My first randomly selected city is Lemesos, a.k.a Limassol, city of roughly 170,000 on the southern coast of Cyprus. It’s a mid-sized, mediterranean port city with a mix of ancient sites, beaches and annual celebrations. One of these is the pre-Lenten Carnival, apparently one of Europe’s dozen or so that are well-known. And if this woman is to be believed, Limassol has the “fun” carnival, contrasted with Venice’s stuffy “too pretty to touch” affair.
I will try not to say this in every paragraph of every blog entry, but I was completely clueless about Cyprus prior to cracking open the Wikipedia entry on Limassol. My impression was of a placid little island off the coast of Greece. In fact I couldn’t have told you the difference between Corsica and Cyprus (which one is actually off the coast of Greece? NEITHER! Go fig.)
Turns out Cyprus is really close to Turkey, not Greece. Like, if Turkey was an imperial star destroyer and Cyprus was a little rebel starship, it would be within tractor beam range of Turkey. On the map, Cyprus kinda’ actually looks like it’s getting sucked into Turkey’s underbelly. And this is more than just an incredibly witty, although outdated, simile. Most of Cyprus’ population is ethnically Greek, but there’s a large (roughly 20 percent) Turkish minority. The island was a British possession until 1960 when it became an independent republic.
Turkish military forces attempted an invasion in the early 1960s and made a partially successful play for control of the island in the early 1970s. The result was a divided island: a big chunk of the northern part of the island is known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The catch is it’s only known as that to one country: Turkey. No other country recognizes it as an entity, in spite of the fact that it has its own website. This is also surprising in that it would be a piece of cake to kiss up to strategically valuable Turkey by acknowledging its little off-shore mini-colony.
The lack of international recognition casts the shadow of “uncool land grab” over the Turkish presence in Cyprus. However, that’s gonna depend on your perspective. This guy represents what I can only assume to be the view of many Turkish Cypriots: Greece was looking to take over Cyprus in the early 1960s, following the end of British rule, and Turks were oppressed by the government. An invasion by Turkey’s military was necessary to save lives. This guy counters that this is bologna and it’s all Turkey’s fault.
I am sooooo not going to try to figure out who punched first – I can’t do it with my kids, and I sure as heck-fire don’t know enough about Mediterranean history to try and mediate a 40-year-old dispute that probably has roots going back centuries. But I think it’s fair to say that Turkish possession of two of Cyprus’s major port and tourism cities, Famagusta and Kyrenia, has altered Lemesos’ position in Cyprus considerably. Famagusta has a highly marketable history as an ancient Silk Road port, Kyrenia is a known tourism destination, and they both look extremely cool when you pull up Google images of them. Lemesos, on the other hand, is one of the largest shipping centers in the Mediterranean. Asking it to become a resort destination is like asking your dentist to sing show tunes while he drills out a cavity. It can be done, but it’s not always going to be done gracefully.