I had absolutely no intention of going to Cyprus when I started this trip, but I am very glad I did. Cyprus is a wonderful country with an intricate history, major elements of which are playing out as we speak. As best as I can understand, it goes something like this:
Cyprus defines the border between West and Non-West (though not necessarily "East"). Througout history it has been conquered and reconquered by Roman, Turkish, Greek, and just about every other major force in the known world (at least, known to that region) at the time. As such, figuring out who "historically" owns Cyprus is not an easy task. At the end of World War I, at least, Cyprus was owned by Turkey, though the majority of the island's population was of Greek heritage. Turkey, heavily in debt to England, offered England joint ownership of the island in exchange for debt relief.
This continued up until World War II, when Turkey sided with the Germans and England, much put off by this, decided to take claim of the island for real. Though disputed at the time, Turkey apparently agreed to this new arrangement sometime after World War II, and England was the official owner of Turkey.
After World War II, many English colonies were revolting or otherwise gaining independence, and Cyprus decided to give it a shot. A civil war was fought against the English, who eventually agreed to grant Cyprus its independence, with two major restrictions: (1) Cyprus could not turn around and become a Greek Island, and (2) the Turkish minority, despite making up less than a third of the population, would be given equal control over the government. For better or worse, the newly-indpendent Cypriots agreed to these terms and formed modern Cyprus.
As might be expected, the joint-rule of the island between two vastly different cultures, each with disproportionate control of the government caused problems. Though I have no doubt my information is heavily biased, I'm told that the government essentially came to its knees as the vice president (who according to the new constitution was a Turk and had veto power over all the president's actions) decided to veto basically every action the new president took. This continued for a while, until the new president, with the Greek strongly behind him, spontaneously rewrote the constitutiion to -- among other things -- revoke the vice president's veto power.
Needless to say, the Turkish Cypriots were *not* happy with this arrangement, nor were the English as they saw this as violating the terms under which Cyprus was granted independence. Suddenly Cyprus found itself with very few allies and one very pissed off neighbor, Turkey.
Though I don't know the details, and I'm told they're rather inconsequential, a small and unrelated coop occured around this time. Turkey, who has long longed for renewed control over Cyprus, sends large armies to northern Cyprus, ostensibly to protect the Turkish cypriots during the coop. Of course, the coop quickly ends, but the Turks to not leave. Indeed, they inexorably creep further into the island, conquering as they go. The Greek Cypriots, UN, Greece, and others all plead with Turkey to stop, citing the illegality of their actions, but Turkey continues on. A state of war is declared in Cyprus, and eventually Turkey's advance into the island nation is stopped.
At this time, Turkey has conquered roughly one third of the island. It's worth noting that Turkey conquered the most valuable third, with the largest cities, best ports, most resources, and basically everything of Cyprus that was at that time thought to be valuable. In doing so, they violated all sorts of international treaties and committed terrible human rights atrocities, all of which are well documented and publicized by the UN.
Though I don't think either were technically required to do so, understandably the Greeks in the north moved south, and the the Turks in the south moved north. In essence, Cyprus was sundered into two unequal halves, one dominated by an illegal Turkish occupation, and one a refuge of the remaining Greek citizens.
Now, it seems to me (and some of those with whom I spoke), that the Greek Cypriots really screwed up when they unilaterally rewrote the constitution. Granted, the completely inequal representation of the two populations was a bad deal, but they agreed to it in exchange for independence, so it seems like something they should have lived with. Doing so took away their major allies and gave them major enemies, and I can't really be surprised that Turkey did what they did. I don't condone the human rights abuses and would have prefered a nonviolent "solution" to the problem, but it sure seems that rewriting the constitution was inviting a lot of trouble. Trouble for which Cyprus just wasn't at all prepared.
What would I have advocated be done differently? Obviously, revisionist history is always a tricky art, and requires a much better understanding of what really happened than I was able to pick up by talking with random coffeeshoppers. But when faced with a problem of that magnitude, and lacking the strength to impose and defend such a unilaterial solution, I think it's something they should have just sucked up and dealt with. If the government was really at a standstill, that's not good for either side. I'm sure there were plenty of folks on both side, Turkish and Greek, that wanted the same thing -- maybe make a political party based on their common interests and use that to pursue a more moderate, broad-based government. Maybe talk to the English and Turkish government to rewrite the constitution with their support, so the English would be on board to defend the country against a Turkish invasion. Maybe decide that there are irreconcileable differences, and voluntariliy splitting the populations into semi-autonomous regions. I obviously really don't know. But it seems to me that history has demonstrated that the path actually taken did not lead where anyone wanted to go.
Regarding the picture: For a country as small as Cyprus, it has an amazing amount of open space. Fields of wheat and grass cover the low hills just inland of Point Lara, and as I pull off the perilous roads to give Silver a rest, I can hear nothing but the dry wind and distant waves.