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Cyprus, beyond the last wall of Europe. “But is this really the European Union?”

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SENT TO NICOSIA. “Is this Europe? On the contrary: is this the European Union? ». Puffy-eyed Luka asks, who was 8 years old when the Turkish invasion took away his home in Nicosia forever, and now 47 years later he leads us over the wall that divides the capital of Cyprus in two – the last. divided into the European continent – in the days of the Pope’s visit. We are in the northern part of the city, the one occupied by Turkish settlers, where commercial areas alternate with the smells of fried food, kebabs and music, with deserted neighborhoods with never inhabited houses, broken windows and doors wide open, but inside remained exactly as then, with chairs, tables, even motorcycles in the garages, all dusty from almost half a century of neglect. Ghost neighborhoods in the center of the capital that take you back to 1974. Only stray cats populate them.

We pass the southern area of ​​the capital, the Greek-Cypriot one, from the check-point only after having done the quick swab. We cross the demarcation border, a buffer zone patrolled by the blue helmets of the Unficyp, the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus. A text message arrives on our mobile and says: «Welcome to Turkey! We remind you that to call Italy you have to add… ». But we are in Cyprus. In the capital of Cyprus.

And after, woe to take pictures: we suffer various reproaches from the Turkish Cypriot military forces – war rifle in hand – in the various checkpoints, we have to take pictures by pretending to look at the phone. Especially when we are near the Green Line, which in spite of the harmless name is the barrier with barbed wire, sandbags and rusty canisters that is camouflaged among the houses – often bombed – of the capital. It is 180 kilometers long. «It looks like a movie set… but it’s not a movie, it’s reality», sighs Luka. «For me, for us, our home remains the one they stole from us. Our heart is here in these narrow streets, among these rubble. And our children’s hearts are here too. And it will be here forever. But what’s the point of being a refugee in my country? ”

As we move by car, the local radio broadcasts the Pope’s words to the ecumenical prayer with migrants in the church of Santa Croce: “I would like to say what I have in my heart, at least to pray for one another and do something – the threads barbed. I see one here: this is a war of hatred that divides a country. But the barbed wires, in other parts where they exist, are put in place so as not to let the refugee enter, the one who comes to ask for freedom, bread, help, brotherhood, joy, who is fleeing from hatred and is faced with a hatred that it’s called barbed wire. May the Lord awaken the conscience of all of us in the face of these things.

And excuse me if I said things as they are, but we cannot be silent and look the other way, in this culture of indifference ». Francis points out that “we complain when we read the stories of the concentration camps of the last century, those of the Nazis, those of Stalin, we complain when we see this and we say:” but why did this happen? “. Brothers and sisters: it is happening today, in the nearby coasts! Places of slavery. I looked at some filmed testimonies of this: places of torture, people selling. I say this because it is my responsibility to help open our eyes ».

Nicosia is in the Mesoria plain, between the Kyrenia Mountains to the north, the Troodos plateaus to the south and along the Pedieos River. It is one of the most important economic and financial centers in the eastern Mediterranean. Yet, in his “heart” there is an air of distrust, of something forced, with some traits of devastation and ruins that make one think of war even if there are no armed conflicts in progress. At one point, we arrive at the former Orthodox cathedral of Saint Sophia, now the Selimiye Mosque, on which the Turkish flag stands. Luka observes her from the bottom up, in silence, without commenting. It is now the main place of worship for Muslims.

At least four were attempts and negotiations to reunify the island: with the then UN secretary Kofi Annan; a popular referendum: the Turkish Cypriots voted in favor, the Greek Cypriots opted for “no”. A negotiation in 2014. An open dialogue in 2017. But nothing has changed for now.

And when night falls, the huge flag of the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” painted on the mountains of Kyrenia is illuminated to prevent darkness from relieving the memory of those who actually govern this land. “They want to remind us every evening that this land is theirs.”

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