Alone in a divided country


ANDROLIKOU, Cyprus -- The road to Androlikou looks much as it did when buses came rumbling through 28 years ago to shuttle the village's entire population north and drive one more wedge between a people torn asunder by civil war.

But for Hassan Mustafa, a 66-year-old Turkish Cypriot goat farmer, and the only man who refused to leave this hillside settlement, the passage of nearly three decades has brought a painful kind of change: increasing isolation.

"We thought they'd be back soon," he says of his family, friends and neighbors. Then, looking down at the ground, he shakes his head. Cyprus has been physically and ethnically divided for 28 years, and Androlikou, once home to nearly 400 Turkish Cypriots, lies on the Greek Cypriot side of the divide. "We are still alone."

Mustafa's house, which he shares with his Greek Cypriot wife, stands amid a panorama of desolation -- a symbol of the loneliness and estrangement brought on by a prolonged conflict that politicians have seemed impotent to resolve.

In this ghost town, the mosque, one of the few buildings still intact, remains shuttered. The adjacent minaret has long since fallen. Most of the homes are unused but for the goats that have turned them into stables.

"That one's dead, that one's dead, and now that one's dead too," says Mustafa, pointing to three nearby houses, but referring to their owners. "Their children? Why would they want to come back here? There's nothing for them here."

At least not for now. The buildings are crumbling, the fields have dried up, and aside from Mustafa, his family and his goats, there are no other inhabitants in Androlikou.

But this Eastern Mediterranean country half the size of Connecticut could soon be on the verge of a breakthrough. Cyprus expects to enter the European Union this year, and negotiations meant to reach a settlement on reunification beforehand have been under way since January.

Though an agreement ahead of the Dec. 11 accession date is far from assured, many Cypriots believe that when they are members, with the full weight of the EU behind them, a solution cannot be far off.

And a solution, whenever it comes, may allow displaced villagers from Androlikou to reclaim their land, which, because of its proximity to the sea, could be worth millions of dollars.

But 28 years of dashed hopes can breed a lifetime of doubt, and Mustafa has trouble envisioning a bright tomorrow beyond the ruins of today.

Sitting under the shade of a pomegranate tree behind his home, his pile of wool-white locks tucked under a camouflage hat, he listens to a radio talk show that is discussing the current negotiations. Judging from his reactions, he has heard nothing to restrain his pessimism.

"The politicians are all going in different directions," he says, weaving his soil-stained hands through the air. "They can't agree on anything." Including whether there should even be reunification.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when the Turkish army invaded the island in response to a coup orchestrated by the military junta in Greece. The ensuing conflict, in which about 5,000 were killed, displaced more than 200,000 people -- almost a quarter of the island's population. Thousands of Greek Cypriots fled the north, fearing for their lives; others remained in enclaves, only to leave later as they became increasingly isolated. Many of the Turkish Cypriot minority also fled their homes during the fighting, but most were ferried out in the aftermath by orderly U.N. transports, like the one in Androlikou.

Today, fewer than 300 Turkish Cypriots reside in the south, and just over 400 Greek Cypriots have stayed in the north.

The United Nations patrols a line running horizontally across the island, with the south serving as home to the internationally recognized government, while the north is considered occupied territory and is accessible only through Turkey. Travel between the two sides is highly restricted, and the capital city, Nicosia, has a buffer zone that cuts through its historic center like a scar. It remains the only divided capital in the world.

Official divisions notwithstanding, many Cypriots have shown the ability as well as the desire to coexist -- Mustafa more than most. Not only is his wife a Greek Cypriot, but so are most of his friends.

He is joined by one of these friends as he sits on his patio listening to the radio talk show. And their discussion quickly turns to politics. Panicos Chrysanthou, a 51-year-old filmmaker, is a refugee from the north. He is hopeful for a settlement that will enable him to return to his rightful home and equally optimistic that one will occur soon.

"The economic incentives [for the north] are too great to be ignored," he says, referring to EU-promised grants for development to help boost the infrastructure and depressed economy of the north. But this is money the north will receive only if there is reunification.

When asked whom he blames for the stalemate, Mustafa offers an assortment of culprits, "Take your pick," he barks. The United States for not putting pressure on Turkey, Turkey for not withdrawing its troops, the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, for his stubbornness. His list goes on.

Remarkably, he says he is not bitter toward any of the above. And in some ways, he is content with the life he leads. He has a loving wife, his children are healthy, and as owner of nearly 300 goats, he is financially secure. But at times he can't conceal his wounds.

"I am angry we were not accepted," he says of his marriage to a Greek Cypriot woman, an act that was all but forbidden at the time. More so, he is angry at the politicians' rejection of the coexistence their matrimony represents.

He is also upset at having been forced to make that difficult decision 28 years ago: leave with the rest of his village or hide from the transport. He expected consequences -- maybe for a year -- but not forever. If he had known, perhaps he would have done things differently.

Every afternoon, Mustafa takes his goats up into the hills, walking with a deliberate, stiff-legged gait. As he gains altitude, the Mediterranean Sea becomes visible on the horizon, and on a clear day, Turkey as well. In the evening he returns home along the same dusty road that carried his neighbors away 28 years before. During these five-hour hikes, he has plenty of time to ponder what could have been.

"Do I have any regrets?" he muses. "Sometimes. We could have left and been poor, without opportunity in the north, but we would have been with our family and friends. We stayed and we are not poor, but we are alone."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad