Visiting a new destination is something I almost always enjoy. I’ll spare the blushes of the exceptions.
When it’s in a country I’ve never visited before that makes it extra interesting. This week may be the first time I’ve visited a place where there’s controversy about whether it’s a country at all.
It’s the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, or KKTC.
It’s only recognised by Turkey. A wee bit of history helps:-
- Britain gave Cyprus independence in 1960, and the Guarantee Treaty was entered into at the time by Britain, Turkey and Greece.
- The Guarantee Treaty was intended to ensure the rights of all Cypriots (whether Greek or Turkish culturally) in their new political system, and indeed Cyprus’ independent existence.
- In 1974 a coup d’état was carried out by Greek Cypriots with the help of elements within the Greek military regime, aimed at unifying Cyprus with Greece.
- Turkey sought support from Britain to take action as provided for under the Guarantee Treaty. Britain declined and so Turkey acted alone (as it was entitled to under the Treaty) by invading Cyprus.
- The stalemate and de facto partition which resulted in the 1970s remain the situation today.
Why am I here? Well, it’s here so why not? I’ve never been to Cyprus (Kıbrıs in Turkish) before and this seemed as good as any way to start. I like Turkey. I like Greece. I like Crete, but I don’t like Rhodes. I like Bodrum and Alanya, but I don’t like Marmaris. I love Athens to bits, and feel the same about Istanbul. Get the idea?
Here are some impressions so far:-
- I traveled on Turkish Airlines from Istanbul to Ercan (KKTC’s airport). It’s an international flight. Passports and customs. The lot.
- KKTC uses Turkish Lira as its currency. Maybe it has no practical choice with no international recognition. It certainly isn’t the only country which uses the currency of another – lots do.
- KKTC has its own postage stamps. I bought some for postcards. I guess their postal service has a “deal” with Turkey, but I wonder how that works with the destination countries. These things are dealt with by international treaty. New countries sign up to them.
- In many ways it feels like being in Turkey, but I suspect that’s a superficial judgement resulting from the language being the same and the landscape being so similar to the part of Turkey I know just a short distance across the Med (Alanya).
- I have seen Turkish troops on low key patrol – 2 soldiers walking around Girne armed with truncheons. I’ve seen several sites surrounded by barbed wire fences and where photography is banned. Military bases.
Yesterday I visited Lefkoșa/Nicosia – and crossed the Green Line into the Republic of Cyprus. It cuts the city in two, as it has since 1974.
The crossing is now quite routine for foreign visitors who are EU citizens. Technically I believe I entered the Republic of Cyprus illegally when I arrived at Ercan (and got my illegality validated with a stamp in my passport).
In fact their border guards seemed less interested than the KKTC ones. On my way back into KKTC the Republic of Cyprus guard just winked and waved me through.
To a former student and practitioner of public international law, this is all fascinating.
Feel free to yawn if you wish.
Footnote:- Some words of warning. The Green Line crossing arrangements I’ve mentioned don’t necessarily apply to anyone who doesn’t hold an EU passport, and probably don’t. Even EU passport holders should check very carefully as to what the up to date position is before crossing.
ⓒ iain taylor, 2017