Nicosia, Cyprus

By Neil Hall

If you look at a map of Cyprus, there is a line that cuts across the island like a scar. This is the buffer zone, a United Nations-controlled no-man’s land, also called the ‘Green Line’. It is a constant reminder that the country remains physically and symbolically divided.

The zone is a product of Cyprus’ turbulent history. When the island became independent from Britain in 1960, tension simmered between Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, boiling over into political disputes and violence in 1963. Soon the first peacekeeping troops were sent in and the capital was effectively partitioned.

The situation escalated in 1974 when the Cyprus National Guard, who favored union with Greece, staged a coup and Turkey responded with military action. The island was left split in two along the ceasefire line – and it remains so today.

The buffer zone is some 180 km (110 miles) long, and is controlled by United Nations peacekeepers. According to this U.N. force, the Green Line is almost seven and a half kilometers across at its widest point, and takes up about three percent of the island.

The buffer zone is most visible in Nicosia, where it is common to see streets blocked off by concrete walls, barrels and barbed wire. Outside of built-up areas the Green Line seems more symbolic. It is monitored by checkpoints and watchtowers, but is not marked by a great wall or fence. Occasionally roads will be blocked off and abandoned towns dot the route. But the area feels more like a wildlife preserve than a zone where troops operate.