Muslim Cyprus


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.

Andrew Theodorou 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.

Another world. 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.

"We went 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."

Theodorou 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.

Andrew Theodorou 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.

The British 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.

Violence raged again after the Greek Cypriot president tried to strip veto power from the Turkish Cypriot vice president. The United Nations moved in to keep the peace.

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.

Turkish forces 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.



Andrew 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 land.

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 1.3 acres.

Pristine no 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)

Andrew Theodorou 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.

The United 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.

Theodorou still 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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