Borders & Barriers-Cyprus-The Buffer Zone

Finally back in Perth after a very busy 6 weeks away working on 3 assignments in Palestine, Cyprus and Liberia which was exhausting but amazing. My project in Cyprus was cut short by a week after Cafod asked me to go to Liberia for a job at the last minute so I hope to return soon to complete this.  I’ll be posting some images from Liberia in the next few days.

These images from Cyprus continue the theme of my long term project about Borders and Barriers around the world that separates communities. The main focus of the story is the divided capital of Nicosia where the so called ‘Green Line’ or ‘Buffer Zone’ was drawn in 1974 during the height of hostilities. In some sections the buffer zone between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots is only a few meters wide. Greek and Turkish troops agreed to pull back from these inflammatory positions in 1989 and the zone is patrolled by UN Peacekeepers who have been in Cyprus since 1964, making it one of their longest running missions.

Nicosia is quite a surreal place. It has a look and feel of any other thriving Mediterranean city and via a number of checkpoints it’s easy for Greeks, Turks and tourist alike to cross over to either side. Running through the centre however is the Buffer Zone, a no mans land where homes and shops have been left abandoned and decaying since 1974. If you approach the dividing line on either side you’re likely to come across armed Greek or Turkish soldiers in bunkers and lookout posts. Dead end streets lined with concrete filled painted oil barrels with signs strictly prohibiting photography mark the border. It has a look and feel of a nation at war but the line has been peaceful for years. Walk just 10 meters back from the line and you can be sipping a beer in a neon clad café just like any other tourist spot in the world.

I was very lucky to get access there as very few people are allowed to enter and even UN troops aren’t permitted to take pictures. This eerie, derelict, bullet ridden strip of former shops and homes is a fascinating place. I hope to return to finish off the project by interviewing people who had to flee either side of the green line during the war.

A UN peacekeeping soldier patrols the narrowest section of the UN controlled Buffer Zone or the Green Line in the divided city of Nicosia on the island of Cyprus. Since 1974, abandoned shop fronts and houses just metres apart have became the front line between the Greek-Cypriot southern region and the Turkish-Cypriot northern region. Soldiers have now pulled back from these positions to help relieve the tension between both sides. Highly restricted and inaccessible to all but UN personnel, the decaying buildings have remained untouched and left to ruin for over three decades.

Cement filled oil barrels block off streets to the buffer zone from the Greek side.

Brick walls with viewing ports mostly form the barrier on the Turkish side.

Sand bags fill windows of a building on the front line on the Greek side of the buffer zone. The bullet holes reveal the intensity of the fighting that took place in this area.

With no one allowed into the buffer zone except UN peacekeepers the building have fallen into disrepair and nature allowed to take over

With no one allowed into the buffer zone except UN peacekeepers the buildings have fallen into disrepair and nature allowed to take over.

Shop front, barbed wire and oil barrels form the barrier between the two sides.

UN installed barriers have to be clearly marked. Any changes to how the buffer zone is demarcated is hotly contested by both sides

Many people living in the area fled during the fighting and have never returned to their homes. Personal possessions still remain in a virtual time warp from 1973.

Many people living in the area fled during the fighting and have never returned to their homes. Personal possessions still remain in a virtual time warp from 1974.

Ageing clothes, bottles, furniture and personal possessions from the 1970's still remain in many of the homes

Access to the buffer zone is strictly prohobitied and overseen by both Greek and Turkish troops. No photography is allowed along the wall and few people walk near the line.

Access to the buffer zone is strictly prohibited. Both Greek and Turkish troops either side of the zone keep watch and UN peacekeepers patrol the centre.

The Buffer Zone from the Greek side marked by painted oil barrels and observation posts.

Whilst industrial businesses operate close to the line few people live within the immediate area. Abandoned and war damaged houses are found all along the Greek side of the zone.

UN watch towers can be seen all along the buffer zone but since a decrease in hostilities not all are manned these days.

A street with shops and apartments suddenly comes to a stop by the buffer zone wall on the Turkish side.

A customer in the northern Turkish part of Cyprus enjoys a beer just meters from the buffer zone with the Ledra Street crossing seen behind. Since 2003 it has been possible for both Greeks and Turks to cross the buffer zone at designated crossing points and visit either side of the Island. Tourists can pass through after showing their passports. Either side of the buffer zone life and commerce continues as normal adding a surreal atmosphere to the place.

The buffer zone extends over 180km across the Island and whilst only a few meters apart in Nicosia it can be a few kilometers wide in other parts. Nicosia International airport was a scene of heavy fighting and was declared a United Nations Protected Area in 1974. It has remained unused since then and is now home to roosts of pigeons.

The departure lounge covered in pigeon droppings. With a thriving tourist industry the airport was modern for its time before closing during fighting in 1974.

Passport control booths remain unused since 1974.

Passport control booths remain unused since 1974.

UN peacekeepers from Slovakia maintain watch in the southern sector of the buffer zone. Whilst there is no physical barrier in this section entry is strictly prohibited without prior permission.

UN peacekeepers patrol the buffer zone in the southern sector. Farmers are allowed onto the land with prior permission. There are over 10,000 people allowed to live and work within the zone. Many tourists and hunters enter the zone illegally, mostly by mistake.

A UN peacekeeper looks out over the buffer zone towards the northern Turkish side of the Cyprus.