The Syrians have left Beirut alone since I got here. But they have been smuggling people and weapons into Lebanon for weeks. Yesterday their proxies known as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine kidnapped six Lebanese soldiers in the Bekaa Valley. I assure you the so-called “popular front” is not at all popular in this country.
Just in time for me to take a forced break. I need a fresh visa stamp, so I’m going to Cyprus.
As tiny as Cyprus is, it isn’t one place. Since 1974 the island has been divided into two separate countries.
The southern Greek Cypriot half recently joined the E.U. So it’s “Europe,” even though it’s on an island off the coast of the Middle East.
The northern Turkish Cypriot half is a rogue state recognized by only one single country in the entire world. The Turks partitioned the island by force in an invasion in 1974, then ethnically and culturally “cleansed” the northern half of its Greek Cypriot citizens.
The city of Nicosia is the capital of both countries. It is the only divided capital left in the world. The Green Line (with its walls, razor wire, guard towers, and land mines) cuts right through the heart of it.
Until last year it was not possible to cross the Green Line. If you wanted to visit Cyprus you had to ask yourself which sounded more interesting: Europe, or Turkish-backed rogue state? Almost everyone chose Europe. Once you visited one side, you were banned from the other.
Fortunately, though, the Green Line is now open. You can walk and even drive right across. So I don’t have to make the choice. I’m going to both sides.
Cyprus is simultaneously European and Middle Eastern. One half is a liberal democracy. The other half is something else. Its inhabitants are “Turkish” and “Greek,” both of which are European ethnicities. But it is physically closer to the Middle East than it is to Europe. And its history makes me think of the Middle East. It was a British colony until the 70s. And its bloody tale of sectarian war and partition echo, in different ways and to a certain extent, both Lebanon and Palestine.
As I pack my bags for the 30-minute flight, I’ll leave you with this poem by Turkish Cypriot writer Mehmet Yassin called The Myth Of Our Own Cat.
When I was a small child I wondered
if she was Greek,
the cat of our Greek neighbor.
One day I asked my mother
if cats are Turkish
and dogs are Greek.
Their dogs had snarled at our kittens.
eat the very kittens that she’d given birth to.