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16 May 2010

Cyprus; the Golden Apple

By:Latif Yahia
There is no getting away from it, the ads, the internet, everywhere you turn there it is, a paradise on earth waiting for your arrival; Cyprus.
The beauty of Cyprus is indeed incomparable, the history impeccable, where else in the world could Aphrodite be born but on the beautiful island of Cyprus. LOVE CYPRUS.Without doubt on your two week vacation you will fall in love with Cyprus, you will find the laid back lifestyle so attractive in comparison to our hectic, harried lives. The Sun, Sea and Sand will also have you believing in the dream. LOVE CYPRUS.Many, many people have happily holidayed in Cyprus year-in, year-out without ever setting foot outside the resort, village or comfort zone that they so readily cling to, and maybe that is for the best because if they did, maybe they may not LOVE CYPRUS.
My story began like so many others with a two week holiday, although in hindsight maybe I should have read the warning signs that are now so obvious! There were seven of us, three adults and four ‘Children’, I had done the unusual and booked a package holiday, it was the only way we could get to Cyprus as there were no direct flights only charter, so, if we were to fly charter we may as well be with the rest of the holidaymakers.
I had paid in full, collected our tickets and organised a very large Taxi to drive us the 50 miles to the airport. We all bundled out, found trolleys and began looking for our check-in desk. Having traipsed up and down the length of the departures level, my wife headed for information, there was one gentleman in front of her in the queue who seemed to be looking for the same information as we were, but as she waited two uniformed ladies approached the desk and told the lady serving in quite a coded fashion, ‘that thing that we thought might happen, has’. Suddenly it dawned on us why the girl in the travel agent had been so single-minded that we bought insurance!
For hours we were none the wiser, no-one seemed to have any information and the rep for the company involved upon receiving a text message telling her ‘We’re bust’ packed up her stuff and left before we even arrived. ( Having said that, I probably wouldn’t have hung around either to deal with holidaymakers who weren’t going on holiday!) As the day progressed, other people’s stories were emerging, a Wedding Party, a stag party, couples, families all with the same intention as us, some time in the sun.
Eventually, there seemed to be some hope, we wee told that the charter plane would be flown in from Czech or somewhere and would fly us there, but we would be flying back with another company. A cheer rose up from the crowd, ‘Yes, we’re going’. At this point we were in the airport for the best part of six hours, my mother, an insulin diabetic was flagging and the four children were getting bored. No-one offered us a complimentary anything, not even an apology. Then the crux came, one of the check-in desks had life, we all swarmed about jostling in the hopes of finally unloading our trolleys of luggage. But we soon realised that checking-in was not on the agenda, being the avid documentarian that I am I whipped out the camera to film the event, the lady, told us loudly while standing on the check-in desk that ‘there would be no plane and we should go home and contact our travel agent’ a discommoded grumble ran through the crowd, with an extra cry of disbelief from the Wedding Party. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that the girl on the floor beside the bearer of bad news was pointing in my direction and radioing someone, I put away my camera. Alas, it was too late! Airport security was on top of me, demanding that I hand over my camera for it to be confiscated. Asking that of me was like asking me to hand over one of my children! I refused and was taken very noisily to the Airport police station. Without sounding paranoid, if you have ever seen the film rendition, well lets just say that that would be my wife’s greatest fear! As they hauled me off (in my suit and tie, I may add) my wife had quickly briefed the children and my mother on what to do during our absence. I was taken one way while my wife was brought another and although she could see me being led down one corridor she was unable to follow. Have you ever been in a situation of heightened emotions? What do you think is the ‘worst thing’ that you can tell someone in that position? Well, my wife found out, usually a very quiet and reserved person, she found herself defending me loudly, firing quick instructions to our then 15 year old and running alongside a policewoman to try and catch up with me, the policewoman turned to her and said ‘calm down’.
Has anyone ever told you to ‘calm down’ while you were in the height of it? Did you find it helpful? I know my wife didn’t!
So there we are, the happy band, I, in an Airport police interview room, my wife pacing outside, frantically co-ordinating between the children upstairs, my Mother, who is about to have a diabetic fit because she doesn’t speak English and has just seen me carted off by ‘Police’ and our friends awaiting our arrival in Cyprus.After some 20 mins or so, my wife glances out the window of the Airport police station to see me being taken away in a police car, panic-stricken, she dashed out of the office across the road and straight for the police car, ‘what’s going on? Where are you taking him?’ she queried, I replied from the back seat, ‘it’s OK, honey, they have to take me down to the proper police station, I won’t be long, just see if you can get us tickets out of here’ and away I went, the Arab man in the suit who was arrested in the Airport.

Cyprus Geographically,

When I was growing up, we of course studied Geography as a subject, this was in the 70’s and some of the 80’s and indeed the world map has changed many, many times. But to my recollection Cyprus was always listed as part of the Middle-East.

Located off the Coast of Israel/ Palestine, Jordan and of course Turkey. It is also in close proximity to northern Africa, and there are many cruises to Egypt from Cyprus, but don’t think you can get a passenger/car ferry to Cyprus, well not to the Cypriot side anyway, and if you dare to bring your car through from the Turkish side it will be blacklisted, you have been warned!

So, when then did it become Europe? I presume when Greece did, although the Cypriots have independence from Greece, but really, it is only since 2006 that the Cypriot government have started to use EU law and even at that it is yet to be fully utilised.

So, why then is Cyprus considered to be EU? Well, there is one theory, Cyprus is a divided country in the 1970’s Cyprus was attacked by Turkey, who then occupied half of the island, including the famous holiday resort of Famagusta, I never travelled to the occupied side as I don’t like occupiers of any kind, but have heard many stories of ghost towns, where people fled the Turkish army and left everything where it lay.

Turkey has applied for membership to the EU, now Turkey is a secular Muslim country and as such would be the first Muslim country in the EU should they become a member. Also Turkey shares borders with countries like Iraq, Syria, Iran and Georgia, borders that are very hard to control.

So, if one were of a mind, you could surmise that Cyprus is the fly in Turkey’s ointment, give up your occupied territories or shelve your ideas of EU membership.

It’s a lot easier to occupy somewhere than to leave it, just ask America. (50 years on and they still haven’t left Germany)


Cyprus Politically,

Cyprus has a ‘Socialist’ government, it has a president and he is active, not just a figure head. Of course not so long ago the Cypriot political leader was also their Religious leader, Archbishop Makarious, there is at least one street in each town named in his honour, and he is very much imbedded in the Cypriot psyche. Relatively speaking, the Turkish invasion, which happened during the leadership of Archbishop Makarious was quite recent, ( 30 years is well within the memory of most people) and so he is quite the hero.

Cyprus is ( I speak only of the ’Free’ side ) broken up into four regions, Nicosia, this is the capital of Cyprus the city itself is divided in two, somewhat halved down the middle by the invasion. The Airport ended up on the Turkish side, so, no flights into the Capital, well not from Europe anyway! Nicosia is ruled by the government, the ministers families make good marriages between themselves and of course stay in power that way. All the big business is there and so is the money.

Larnaca, which has an International Airport is run by a man named Fanieros, he started out as a bodyguard for Archbishop Makarious during the war and made a name for himself, during peace time however, he fashioned himself on Don Corleone (the Godfather) and having taken a bullet in the neck (literally) for Archbishop Makarious, has the voice to go along with the image. Fanieros runs a very high profile security company in Larnaca, they protect places of importance like the Airport and Schools. But, what they really like to do is ‘protect’ small businesses, bars, clubs and restaurants. Until now, no-one in the Cypriot media has EVER written an article about Fanieros, and while I was there, even though I had a very big story about him, everyone I brought it to declined, that is how powerful he is in Larnaca. Fanieros owns a ‘Hotel’ where he carries out his business, it is known to be a place of torture and men of his employ who have fallen out of favour have died in terrible accidents, one of which was where two men reportedly tried to set fire to a nightclub and were caught in the inferno themselves. I KNEW THESE TWO MEN, because they had been sent to me by Fanieros offering me the services of his security company.

He is often seen driving down the street flanked on either side by bodyguards on motorbikes and followed closely by the ‘Black Hummer the only one in town.

But that is not to say that Fanieros Larnaca is the only evil in Larnaca. The municipal system itself in Larnaca is not much better.

Cyprus is all about who you know, which works well if you are Cypriot, but is an utter nightmare if you don’t. It is also set up to be so slow that you incur fines, before you even begin. There are huge deposits to pay for services because you are not Cypriot even though you may be European, and you are still required to register with immigration who will send you off to get a million different things just so that you can pay the fees here there and everywhere, before asking ‘Who told you to do that, it’s all wrong!’ My wife spent many, many months going to interviews and providing proof of this that and the other to finally attain residency two weeks before we left!

Every man you meet will tell you ‘it’s okay, I know someone, I’ll help you’ if it involves money, walk away! People who honestly want to help won’t ask for money and those that ask and receive money, well, you’ve just opened a door that you won’t be able to close.

While I think of it, the ordinary policeman is on such a low wage that Fanieros subsidises his income, so if you happen to fall out with Fanieros, don’t expect the regular cop to bite the hand that feeds him. I have personally witnessed a Judge walk out of a courtroom and refuse to take on a case against Fanieros, such is the legend of the man.

Limassol.

Limassol is the main port of Cyprus, a very large and thriving city. Limassol is run by a Russian mafia, they drive a ‘yellow Hummer’ they do not wander into the Larnaca areas and vice-versa. As for their activities I have no personal experience, but have been reliably informed that they pretty much do the same as in Larnaca, Prostitution, Bingo, Protection.

Paphos.

Well Paphos is a different story, Paphos is run by the church(Greek Orthodox), they control the water and own most of the land in this area, they have a very stringent hold on things like what signs you can or can’t put on your premises to advertise your business! Arguably the most beautiful part of the island, incorporating the birthplace of Aphrodite, there are many luxury villas, hotels and resorts.

While I lived in Cyprus Paphos town had the highest rate of pollution in Europe, I’m sure it’s something that they are working on!

Middle-east

There are a few British military bases, they are built on areas that were completely demolished in the War. They are obviously completely run by the British and even have their own courts and police, as has happened to me you may not even realise that you are in a military base, you can and will be stopped for speeding or whatever and you can guarantee that you will be fined on the spot.

My father-in-law while visiting us, drove through one of these bases and just for the hell of it started speaking in a Northern Irish accent, within seconds there was an army jeep behind their rental car which quietly escorted them off the base!

Cyprus is a listening base for the Middle-east, do not be under any illusion, while there your phone calls are monitored.

Troodos, the mountain range in the centre of the island is a winter wonderland, to be able to go from the sun, sea and sand on the coast to the heights of the Troodos mountains is just fantastic, if you knew no better you could easily believe that you were in the Alps. Except I don’t remember seeing huge white golf balls on Mont Blanc! (the listening posts I mentioned earlier)

Property

Everyone loves to have a holiday home and Cyprus has some beautiful houses, built on the Mediterranean/Arabic style villa, they are spacious, pretty and usually detached, sounds too good to be true? Well it can be, only since January of 2009 has it become law that the seller has to relinquish the deeds to the property that he has sold to you. All sales before this date were by contract yes, but you did not necessarily receive your deeds and in a lot of cases, especially if you bought a holiday home, your house was sold up to five times! And that was if you purchased it from the real owner in the first place! A friend of mine just avoided buying a house from someone who didn’t own it, the house belonged to a Saudi who had not used it in years, a neighbour who noticed that there was a lot of interest in the property from foreigners thought that he would make some money (well a lot actually, a Cypriot pound at the time was nearly 2 euros) and went about selling it to the unwitting tourists, because there were no deeds, it went unnoticed, until the real owner re-appeared!

I sat in on a case in court one day where the same house was sold to four different couples, one couple had been living in the house for the best part of a year, one couple had bought the property years earlier but through illness etc had not been able to use the property, and the other two couples had been sold the property on a time-share basis. The judge directed that the couple now living in the house were the owners and that all the rest were free to sue the ‘vendor’ in a civil action. He walked away free that day, no charges or fraud were brought against him.

Another property scam was/is with apartments, some people bought from plans others were flown out on these special tour/house hunting deals. Either way the results were the same, the apartments would be sold, some paid outright others mortgaged, no-one would receive their deeds and the property developer would use the deeds to each apartment to raise funds for his next development, no panic, until of course the next project failed and the banks went in for repossession or the developer skipped town because he didn’t pay his taxes.

Some scandals that are coming to light now are where properties on both sides of the divided island were sold illegally, during the invasion, Catholics were driven from the North side of the island and Muslims from the South, leaving behind their houses and lands. Entrepreneurs in the 80’s and onwards spotted these houses lying around and decided to develop a very exciting property market, of course these houses did and still do belong to people and if /when Cyprus is re-united and let’s remember that it is one of the conditions of Turkey’s membership into the EU there will be a lot of quarrelling over property that has been sold without the consent or knowledge of the owner.