They call it the “Dead Zone”. Yet, it is quite the opposite. It is all alive and well, thank you!
This is the strip of land (aka buffer zone, aka ceasefire line) running 180km from the East to the West of Cyprus, dividing the northern from the southern part of the island and regulated by the UN Peacekeeping Forces since 1974 (in fact, the UNFICYP arrived on the island in 1964). The total area of the zone covers 3% of the island’s surface area.
Between 2004 and 2011, 25000 (!) land mines were cleared from the buffer zone … so I guess yes, if you had stepped on any one of those, YOU would be dead… but not the zone itself!!!! [Unfortunately.]
The zone also goes by the name of “Green Line*”, as the first geographical division of the island occurred in late 1963, within Nicosia. Mark Hobden, member of the British Forces in Cyprus drew a line (with a green pencil) on a military map of Nicosia to indicate how the Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking neighborhoods of the town would be barricaded to prevent an escalation of tension between the two communities. The line divided the town in two, from East to West. That division remained until it was “solidified”with the Turkish military invasion in 1974. In Nicosia is where one would find the shortest width of the buffer zone: 3.3 meters.
What has the Dead Zone experienced, in all its liveliness, since 1974?
There are UN troops (divided in 4 sectors) patrolling up and down. There are groups of wild dogs crossing between the two parts. There are farmers who grow crops in the cultivable areas of the zone. There are hunters and asparagus gatherers who venture out in the zone, without permission. There are groups of Greek Cypriots allowed to visit the renovated church of their abandoned village once a year. There’s the dumping of excavated rocks from the Skouriotissa copper mine. There are the people living in Denia village, one of the 5 villages located within the buffer zone. It is the natural habitat of the free-roaming Cyprus Moufflon.
The buffer zone is where the abandoned Nicosia International Airport is located, used for the laboratory workings of the Joint Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus and as a site for meetings between the leaders of the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities. The latter are part of the process to find a political solution to the division of Cyprus. The zone is also where Pro-Peace gatherings of Greek- and Turkish-speaking Cypriots take place within the center of Nicosia.
Barbara Laborde, a French photojournalist, followed and captured life in the buffer zone (with permission from UNFICYP) for more than a year, in a project titled “Inside, Outside and in Between” which culminated in exhibitions in Nicosia in 2014 and 2016. In the first page of the printed publication describing the project, Laborde says: “The buffer zone has man faces: mountains, alleys, forests, ruins, valleys, villages or fields alternate up to where the eye can see. The zone is deserted or full of life. Sometimes the landscape only has one color and sometimes it’s a multicolored mosaic. Green, yellow or red, it adopts the color of the land or of the seasons.”
Within the walled city of Nicosia:
This is, indeed, the ugliest line in the world that urgently needs an eraser. I saw this poster in the offices of CCMC, the Cyprus Community Media Center, a multi-communal NGO located in the Buffer zone in Nicosia.