Divided by borders, united by hope. Discover the untold story of a building that stands as a symbol of resilience amidst a fractured reality.
Since the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the island has been divided into the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus and the de facto independent but illegitimate Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus [TRNC] populated by Turkish Cypriots, with the UN buffer zone acting as a dividing line between the two communities.
For 30 years following the division of the island, it was impossible to cross the buffer zone—no checkpoints existed for Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to have access to the other side of the island. However, that would change in 2003.
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A narrow street within the UN buffer zone, which had been fenced off from 1974 to 2003, is now open to visitors. On April 23, 2003, the Ledra Palace checkpoint in Nicosia was the first checkpoint to open, allowing both sides to cross the border for the first time in decades.
As I approached the checkpoint from the Greek side, the flags of the Republic of Cyprus, Greece, and the European Union flashed all around. Just 50 meters away from the checkpoint, a digital billboard demanded the return of Kyrenia refugees to their homes.
The passage across the checkpoint was quick, taking seconds for the Greek Cypriot officer to scan my passport. With mixed feelings I entered the buffer zone, noticing the stark contrast in the landscape.
On the left and right, buildings frozen in time greeted me, including the former Ledra Palace Hotel after which the checkpoint was named. Gunshots fired a long time ago marked their presence on shattered windows and collapsed doors. The barbed wire surrounded the rest of the buffer zone, preventing the entrance of civilians.
In this unlikely atmosphere, the only building exhibiting signs of life was the Home for Cooperation [H4C] building, officially opened in 2011. Located right in the middle of the buffer zone, H4C contains seven different departments related to peace-building efforts on the island, ranging from promoting interfaith dialogue among religious leaders to revising school curricula to promote peace education.
With a small cafe at the bottom, H4C provides a safe space for citizens from either side of the island to meet up and implement projects together. The lively atmosphere of the building made me forget for a while I was still in the UN buffer zone.
As I continued walking, just 50 meters away from the H4C building, another checkpoint awaited. This time, it was the Turkish Cypriot officer who checked my passport. Above the checkpoint, the TRNC and Turkish flags waved in the air. The sign below stated “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Forever…”
I didn’t know how to feel as the division was as real as ever. In only 100 meters distance, the narrative and allegiances had changed completely. But despite this stark contrast, the building sandwiched right in the middle of the buffer zone served as a beacon of long-awaited hope that the island would once again become reunited.