Nicosia, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News – 30th Nov, 2021 ) :On Pope Francis’ arrival in the Cypriot capital next week, he may well spot two giant flags symbolic of a Mediterranean island split by ethnicity, language and religion.
The star and crescent flags of Turkey and the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), created on a mountainside looking down on Nicosia, anger many in the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus, whose government controls the majority Greek Cypriot south.
But the pope’s plane will not land in Nicosia, because when the island was divided by conflict in 1974, its international airport stood on the frontline and now lies behind barbed wire in a “Green Line” buffer zone patrolled by UN peacekeepers.
The island’s strategic location at the crossroads between east and west has made it a target for a succession of empires from the Assyrians to early Greek settlers, the Ottomans and the British.
It was gifted by Roman general Mark Anthony to his Egyptian lover Cleopatra, and used by England’s King Richard the Lionheart, who married in Cyprus, as a staging post during the Crusades before he sold it to the Knights Templar.
For 300 years, it was part of the Ottoman Empire before the British took control in 1878.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied the northern third of the island in response to a coup sponsored by the military junta then ruling Greece.
The division saw some 200,000 people displaced from their homes.
Nearly five decades later, Cyprus remains cut in two by a 180-kilometre (112-mile) line.
Several rounds of UN-led talks to reunite Cyprus have resulted in failure.
Francis is expected to stay in the papal nunciature, next to bullet-marked buildings in the buffer zone.
Cypriots in the south are mostly Greek Orthodox Christians, led by Archbishop Chrysostomos II.
Cyprus is also home to thousands of Armenian Christians as well as a small number of Protestants.
Religious buildings have swapped hands throughout history.
It celebrates mass in eight languages — including Tagalog for Filipinos and Sinhala for Sri Lankans — serving worshippers from 50 nations.
The official Cypriot flag bears a map of the island above crossed olive branches to symbolises peace.
Today, it is only seen in the south where it is often outnumbered by the blue-and-white striped flag of Greece.
The north has its own colours — the inverse of the Turkish flag, a red star and crescent on a white background.