Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for August 16th, 2019

Nicosia beyond Barriers

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 16th August, 2019

Nicosia beyond Barriers.jpgNicosia has a population of little more than 200,000, yet Cyprus’s capital contains more complexities and stressful memories than far larger cities. For three decades, from 1974, the city was physically divided, by the euphemistically-named Green Line, that had literally been drawn with a green pen on a map, though the polarisation of the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot people — with accompanied ethnic cleansing — predated that by several years, latterly becoming almost absolute. Add to the island’s mix the legacy of the Venetians, the Ottomans, Armenians, the colonial British, then the conscript army of the occupying Turks in the North, refugees from Syria and Lebanon, followed by black Africans (without even mentioning post-Soviet Russians) and you have an extraordinary human pot-pourri, not always giving off the sweetest of perfumes. In the 1990s, when the island was still rigidly divided, I used to love slipping with my British passport through the forbidden zone and past the fabled Ledra Palace Hotel — transformed into a barracks for UN troops — hopping between two worlds in a way that was forbidden to most Cypriots, and inevitably reminiscent of earlier shuttling as a journalist between East and West Berlin before the Berlin Wall came down. But this privileged access also left me feeling uneasy sometimes, an unease that intensified when the Republic of Cyprus (i.e. Greek Cypriot) was allowed into the European Union, while the Turkish-occupied north languished in a sort of half-way-house limbo.

Ledra StreetInevitably, foreign visitors tend to gravitate either north to Kyrenia or south to Limassol, to savour the sea, but it is Nicosia, inland, that is the troubling and sometimes troubled heart of Cyprus, even now that many tensions have calmed. And it is Nicosia that is the subject of an ambitious and enchanting new anthology of short stories, poetry, prose poems, memoir, reportage and fantasy: Nicosia beyond Barriers: Voices from a Divided City (Saqi, £12.99), edited by Alev Adil, Aydin Mehmet Ali, Bahriye Kernal and Maria Petrides. The voices are diverse, with women’s being particularly strong, not surprisingly given that the project was the child of the Literary Agency Cyprus, a women-led literary and arts movement based in Nicosia. But the selection encompasses a striking diversity of genres and perspectives. One moment the reader sits with a writer in a cafe near the Green Line in Ledra Street, watching with irony the cats and birds who flit casually from one side to the other; the next one is cruising in the city’s most popular gay pick-up park. Rather than separating the book into sections that group topics or literary forms together, the work of the 50 contributors is all mixed together, so one stumbles from one fascinating line of thought and mode of expression to another, wondering what will come next. What really impressed me, however, is that the whole collection has an under-current of nostalgia and loss, a sadness that is part mourning and part celebration — what the Portuguese call saudade. The whole can be read productively in a few sittings, but I suspect that this is also a book into which many readers will dip on return encounters.

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