At the Maksim’s restaurant daily news on the political battle between European Union and Turkey over the Cyprus issue does not effect anyone’s appetite. The Turk-Cypriot owner, Hasan, keeps on serving in a friendly way all his customers regardless of the fact that most of them are Greek-Cypriot.
Brussels maintains the embargo on goods from Northern Cyprus (the half of the island that is under Turkish protectorate). Ankara counterattacks boycotting exports from Southern Cyprus (the State which officially joined the enlarged EU in 2004).This bold political stance does not seem to peak the interests of locals in the village of Pyla.
Here there is neither a “North” or “South”. This place is a no mans land set across the “green line” the cease-fire border that cuts the island in two halves. These few kilometers of road, enclosed in the area controlled by the blue helmets of UN (Buffer Zone) 1,000 “Southern” Christian-orthodox and 500 “Northern” Muslim coexist.
It’s the multi-ethnic miracle of Pyla which means passage a name chosen prophetically by the Ancient Greeks. This village is indeed the only open gate through the mutual isolation to which the two ethnic communities have been sentenced by the Turkish invasion and the civil war of 1974.
Two towns in one.
There is proof that a reunification is possible with tolerance and mutual respect. Pyla represents these two fundamental components and is a rare example of administrative surrealism.
Peaceful cohabitation in a stateless land requires that none of the two communities has more or less than the other. This is relevant in every avenue looking at the number of pubs in the city center there is one Greek pub and one Turkish pub, where Orthodox and Muslim mingle and drink together. On the opposite sides of the Venetian Tower dating back to XII century (recently restored with EU funds) there is a church and a mosque. The administration is two-fold as well; a mayor for the Greek-Cypriots, a muchtar (head of the village) for the Turk-Cypriots. Each in charge of their respective community. There are two schools and two soccer fields where this year the two ethnic teams played together for the first time since 1968. National flags however are banned, both among football supporters and in the streets. Such legislation is meant to preserve the political neutrality of Pyla.
Stavros Stavru, the clerk of the Greek-Cypriot municipality, explains us the complex government system which was introduced in order to ensure coexistence. Rather than truly cohabitation such formula sounds more like a house-divorce. “Here the official ruler is the Greek-Cypriot administration since the territory, although under UN management, officially belongs to the Southern part of the island” Stavros says “However we recognize the muchtar as the representative of the Turk-Cypriot community. If we have some problems to discuss we gather at the presence of an officer from UNFICYP (the special mission of the United Nations to Cyprus) who has the duty to certify the agreement reached by the two parties”. Only the agents of CIVPOL the international civil police, have competence to deal with crime. Cypriot forces have no jurisdiction.
The inter-mediation of the United Nations is a necessary tool for local Turk-Cypriot community to preserve solidarity towards Northern Cyprus and not recognising the Greek-Cypriot authorities.“When, for example, the Muslims from Pyla decided to build their own soccer field they refused to ask for authorisation directly to the Greek-Cypriot administration and all the process had to pass through UNFICYP” anthropologist Yannis Papadakis writes in one of his studies which analyses the bizarre life in the village. “With the pretext of not recognizing our government, the Turk-Cypriot inhabitants receive water, electricity and gas free of charge: since we do not exist legally for them they do not pay us the bills” Stavros complains.
Divided in politics, united in business
Nevertheless the paradoxical status of Pyla benefits Greek-Cypriots. Officially located in the Southern half of the island while having easy access to ethnically Turkish population the village has become a duty free shop where the smuggling of cheap products coming from the North has flourished. Opening internal boundaries in 2003 and the partial liberalisation of trade between North and South in 2005 has narrowed the black market.This hasn’t had a major impact on sales; whisky, cigarettes, fish and leather clothes still attract Southern buyers.
Pyla assumes all the contradictions of a classic border town, like a condominium where two neighbours elect two different administrators. Who refused and then approved in the 2004 the “Annan Plan” for the re-unification, and still meet every day for a walk, laugh and gamble together in the pubs and local betting shop.
“Pyla is a co-existence example as long as there are no external interferences”, muchtar Nejdet Enver comments, “But differences and problems still exist. International crises such as the one which is presently going on risk to affect the village quietness”.
The cosmopolitan character of Pyla has ancestral origins. In 1200 B.C the area was already home to various Mediterranean populations (Cretans, Anatolians among others). Even if one day Cyprus is re-unified, the village will certainly not be forgotten. Thanks to its strategic position, only 15 minutes away from the international airport of Larnaka and the coastal road to Dekelia with its famous bathing surroundings such as Agia Napa, Pyla is growing fast as a tourism centre. Villas and residences are rising up within its suburbs. A month ago a new trendy bar “the Village Tavern” opened its doors right in the city centre after being for years the symbolic meeting place for bilateral discussions on the future of the island (since 2003 they are held at Ledra Palace in Nicosia). The village is becoming a meeting place for foreigners from all over the world. This is how the cosmopolitan myth of Pyla will remain….