It's always the same. No sooner have you opened your presents, basted your turkey and sat down to watch 'Mary Poppins' for the 98th time than you are assailed by the media to cast your mind to that other great annual expense - the family holiday!

Now, with the New Year well under way, you may want to consider some of the options available for this year. So, donning my Judith Chalmers wig, may I direct you to a destination that may provide something familiar tinged with the unusual.

The Mediterranean island of Cyprus can provide all the features normally associated with a good holiday. Lovely hot weather, friendly locals, good food and wine, beautiful scenery, plenty of places to visit, beaches, history, night life - and, err...... war! For this is a divided island and in amongst the idyllic scenery is another face of Cyprus. A population pulled asunder by conflicts that can be traced back for thousands of years but are still firmly rooted today. A struggle that may not effect us directly in the UK., although, as so often, Britain had a role to play historically, but a scenario that is still being played out all to often over our planet as we enter the new millennium. It may be that we become immured to these stories as they unfold on our TV's every night but seeing them for yourself, particularly when your battledress is no more than a T-shirt and a pair of sunglasses, can be a sobering experience.

Checkpoint at Dherinia - Photo by P.Thorne The Greek presence on the island of Cyprus can be dated back to 1200 bc when Mycenaean Greeks first sailed east across the Mediterranean. But, as early as the 6th Century when Cyprus joined the Ionian revolt and was crushed by the Persians, the island has become a pawn in the conflicts between powerful neighbours. In the Middle Ages, Cyprus was part of the vast Ottoman empire and, although Moslem's and Christians did live together in relative harmony, the Moslem's settled predominately in the Eastern part of the island. In the 17th century, with the Ottoman empire crumbling, Britain signed the Cyprus Convention with Turkey, whereby the island came under British administration while remaining the Sultan's possession. Britain was keen to retain a strong force in the eastern Mediterranean and, as still today, Cyprus was of strategic importance. Greek Cypriots were happy with the transfer of power in that they expected Britain to support 'Enosis' - union with Greece - although Britain itself could do little while retaining it's alliance with Turkey. In 1914, however, Turkey allied itself with Germany during the Great War and Britain promptly annexed Cyprus and the island became a Crown Colony in 1925 after the Treaty of Lausanne in which Turkey relinquished all claim.

In 1945, the new Labour government tried to move Cyprus, along with it's other colonies, toward self-rule. But the call was still 'Enosis and only enosis' and, by 1955, the struggle had become an armed one with the anti-colonial movement known as EOKA maintaining a policy of blowing up public buildings and killing opponents of enosis. Turkey backed Turkish-Cypriot opposition to enosis and, in 1958, the Turkish community rioted in favour of partitioning the island. Eventually, in 1959, the Greeks and Turks met in Zürich and agreed to renounce both enosis and partition. Cyprus became an independent republic under Archbishop Makarios.

Map of CyprusSadly, the new constitution became too complex to work. Civil Service jobs and Cabinet posts were apportioned to a Greek - Turk ratio of 7 to 3 and this became unworkable. Makarios proposed 13 simplifying amendments which Turkey vetoed before the Cypriot leadership had even voiced an opinion. Communal fighting broke out and the British were forced to supervise a cease-fire which UN forces were brought in to patrol. They arrived in March 1964 and have been there ever since. In 1974, in a bid to gain popularity at home, the ruling Greek military junta tried to impose enosis. Makarios resisted and insisted that the Greek officers be removed from the island. The Junta responded by engineering a military attack on the presidential palace in Nicosia. Makarios escaped to Phaphos but this attempted coup gave Turkey the pretext to invade that it had long waited for.

On July 20th 1974, Turkey invaded. It seems the original intention was to seize part of the island and effect a segregation and their plans did not include the Greek sectors of Nicosia and Farmagusta. But, as the Turkish invading force waited at the cease-fire point agreed by the United Nations, the Turkish armoured division commander saw that the town of Farmagusta had been abandoned by its inhabitants. Assuming the leaving would only be temporary the Commander took his force into the town. The UN demanded, and Turkey initially agreed, that the Greek area of Famagusta (Varoska) should be returned to it's rightful inhabitants. Unfortunately, conditions were then attached to this commitment and the return of Farmagusta became linked to the solution of the whole Turkish Cypriot problem, in which the Turks had hoped to gain some political advantage. When this wasn't forthcoming, and the UN demanded the unconditional withdrawal of all Turkish forces on the island, the fate of Farmagusta was sealed. Today, it is part of the 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' set up in 1983 and recognised only by Turkey itself. During the war some 170,000 Greek Cypriots were forced to flee to the south, while about 30,000 Turkish Cypriots migrated to the north. By 1992, around 80,000 new settlers had been transported into northern Cyprus from Turkish Anatolia. But in Farmagusta, no one lives.United Nations Resolution - Photo by P.Thorne

Farmagusta today is an incredible sight. A ghost town in which nothing moves apart from the occasional army truck. It is said that the showrooms still have 1974 models on show in their store fronts, although this may be assumed to be poetic licence for homesick Greek Cypriots as, surely, any salvageable item will have been long since removed. Nevertheless, a trip to the border town of Dherinia, where the UN checkpoint still stands, is a must. A couple of Café's have sprung up at the checkpoint and, in a quite bizarre manner, you are able to enjoy a coffee and a cake while watching soldiers guarding a buffered war zone. Telescopes (or the zoom function on your camcorder or camera) enable you to view the ghost town with chilling clarity while there are plenty of books, magazines and photographs available in the café to enable you to form your own opinion on the conflict. Outside, the wreaths commemorating the memories of those lost in the initial conflict and, on occasion, excursions into the no-go area during the frequent protests, are a poignant reminder of life beyond the hotel pool and the beach.

Cyprus today is everything that you would expect a Mediterranean island to be. The economy is thriving, mainly due to tourism, and a visit to any part of the island will provide you with fabulous memories. It's a beautiful country and should be visited - but don't forget to see the Ghost Town of Farmagusta and remember those who aren't able to return home.

The Divided Island

Published travelogue from 2001

U.N. Checkpoint with Farmagusta in the distance - Photo by P.Thorne