Ravaged by time, abandoned Nicosia airport remains stark reminder of Cyprus division

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Abandoned airport stark symbol of Cyprus division

NICOSIA, Cyprus — An abandoned airport that for decades has stood as a stark symbol of conflict on war-divided Cyprus was briefly reopened to the media on Tuesday ahead of the International Day of Peace on Sept. 21.

The din of passenger traffic has long been supplanted by the flutter of pigeons in the cavernous atrium of Nicosia’s abandoned airport.

Shards of glass from shattered skylights and window panes litter the floors while a blanket of dust smothers departure lounge seats and passport control booths. Cafes, gift shops and offices stand empty.

Very few people have set foot inside since the airport shut down in 1974 when a coup by supporters of union with Greece prompted Turkey to invade and split the island into a breakaway Turkish-speaking north and an internationally recognized Greek-speaking south.

The airport was the scene of fierce fighting during the war. It was declared a U.N. protected area after hostilities ceased and now straddles the buffer zone separating the two sides.

Home now to the U.N. peacekeeping force’s headquarters, the airport’s grounds are also the venue for reunification talks between Greek Cypriot president Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu that have produced only limited progress after two years.

But its main terminal building — opened 1968 and celebrated at the time as one of the region’s finest — remains under lock and key, ravaged by time.

Outside the terminal rests a stricken Cyprus Airways Trident passenger jet that was stripped of its engines during the 1974 fighting to enable another jet to fly out.

A bid to reopen the airport in the early 1990s stalled after U.N.-mediated peace talks collapsed.

Cyprus is now served by two international airports in Larnaca and Paphos.

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