as the renowned seaside resort cities of Ayia Napa and Paralimni-Protaras.
I got off the plane in Cyprus with zero expectations. But wow, did I leave the island with so many unforgettable memories. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to go to a place you know nothing or little about. (To be continued next week.)
May 27, 2023
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