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Olives - one of the symbols of Cyprus
Find out about the capital's Cypriot community and how Green Lanes is a little bit of Cyprus in North London. A perfect example of how both sides of the Cypriot community live and work together.
Cypriots originally came to the UK for economic and political reasons.
In our Turkish and Greek sections, we are talking more of Turkish or Greek speaking people than of Turks or Greeks. There is a good reason for this, as unlike most other communities, the Turkish and Greek residents in London don’t always come from their respective mainland.
Some of the Turkish community and most of the Greek actually came to our shores from the sunny island of Cyprus; some for purely economical reasons, because the standard of living in England was better than it was there and some for more political reasons. During the 1920s and 1930s Greek Cypriots migrated to Britain, where some found jobs in the catering industry in Soho.
Nicosia is split in two by 'the green line'.
Since it gained its independence from Great Britain in 1960, Cyprus has been a troubled, and eventually, divided island. Clashes between the Greek and Turkish communities there resulted initially in some Turkish-Cypriots leaving the island.
Following this unrest came the first big influx of Cypriot immigrants to London in the 60s, and then, after Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 in reaction to a Greek coup, Greek-Cypriots fled the Turkish rule.
The Cypriot Flag
To this day, Cyprus is still divided into a Greek side to the south and the self-proclaimed "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", a state only recognised by Turkey. Between the two zones is "The Green Line", a silent scar running across the sun-kissed island. This is a no man’s land 4 miles wide that physically separates the two communities.
People from both sides agree that a solution must be found to reunify the island, but unfortunately they can’t agree on which one. No wonder Cyprus is said to be "The Rubik’s Cube of diplomacy"!
The Turkish Cypriot Flag
In London, where many Cypriots have settled, the situation in their home country appears not to have any dividing effect. A walk along Green Lanes in North London reveals many Turkish-Cypriot shops sitting next to Greek-Cypriot ones. Greek-Cypriot community centres welcome their Turkish counterparts and vice-versa.
A documentary made for BBC Radio 4, "Green Line, Green Lanes", noted that if differences of opinion exist, both sides have learnt to live together regardless. "We live in the good old days of Cyprus here in London." says Mr Stylianou, a Greek-Cypriot. Whether they speak Greek or Turkish, whether they go to a Greek Orthodox church or to a mosque, they are Cypriots first. Whatever their differences, both sides come from the same place, and both sides want to see the island of their origins reunified.
Memories of 1974 remain strong in Cypriots' minds.
Nevertheless, if you scratch the surface, you will see that divisions and resentment are still present. Cypriots who are old enough remember, sometimes too clearly, the tensions and troubles that caused them to flee from their beloved Mediterranean paradise. Memories of the atrocities committed by one side or the other are still present in their minds. Those who didn’t live through these dark times, the British Born Cypriots, or BBCs, as they like to call themselves, know that there are things they cannot do because of this antagonism. Marrying someone from "the other side" would be more than frowned upon, for example.
It’s a miracle that Turkish and Greek Cypriot people in London can get along at all. Well if there is a miracle, it’s the result of a conscious effort from each and everyone in the community not to pour oil on the fire. Or, as Cypriots put it, not to mention "The Rhino on the table". It’s big, it’s there, and it tore their home country apart. There’s no reason why they should let it take over their life here in London.
Green Lanes is a little bit of Cyprus in North London and a perfect example of how both sides of the Cypriot community live and work together. The people there, the vibrant colours, rich smells and delicious food will, at least for a while, take you away to a sunnier place, whatever the London weather. Sit down and enjoy a nice cup of Cypriot coffee while browsing through Parikiaki, the Greek Cypriot weekly, or Toplum Postasi, its Turkish equivalent. Incidentally, both papers are printed in the same place, another example of Greek-Turkish co-operation in London.
For an even better taste of Cyprus, don’t miss the Cyprus Wine Festival, every year in June at Alexandra Palace. Wine, food, music and most of all a warm Cypriot welcome and a joyous atmosphere await you there with open arms. No rhinos on the tables there, but if you see one… don’t talk about it! Just enjoy the best the Cypriot community in London has to offer: Its varied, vibrant culture and its warm and generous sense of hospitality.
last updated: 13/05/2008 at 15:59