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Landscapes of the Green Line of Cyprus: Healing the Rift.

Landscapes of the Green Line of Cyprus: Healing the Rift.                

From a deep wound to a beautiful scar.

The UN controlled Green Line occupies approximately 3% of the land mass of the island of Cyprus. Frozen in a military status quo for the past 35 years, this strip of land swallows up abandoned rural villages, agricultural lands that lie fallow, and stone buildings that crumble in the historic city of Nicosia. On the up side, this landscape has escaped the construction boom on both sides of the Green Line, meadows have recovered from the contamination with pesticides and artificial fertilizers, hillside forests have been preserved, and wildlife has been allowed to flourish. Similar to other military buffer zones worldwide, the most salient example being the Korean Demilitarized Zone, the Green Line has, due to its isolation, become really “green”, that is, it has become a haven for biodiversity. The year 2010 being the International Year of Biodiversity – as designated by the United Nations – as well as the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Cyprus, leads us to reflect on how this UN controlled Buffer Zone, could be transformed from a military dividing line into a new landscape of cultural and biological diversity[1], and this through a process that brings together the communities on both sides in a common project for an ecologically and socially sustainable future.

A vision for the Green Line.

Lets us unbridle our imagination and imagine ourselves one day riding a bicycle along the former patrol path of the Green Line Buffer Zone in Cyprus, stopping at what was once a look-out tower to take in the landscape or to watch some rare birds, perhaps staying overnight in one of the Green Line Eco-Lodges and stopping for nourishment in the taverns serving the organic produce of the Green Line farming communities. The more athletic amongst us might participate in the yearly Green Line Peace Marathon that begins and ends with a lap around the newly reconnected bastions of the Venetian Walls of the formerly divided city of Nicosia. As a scholar, you could be drawn to the research institutes at the new Green campus, a bi-communal and international university in the former grounds of the Nicosia Airport and the UN protected area, a campus that is landscaped on the basis of a hydraulic grid of water catchments and storm water basins and powered by renewable energies. You would reach the campus from Nicosia or Ercan airport with the Green Line light rail, which traces the former tracks of the Famagusta-Nicosia-Lefke line that disappeared in the 1950s.  As you ride along, your gaze would fall on buildings that reflect a new building code, with well-insulated walls, green roofs, water saving infrastructures, and many trees to provide shade. If you were not tempted by the light rail or bicycle ride, you might want to hire a solar car to discover the Green Line Trail, or a solar boat to cruise the shores of Varosha, the former ghost town on the East coast of the island near Famagusta. Nature lovers could visit a Nature Field Station, a totally off-the-grid building nestled in one of the biodiversity hotspots of the protected areas of the Green Line. Here you would learn about the endangered species of Cyprus such as the Moufflon and the Monk Seal (both listed on the IUCN red list) which flourished in the abandoned mountain and marine landscapes of the Buffer Zone.[2] Approaching the city of Nicosia, you might visit the Cemetery of Monuments, where the relics and multiple manifestations of Greek and Turkish nationalism lay to rest. In the walled city of Nicosia, Art lovers will discover the new Green Line Gallery that is housed in some of the formerly ruined buildings of the Green Line, in a structure that preserves the interconnections between the buildings that resulted from their transformation into bastions and bunkers. The architectural approach go the design of this gallery is similar to the restoration/reconstruction work of the British Architect, David Copperfield in Berlin’s Neues Museum, which was damaged during the Second World War and which, through his daring design, preserves the buildings’ sense of decay and records the patina of time. A few steps along the Green Line Trail in the walled city, the New Museum of National Struggles conceptually connects and reinterprets the Greek and Turkish Cypriot National Struggle Museums which are located surprisingly close to each other in the walled city and which both currently focus on the wrongs done to them by the ‘other’ community. This museum for the Struggle Against Nationalisms exhibits historical memories of coexistence, which are intertwined with the recent memories of trauma, introducing a new multiplicitous narrative into the polarized landscape. Finally, you could also participate in the construction of this vision and become a Shareholder of the Green Line by purchasing the Green Line Shares that would allow the purchase of land for public use in the Buffer Zone.

This vision for the Cyprus Green Line may seem fanciful, but it is not a utopia. It is grounded in the natural evolutions and resilience that have emerged within the Buffer Zone, as well as from the potential and existing collaborations between environmental, social and cultural organizations across the dividing line. As a laboratory for ecological planning and sustainable development for the Cyprus, this project for the Buffer Zone could benefit from economic incentives for “green growth” as well as paving the way for the development of new “green technologies and practices’.

“Borders are the scars of history”.

This description of borders was made by Robert Schuman, a former French Statesman and one of the founding fathers of the European Union. Yet the Green Line of Cyprus can not yet be considered a scar: it remains a physical and psychological wound, a military fault line, a territorial chasm that fragments landscapes and divides the societies. Regardless, the forces of Nature are inciting a process of cicatrisation, and revealing the Green Line as a potential haven of biodiversity and as an opportunity create a beautiful scar that will turn the marks of pain into the visible manifestations of a landscape of healing.

In the past, other geopolitical contour lines materialized as physical walls, defining frontiers and separating sedentary civilians from nomadic and so-called barbaric populations, or more recently, capitalist from communist societies. Hadrian’s Wall, the Great Wall of China and the Iron Curtain were all transformed from being the edges of Empires to becoming backbones of cultural and natural tourism, developing nature trails, connecting heritage sites, and even organizing yearly marathons. The Annual Great Wall Marathon takes place on top of the Great Wall of China around in Beijing amidst spectacular scenery, and with its 3’700 steps, it is one of the more challenging world marathons. Hadrian’s Wall has become a UNESCO World Heritage site that stretches along 130 kilometers across Great Britain and a National Trail has recently been inaugurated along its path following the remains of the wall both through built up areas and the National Park areas. An ambitious environmental and memorial trail along the Iron Curtain – the  pan-European Green Belt which runs for 8’500 kilometers from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean – aims to connect a valuable chain of biotopes that have become home to a number of endangered species also linking nature parks, biosphere reserves, and transboundary protected areas along its path. This variation of landscapes is linked by the former patrol path, which today serves bicycles, pedestrians and service vehicles.

An analog case to the Cyprus Green Line, the Korea Demilitarized Zone, which still remains an open wound between the two Koreas, has been described as a Garden of Eden, Walled Off Paradise or Involuntary Park. The demilitarized Zone of Korea (DMZ) is in fact one of the most highly militarized spots on the planet, yet this no-man’s land has been out of bounds to humans for over 50 years. As a result a wild nature has evolved, and the strip of land measuring 250 kilometers by 4 kilometers has become the resting place of endangered migratory birds, for example the red-naped cranes, considered as sacred species and symbols of peace and longevity by both the North and South Koreans. As a final resting place for many Korean and international soldiers and civilian war victims, it is spiritually important to preserve the DMZ as a space of memory in which the victims are honored and remembered and this Garden of Eden has the potential to become the beautiful scar that participates in healing the peninsula of Korea and its people.

The United Nations Buffer Zone in Cyprus (UNBZ).

The Buffer Zone links a unique succession of landscapes and constitutes a cross-section of the many landscapes and ecologies of the island. From the deltas and sandy beaches of the east coast (Famagusta-Varosha), it connects with the rocky shores of the West coast (the Morphou Bay and Kokkina enclave), passing through wetlands, fertile plains, hills and mountains and it is traversed by many winter rivers that flow from the Troodos Mountains into the plains. The UNBZ connects a patchwork of national forests parks, as well future Natura 2000 reserves. Since July 2007, the first scientific attempt to assess the flora and fauna has been undertaken in the Buffer Zone by a team of 14 scientists from the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. The study sites covered different habitat types, including river, coastal, farmland, wetland, and forest, with surveys of the flora and fauna, providing valuable information on the locations of wildlife corridors that could assist in prioritizing conservation planning for target species and habitats in the Green Line and the adjoining areas.[3] Some rare, endemic and vulnerable flora and fauna species were recorded, including the Cyprus Moufflon, on the verge of extinction a decade ago, and the Mediterranean Monk Seal, one of the most highly endangered species in the world today.

Cyprus also has its divided capital, Nicosia, where the Green Line bisects the historic core. The green pencil line that was drawn on a map in 1963 and that gives this border its name translates into reality on the ground as a “snaking, barbed-wire-flanked, muddy track (that) over the past 50 years, has had plenty of time to grow its own micro-culture and make its own history and experiences.”[4] Cutting through the historic walls, the Buffer Zone disrupts the image of unity created by the perfect geometry of the Venetian fortifications, meandering along what was formerly the bed of the Pedios River before it became the main commercial axis of the city. Here, Nature disregards the Status Quo, with trees growing within buildings and plants spreading in the streets and on rooftops. The numerous pools of water remind us of the presence of the river, as do the wild flowers – the celandines and asphodels – that generally flourish along stream banks and in moist areas. Flash Floods that occur sporadically during the spring and summer months, causing considerable damage to properties bring back to our memory the historic catastrophe that occurred on November 10, 1330 in the heart of Nicosia, in which 3,000 citizens were drowned. More recently, on July 7, a severe storm resulted in the falling of 15 mm of torrential rain in 10 minutes, flooding the center of Nicosia and flowing into the Green Line, as if the former river was reclaiming its bed.

Water is regarded as “the second Cyprus Problem” after the conflict, and the island in increasingly suffering from severe drought. Rather than restoring the fabric of the Green Line thought should be given that the floods are partially due to the fact that the River Pedios was filled in and that there are less and less impervious surfaces to absorb water. The future uses of the Green Line should be based on a system of storm water management and catchment surfaces, to avoid flooding and to harness the great quantities of water the fall during the floods. This refers to a question of ecological landscape planning, which should become the foundation of all planning in the Green Line and beyond.

Learning from the Berlin Wall.

Berlin was a divided capital city until 20 years ago. Today, in Berlin, if you have not “walked the Wall” when it was standing it is difficult to see the traces or to recognize its path. At times, the Wall is indicated by discreet signage, that is, a copper line or a strip of cobbles embedded in the pavement, but this linear representation does not convey the spatial impact of the wall and the death strip. As the Cyprus Green Line is not one line, but two cease-fire lines defining a buffer zone, the Berlin Wall was not one wall, but a death strip surrounded by two walls. With retrospect, some inhabitants of Berlin feel that “the wall was dismantled too quickly” and lament that there are not more spaces to keep alive the memory. The first reaction of Berliners was to obliterate all the signs and scars of the Wall, but twenty years later, the city is fighting to preserve the last remaining segments. But we must not fall into nostalgia, or ostalgia[5] for the presence of the Wall. It is more interesting to reflect on the unique opportunity offered by the liberation of a military landscape within a city, looking back at the radical transformation of cities in the 19th century when fortifications were demolished and the terrains were used to plan infrastructures, green spaces, urban boulevards and new institutions, responding to the new needs of the city. What should be noted is that it is necessary to have a project and vision before the walls fall or are demolished, as the case of Berlin teaches us that once there is a solution, the economic forces of real estate quickly fill in the voids.

In the shadows of the more publicized and official Berlin Wall sites, some jewels of memory landscapes and pockets of green were salvaged along the necklace of the No-Man’s land by local populations and organizations. These include the Mauer Park, a very popular green space between Prenzlauerberg and Wedding, which resulted from a bottom’s-up, community led initiative; the Chapel of Reconciliation and Berlin Wall Memorial initiated by the Minister of the Evangelic parish whose land was swallowed up by the Death Strip; and finally, the Lohmuehle Wagendorf, an ecological community of caravan dwellers who have invested a segment of the former Wall.[6] The members of the Lohmuehle community live totally off the grid, using solar and wind power, recycling water, and planting their own food experimenting with microorganisms to fertilize the earth and ward off parasites. It is both an ecological and cultural community, with an extremely low ecological footprint, where public concerts and artistic events are regularly hosted, and is probably the most visionary and experimental open space along the former Wall.

The Cyprus Green Line. From Vision to Reality

The Green Line project was first presented by the author to various stakeholders in Cyprus in 2006, including the UN, UNDP, and environmental NGOs.[7] The vision was inspired by historical and contemporary precedents worldwide, as well as by existing bi-communal cooperation between the two Cypriot communities. This project aims to engage all stakeholders and civil society in Cyprus and harness social, cultural and environmental collaborations between both sides that continue to flourish and that seek to overcome the conflict by building a sustainable future for all Cypriots. It will seek to provoke a shift from the narratives of disputed land rights and reclamations to common issues of preserving the environment and to act as a catalyst for the reintegration of the divided communities. As a backbone for the reconstruction and reconciliation process, it could become an opportunity for innovative environmental landscape and urban design and offer sites for the establishment of new organizations and institutions that will participate in overcoming the psychological rift.

The vision plan for the Green Line can also serve as communication instrument and as a tool to develop a legal framework for the implementation of the project. This vision should not be just a static representation of a post-conflict memorial landscape, but should embody a dynamic instrument to resolve the conflict, and should present an opportunity to “reframe the conflict,” to act as a “consensus catalyst” that links environmental issues to the conflict resolution process, one that would require the involvement of environmental and spatial planners in the negotiation process.

In view of the many competing and diverging territorial claims that continue to divide the Cypriot populations, the feasibility of this proposal for the “greening of the Green Line” may be questioned.[8] The absence of political recognition between the two governments – despite ongoing talks – continues to impede formal collaborations between the two sides, but there are indicators in Cyprus and worldwide that environmental cooperation is being viewed as an alternative means to address the Cyprus problem and other conflicts.[9] Cyprus faces many environmental challenges – including water scarcity, water pollution, coastal degradation, the loss of wildlife habitats – and this project offers an opportunity for Cypriots to collaborate on common goals. As well as the European Union, a number of intergovernmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can readily be turned to for technical advice in establishing a transfrontier, or in the case of Cyprus, a bi-federal reserve: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Naturally, there are many barriers to such a vision being implemented, the first being the question of the land ownership and the right of return of displaced populations, which has been at the centre of the Peace talks and one of the obstacles to a viable solution. But these obstacles could be overcome with anticipatory and timely planning and with the instruments that are used to create and manage state parks or to build highways and other public infrastructure, and it will be necessary to develop specific policies to implement the Green Line project. Amongst the tools of urban and environmental planning, Eminent Domain is an instrument of expropriation that can be applied to acquire land for public works and this would require that the environmental qualities and potential of the Green Line be valued as a public good. Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) have recognized that land purchase is the only way to protect habitats from destruction in the long run, and they have started to buy unique habitats from private owners in six areas along the Green Belt. To this day, more than 10,000 people have become symbolic shareholders of the German Green Belt, having purchased around 280 hectares of the German Green Belt through Green Share Certificates.

2010 is the International Year of biodiversity. It also marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Cyprus and the beginning of the division of the island. Let 2010 be the year that we begin building this vision of a reunified island along the backbone of the Green Line, and let us begin to imagine this beautiful scar as a landscape of memory for the many victims of the conflict and as a haven for cultural and biological diversity on the “Island of Venus”.


  • 1 – Nicosia Green Line Walled City
  • 2 – Beach of Ghost Town Varosha with Hilton Hotel
  • 3 – Buffer Zone Villages Fertile Plain near Morphou

[1] Links between biological and cultural diversity-concepts, methods and experiences, Report of an International Workshop, UNESCO, Paris 2008

[2] The Mouflon was introduced in Cyprus during the Neolithic around 7000 years ago. This archaic species of sheep was sacred to the former inhabitants of Cyprus, and today it still appears on t bank notes and is on the logo of Cyprus Airways. It became nearly extinct, until a breeding program reintroduced them in recent years. A a community of 300 moufflon were spotted in an abandoned village in the Buffer Zone.

The Mediterranean monk seal, the most threatened pinniped in the world, has been included by the Parties to the Barcelona Convention among their priority targets already since 1985 (Genoa Declaration).  Monk seals have been sighted in the Turkish enclave of Kokkina on the West Coast of Cyprus, where the Green Line extends into the sea. Extremely shy mammals, the seals have benefited from the absence of fisherman and boats in the maritime Buffer Zone.

[3] Gucel Salih, Charalambidou, Iris; Gocmen Bayram; Karatas, Ahmet; Ozden, Ozge’ Soyumert, Anif; Fuller, Wayne. Monitoring Biodiversity of the Buffer Zone in CyprusNear East University, 2007.

[4] Walker, Jane. Green Line Culture. April 22, 2004. (Unpublished)

[5] Nostalgia for East Germany or the former East Block.


[7] Grichting Anna and HPCR (Harvard Program for Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research). The Green Line of Cyprus: Human Development and Reconciliation through Environmental Cooperation. Project Proposal, June 2006. Presented in Cyprus June/July 2006 to UNFICYP, UNDP, Reconstruction and Resettlement Council, Academic Institutions and a number of Environmental and Citizen NGOs.

[8] The Green Line may become Greener. Article on the authors Green Line Project published by Sebastian Heller in the Cyprus Mail on November 29, 2009

[9] Ali, Saleem H. ed. Peace Parks: Conservation and Conflict Resolution. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press. 2007. (foreword by Julia Marton-Lefevre, Director General IUCN)

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