Transition in Nicosia: Reopening the Ledra / Lokmaci Crossing Lefkos Kyriacou Additional Photographs by Emily Greeves
Conflict in Cities: Europe and the Middle East
In 1974, through ‘liberation’ or ‘invasion’, the actions of mainland Turkey led to the creation of a de facto state in the North of Cyprus, later known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). This left the Republic of Cyprus as a predominantly Greek-Cypriot state in the southern half of the island. The partition was enabled by a Buffer Zone, whose thickness was determined by the respective ceasefire lines of the two armies and subsequently monitored by the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). Cyprus was bisected; its ethnic distribution drastically rearranged according to national and international interests. The limits of the Turkish military advance in 1974 continue to segregate the island and Nicosia today: Greek Cypriots in the south and Turkish Cypriots in the north, both with Nicosia as their capital. The Buffer Zone, within Nicosia, was the hardening of a much older line in the heart of the city that was once a common ground between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities that developed into a frontier during the second half of the 20th Century. Streets that abut the Buffer Zone come to dead-ends against concrete walls, barbed-wire fences, sand-bags and military observation points, forming a ‘no-man’s land’ that stretches across the entire island. This is the story of the reopening of one of the streets divided by the Buffer Zone and formerly the main shopping street of the capital: Ledra Street in Greek (named after the ancient city-state of Ledra) and Lokmaci Street in Turkish (after Cyprus’ crispy, honeyed doughnuts).
The natural topography of the Pentadaktylos mountain range on the Turkish-Cypriot side of the city forms the backdrop to the north-south axis of Ledra/Lokmaci Street. From GreekCypriot Ledra Street looking north, one can see imprinted on the mountain face the flags of mainland Turkey and the TRNC. These form an unavoidable daily reminder for the Greek-Cypriots of not only the presence but also ‘threat’ of those they perceive as illegal occupiers of ‘their’ city.
In 2003, one encountered a stark manifestation of the Cypriot conflict when reaching the artificial dead-end of GreekCypriot Ledra Street. The blockade was lifted in April 2008, but for decades this was a place charged with anger and nationalistic feelings. The flags that emerge from a stone plinth in front of the road block are not only that of the Republic of Cyprus but also included that of the Greek ‘motherland’. On the west side of this plinth was a shop selling memorabilia of what the GreekCypriots call the 'tragedy' of the Turkish invasion of 1974 to large numbers of curious tourists. On the east side, a gallery of photographs dedicated to the dead and ‘missing’ of the 1974 conflict greeted Greek Cypriot locals and tourists.
The centrepiece of the blockade, the most significant of Greek-Cypriot Nicosia’s many dead-ends, was simply a raised viewing platform where tourists walked up a flight of steps on one side gazed across the Buffer Zone before descending down the other set of steps - still in Greek-Cypriot Nicosia. This structure, originally a military observation point, was a celebration of division, one that the authorities were desperate to exhibit to the island’s visitors. The text on the fascia of the platform’s canopy reads: ‘Nothing is gained without sacrifices and freedom without blood’, a reminder that ‘peaceful’, divided Nicosia was still a city in conflict. For the GreekCypriots at least, this road-block was a poignant reminder of 30 years of occupation.
Walking down the same street (Lokmaci Street) in 2003, on the Turkish-Cypriot side, there was no overt residue of conflict in the urban topography. Even as you approached the dead end (if you forgot where you were) it would not be immediately clear what you were looking at. As with any other city, there are walls one cannot scale or pass through. But here it begs the questions of whether or not the Buffer Zone can be mistaken for ‘just another barrier’? Moving closer towards the dead-end, the flag of mainland Turkey becomes apparent then further in the distance the Greek flag can be seen beyond the collapsing roof of an abandoned building in the Buffer Zone…
…There were minimal signs of contestation compared to view of the Buffer Zone on the other side. However, the physicality of the division itself transcended the attempts to ignore the other half of the city. On the wall that used to cut off Ledra Street, graffiti of a pointed arch or window had been drawn, evoking a memory of something lost: maybe a desire to once again cross Hermes Street in no man’s land or simply a reminder to Turkish Cypriots that there was something on the other side. It was an intriguing palimpsest equally as a charged a marker of division as the conscious and organised reminders on the Greek-Cypriot side. In April 2004, the ‘Annan Plan’ a United Nations proposal to resolve the Cyprus Problem and reunify the island, was put to a referendum on both sides of the island. Although voted for by Turkish-Cypriots, Greek-Cypriots in the south rejected the plan. A month later, the (GreekCypriot) Republic of Cyprus joined the EU but the Turkish Cypriots including the Avrupa (Europe) Café at the end of Lokmaci Street would have to wait, remaining cut off from the other half of Nicosia and, now, the newly expanded territory of the EU in the eastern Mediterranean.
An important character in the story of Ledra/Lokmaci Street since 1974 is the Nicosia Master Plan. This plan was created by a group of Greek and Turkish Cypriot consultants (amongst them architects, urban planners and engineers) formed in 1979. This bi-communal and multi-disciplinary team developed quietly as a collaboration between the two Nicosia municipalities despite hard physical division and political intransigence at state levels. The approach of the Master Plan was (and is) one of combining historic conservation of the walled city with planning policies to contain urban sprawl, in an attempt to rejuvenate the â€˜heartâ€™ of Nicosia. Plans were drawn up to address both the possibility of continued division as well as reunification. Since 1985, the projects carried out by the Master Plan team have been working towards a vision of the city without the Buffer Zone despite its continued presence. The ethos of the Master Plan could not allow for any bipolar development, it had to be seen as a structure for a unified and open city. Amongst its achievements has been the coordinated establishment of pedestrianised routes on either side of the Buffer Zone (marked by these embossed paviours) including Ledra and Lokmaci Street, a decade before the opening of the crossing in 2008.
The Turkish Cypriot administration began easing travel restrictions across the Buffer Zone outside the city in 2003. By December 2005 talks between the two sides on opening a crossing within the city led to the Turkish Cypriot authorities demolishing the wall at the end of Lokmaci Street. In its place a blue footbridge (curiously reminiscent of the Greek Cypriot observation point) was constructed which was intended to connect the street across the Buffer Zone to Ledra Street. Turkish Cypriots could climb one side of the bridge and for the first time in 30 years look across to the other side. At the top of the bridge was a barrier with the sign: â€˜To be opened soon, no access beyond this pointâ€™.
On the other side, the GreekCypriots vehemently objected to this structure and refused to reopen Ledra Street. They claimed that the bridge was an instrument for the Turkish army to patrol the Buffer Zone edge whilst people crossed above. They demanded that the Turkish military withdraw from the area before a reopening was countenanced. Behind the bridge, a message for those watching from the podium hung from the face of a crumbling buildingâ€Ś
…’To those who are watching from the wall of shame! This is the bridge of peace’. This sign hung from the face of the former site of the Lokmaci, the purveyor of honeyed, crispy doughnuts from which the street gets its name in Turkish. During the year of impasse when the bridge stood and the crossing remained closed, the message incongruously located above a dilapidated shop was the angry riposte to the perceived obstinacy of the Greek-Cypriots watching from across the Buffer Zone.
During the short life of the blue footbridge, another bridge motif could be seen around the south side of the city: as part of an unsuccessful campaign by an archaeologist to become Mayor of Greek-Cypriot Nicosia. The campaign poster bore the slogan ‘Nicosia in the light’ and the background was a late 16th century Venetian map of the city showing the newly constructed Venetian citadel evoking a pre-Ottoman, unified Christian city. Ironically the Catholic Venetians had excluded the indigenous Greek Orthodox population from taking part in most aspects of urban life and it was only under the Ottoman millet system that an Orthodox Archbishopric was established in the city. Through the centre of the city, closely following the path of the current division the map shows the original path of the seasonal Pedieos River, before it was diverted north to flood the citadel’s new moats. Not only did the dried up riverbed develop under Ottoman rule into a commercial district used by both communities, but it also established a soft border between the largely Muslim north and Christian south sides of the city. Although streets are not drawn, the Ledra/Lokmaci crossing is identifiable as one of the river’s bridges.
The blue footbridge was dismantled by the Turkish-Cypriots in January 2007, and the Greek-Cypriots took down their military observation point two months later. The removal of these two structures, in conjunction with the election of left-wing leaders on both sides led to favourable talks on reopening the street. Over the next year, the UNFICYP checked the crossing for landmines. The surrounding buildings, abandoned for over 30 years were made structurally sound by the bicommunal Masterplan team. In April 2008 the street was reopened. Fabric with pastel coloured street scenes were hung between the two sides of the city to conceal the crumbling, empty streets of the Buffer Zone beyond.
After the crossing reopened in 2008, the banner on Lokmaci Street that had previously called out to the ‘wall of shame’ on the other side now invited Greek-Cypriots to cross the Buffer Zone with the beckoning greeting of: ‘Let’s go to shopping’. Significantly the banner is printed in English and Greek, calling out to both the international tourist trade (one cannot fly direct to Northern Cyprus, except from Turkey) as well as Greek-Cypriots. Amongst the Tukish delights on offer are ‘Turkish Lokma’ although they are just ‘Loukoumas’ when translated into Greek.
In order to cross from south to north, one passes through a TRNC immigration checkpoint on the Turkish Cypriot side. Here, immigration control officers in booths check passports and issue temporary visas on separate slips to those entering the TRNC. From north to south, only Turkish-Cypriots and foreigners can pass (and thousands of Turkish-Cypriots do cross daily, to work in the wealthier south) but settlers from Turkey are not permitted to cross to the other side. Greek-Cypriots also visit the north although they may be more reticent about doing so as it could be deemed legitimising the TRNC. But they are drawn by the cheaper shops and the far laxer gambling laws that allow a plethora of casinos. Significantly, since the opening of this and five other crossings across the island since 2003, there has been scant evidence of renewed violence between the two communities.
The Republic of Cyprus does not have immigration control as it does not recognise this as a legitimate international border but ID checks are carried out â€“ after all this is the EUâ€™s de facto border in the eastern Mediterranean. The flags of Greece and Cyprus remain as one crosses into GreekCypriot Nicosia but otherwise the place is much changed. Gone are the military observation point and the tourist shop selling mementos of the 1974 conflict. The photograph gallery of the 1974 dead and missing remained for a while but is now dismantled. This is a still a damaged city and the conflict is very evident but the anger and melancholy that was so manifest here a decade ago has subsided a great deal since the street reopened.
Conflict in Cities and the Contested State research project, supported by the ESRC (grant number RES-060-25-0015)
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The limits of the Turkish military advance in 1974 continue to segregate the island and Nicosia today: Greek Cypriots in the south and Turki...