Family desires to reclaim lost Cyprus land
In Cyprus, one family's dream of greener pastures lies, literally, on the other side of the fence.
By TERI SFORZA
Thursday, February 15, 2007
The Orange County Register
The Green Line
had reopened. Armed soldiers manned the gate separating Greek Cyprus
from Turkish Cyprus. Be careful, the soldiers told them as they
approached the other side. Be very careful.
and his father showed their passports, paid 12 Cyprus pounds, and
ventured into occupied territory to search for the land they had lost
so long ago.
Street names once in English were now in Turkish. The old tourist area
of Varosha, once full of thriving hotels, was surrounded by barbed
wire. Buildings were vacant and crumbling.
straight up to where the barbed wire is," said Theodorou of Trabuco
Canyon. "I used to live in Berlin, so it was kind of strange. 'Here we
go again.' Kind of scary."
carried a letter. This is my father's property, it said. He bought it
in 1966. We have the deed. Surely we can work out something reasonable.
Here is our contact information. Please get in touch.
It's an odd thing, to be caught in a sad, stubborn civil war that has stymied peacemakers for more than 30 years.
• • •
Cyprus is the
legendary birthplace of Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty. Bobbing
in the brilliant blue Mediterranean, the mountainous island has wrung
poetry from the most pedestrian of men.
was born in England in 1951. That's where Joe, his Greek Cypriot
father, met Helga, his mother, a German whose Jewish father had
spirited the family abroad to escape the growing Nazi threat. But the
island's pull proved strong, and the whole family moved to Cyprus when
Andrew was 7.
Cyprus was ruled
by Britain then. Theodorou remembers long sandy beaches, fashionable
European tourists and Miami Beach-style hotel towers. He also remembers
pedaling his bike past police stations that had been attacked and
trying to make sense of the bloodied bodies in the street. It was a
time of "terrorism, ethnic cleansing, obstructionism and international
intrigue," as one scholar put it.
Cyprus is just a
few dozen miles off Turkey's coast, but its population has long been
overwhelmingly of Greek origin. When some Greek Cypriots – protesting
British rule – began rallying for unification with Greece, their
Turkish Cypriot brethren were appalled and began calling for partition.
Violence erupted, and there was much bloodshed.
granted Cyprus independence in 1960 – just two years after the
Theodorou family returned – but the new system proved unworkable. The
president was Greek. The vice president was Turkish and held veto
power. The result: political paralysis.
again after the Greek Cypriot president tried to strip veto power from
the Turkish Cypriot vice president. The United Nations moved in to keep
A few years
later, after things had calmed down, Joe Theodorou bought 1.3 acres of
land near the resort town of Famagusta for about $4,000. It was about a
block from the Mediterranean and graced with a giant, arching oak tree.
Someone with a good arm could throw a stone into the water. Joe was in
the hospitality business and dreamed of building a hotel there.
But not right
away. Tensions on the island remained high. Young men were being
conscripted into mandatory military service. When Andrew Theodorou was
15, his parents sent him to Berlin to live with his grandmother. He
finished high school and college there, returned to Cyprus and followed
in his father's footsteps, working in nice hotels in Famagusta. He went
abroad again shortly before the breakdown.
In 1974, Greek
Cypriots seeking unification with Greece launched a coup, overthrowing
the palsied Cyprus government. A week later, Turkey responded, invading
the island to protect the Turkish minority. Turkish forces reportedly
killed thousands of Greek Cypriots; Greek Cypriots killed Turkish
Cypriots; and hundreds of thousands were displaced.
"It was a very,
very ugly episode for everyone, and it festers, this sore," said John
Tirman, executive director of the Center for International Studies at
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
never left. A partition was built through Nicosia, the capital, to keep
the warring parties apart. Turkish Cypriots live north of this Green
Line. Greek Cypriots live south. The Turkish side eventually proclaimed
itself a separate nation; Turkey is the only country that recognizes it.
The resort town of Famagusta, and Theodorou's 1.3 acres of land, lie on the Turkish side.
• • •
Theodorou's life progressed nicely. He went to hospitality-management
school, worked in London and Berlin, came to America and settled down
to raise a family. He became a citizen, worked at the Disneyland Hotel,
Westwood Marquis and Balboa Bay Club before becoming vice president of
the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort and Marina in Newport Beach, where
he oversees a staff of 250.
But Cyprus is never far from his thoughts. "My heart goes out to that little island," he sighed.
In November, as
his parents were settling into a new home in Cyprus, Theodorou went
back to see how they were doing. That's when he and his father decided
it was time to go to the other side and see what had become of their
It was surreal.
The barbed wire. The change 32 years had wrought. They drove up and
down streets on the Turkish side, unsure of where they were, until his
father saw it: the majestic oak tree, the crown jewel of his pristine
more. The land sprouted condominiums. They looked toward the sea. If
this property were on the Greek side, Theodorou thought, it would be
worth close to a million dollars. (Muslims destroy property values)
had the letter. He had expected to find a house, expected to find a
mailbox, expected to leave the letter in that mailbox. But there were
so many mailboxes. Father and son climbed in the car and went, very
quietly, home. The letter stayed with them.
Nations recently brokered a reunification plan for Cyprus. The Greek
side voted it down. "No relief in sight," said A. Marco Turk, a former
Fulbright senior scholar in conflict resolution who leads negotiation
and peace-building programs at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
hopes that someday the two Cypruses will settle their differences.
People who lost property will be compensated. Perhaps not with their
original properties, but with something comparable. There's movement in
that direction, he says: Turkey wants to join the European Union, and
that certainly won't happen until it pulls out of northern Cyprus and
recognizes the southern Cypriot government.
"I think both
sides want to see an end to this," he said. "They want the island
reunited. If this whole thing is solved, that will be a gem of a place
to go. It's so very beautiful."
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