Nicosia: The story of a shared and contested city

‘Nicosia: The story of a shared and contested city’ is a public history project, implemented by the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR), aiming to provide the public and researchers with a historical overview of the city of Nicosia from 1878 to 1974. The project comprises seven interactive maps. The first map was created by Horatio Herbert Kitchener, and was the product of the first survey of Cyprus, conducted by him. The remaining maps come from the Land Survey Department of the Republic of Cyprus. The maps are enriched with demographic data, which are visually represented on each map and each respective municipal quarter. More information regarding the maps and demographics can be found below.

n addition to demographic data, in order to enrich the maps we have also used a variety of other sources. While acknowledging the necessity of providing information on the political events that have marked the history of the city, the research team took the decision to move beyond merely political history. Thus, apart from political events that are mainly presented through newspaper clippings from the Cypriot press, we have chosen to concentrate on landmarks, as well as on social and cultural events relating to the various communities that lived in Nicosia during the time under examination.

Our efforts have been concentrating on raising awareness of the multicultural aspects of the city and the long co-existence of various communities within it – the Armenian, the Latin, the Maronite – apart from the Greek and Turkish Cypriot ones. Another aim was to provide information on issues regarding gender, the role of women in Cypriot society, and homosexuality. We have focused on the various communities’ cultural production, as expressed mainly through the theatre, but also through everyday places such as coffeehouses. This is very much a work in progress; more research towards all these areas is still needed.

The information provided on this website has come from a number of sources, mainly monographs, collective volumes, and articles, both academic and journalistic. Where possible, we also provide audiovisual material that supports the texts. This comes from a variety of archives and institutions in Cyprus, such as the Prometheus Research Institute and PEO (Pancyprian Workers’ Organization) archives.

During the course of this research, we have been able to ascertain the lack of adequate sources regarding Nicosia’s cultural life, only a glimpse of which is given in most of the sources used here. Thus, it was often quite difficult to understand the exact location of, for example, theatres or cinemas, or when these cultural institutions were established. In an effort to overcome such issues, we made contact with elderly inhabitants of the city, met and interviewed them, in order to include their memories on this site. Four life stories recorded as part of this process are included here, with the aim of further enhancing this resource.

Mapping and Counting

In July 1878, the administration of Cyprus was handed over to the British Empire. Until that point, and since 1571, the island had been part of the Ottoman Empire, which, however, was in decline, and had already started losing its past flare. The Ottomans had used Cyprus as a source for agricultural products, and, as they had done in the rest of the empire, the island was administrated according to feudal structures. As a result, the urban growth of Cyprus at the time was slow, as was any infrastructure that could encourage the growth of urbanization. Towns were of small size and significance, with Larnaca being the only one that had witnessed relative growth. Due to its port, the engagement of merchants with international trade was possible, and so Larnaca was the only town where a kind of bourgeoisie developed (Attalides 1981: 47-48). However, the British colonial administration had no interest in using Cyprus as a source of agricultural products; instead, it wanted to use the island as a military base. Moreover, as it would become evident in the years that followed, the British aimed to govern Cyprus according to the standards of modern liberal states. As a result, the British administration introduced innovative power mechanisms and institutional reforms on the island.

For the efficient administration of the island, it was necessary to have an accurate knowledge of the territory and the population to be governed. This would not only facilitate the employment of an efficient tax collection policy, but also the imposition of a new governing model, based on the cultivation of individualism as a means of monitoring and controlling the population. Even though these developments can be traced throughout the island’s territory, the case of Nicosia is of special interest for several reasons that are worth mentioning. Already from 965AD, Nicosia had been the administrative centre of the island – a status that it continued to have during the time of both Ottoman and British rules. Under British administration, the urbanization of Nicosia was more intense compared to the other Cypriot cities, and Nicosia became dominant in terms of population growth, economic development and spatial expansion (Attalides 1981: 103-10). Consequently, Nicosia also became the centre of the island’s ethnic contentions, social struggles and cultural production. However, up until British rule, Cyprus had not been scientifically mapped. The British colonial administration appointed the lieutenant of the British Army, Horatio Herbert Kitchener, as the man responsible for undertaking the crucial task of surveying and charting Cyprus. Kitchener applied methods of maximum accuracy for that time (the method of triangulation was applied, and 60 different points were used), and, in 1881, produced the first modern map of Cyprus. That same year, the first Population Census was issued by the British colonial administration, a process that was to be conducted approximately every ten years until 1946.

Through this project, one can follow not only Nicosia’s spatial and population growth, but also the development of political narratives, as represented in the interactive maps of the city throughout history. When taking a closer look at what, at first sight, looks like a neutral representation of the city’s space, it becomes evident that ‘neutral’ is perhaps not the right word: street names were changed in an attempt to reflect the population’s ethnic distribution on the landscape as revealed by the censuses, but also to enforce political narratives that suited the colonial administration, and according to what that same administration dictated. In the maps produced after the foundation of the Republic of Cyprus, one can observe the anticolonial discourse, as well as the Republic’s attempt to create a rupture with the island’s colonial past. Moreover, in that period Hellenic symbols and names are dominant, something that can be seen as part of a contest between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities for symbolic prevalence into the space of the city.

The walls of the city and street names

An interesting example of how political claims and narratives are represented on the maps is the way the depiction of the city walls changes depending on when each map was produced. On Kitchener’s 1881 map, the bastions are mentioned with their Ottoman names, in Latin characters, with their spelling approximating their phonetic pronunciation. On the 1911 cadastral maps and the revisions of 1926-1928, the bastions’ Venetian names are introduced in brackets under their Ottoman names, making a case for them to be treated as monuments. By 1935, only the bastions’ Venetian names are used (in Gothic script), while the bastions themselves are designated as ‘monuments of antiquity’, a representation that has, since then, remained on all the maps produced by the Republic of Cyprus (Zesimou 1998: 257). This may be perceived as an attempt, on behalf of the colonial administration, to create a rupture with the island’s Ottoman past, in order to secure its control but also to satisfy the city’s Greek Cypriot population, which was radically increasing.

Another important remark that can be made by comparing the maps is the way that street naming evolved in relation to political events. By the time the British colonial administration was imposed on the island, the streets of Nicosia had no official names. As can be seen in some of the early maps, between 1881 and 1911 many street names had the same family names, something that suggests that street names were referring to the ownership of property within a certain area, rather than being part of an organized plan that would differentiate one axis of circulation from another (Zesimou 1998: 260). In other cases, streets would acquire their name from important buildings along them, or even from the economic/professional activities that took place there (for instance, ‘the goldsmiths’ street’ was where goldsmiths had their workshops; see Michaelide 1977).

However, this was not in line with the government’s idea of a regime that considered spatial planning to be a fundamental aspect of its implementation of power. In 1912, the British authorities put forward a suggestion for giving names to the city’s streets, and for determining the boundaries of each quarter. Accordingly, they oversaw the formulation of two committees, representing the city’s Christian Orthodox and Muslim populations respectively. These were responsible for drawing up a suitable list of street names, based on either the ancient history of Cyprus and Greece, or the island’s Ottoman past. This, however, initiated a contest for territorial ownership in the naming of the streets, and, in some cases, efforts to underplay the other community’s presence in the public space. As political events developed and national narratives became stronger, these symbolic contests became more and more evident in reality, and were the cause for increased tensions. A striking example of this was the renaming of ‘Orman Yolu’ (Turkish for ‘Forest Road’) to ‘Spyros Christodoulopoulos Street’. This caused the reaction of the Turkish Cypriot community, with the newspaper Halkın Sesi on 8 January 1958 claiming that the street should be named ‘Adnan Menderes’ instead, and that ‘No Greek municipality, no sign, order or decision could ever change that’ (Kızılyürek 2015: 173).

The declaration of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960 was accompanied by a process of renaming the streets of Nicosia (the same process took place in other cities too), in an effort to articulate the new political order into the symbolic sphere. As can be seen in the maps of the 1960s – the years that directly followed the end of British colonial rule, and the period when the new street names were mostly derived from the two communities’ ideology – a new shift in street naming developed, which was oriented against the island’s colonial past. As a result, the vast majority of the names introduced then belonged to members of EOKA who had died during the anticolonial struggle. However, members of EOKA represented primarily (if not exclusively) the Greek Cypriot community, while the Turkish Cypriot community perceived such commemorations as tangible representations of Greek nationalism. In fact, the initiative for renaming streets belonged, just like in the colonial period, to the Municipal Council, not the central government, which, due to the separation of the Municipality of Nicosia into Greek and Turkish since 1958, was made up exclusively of Greek Cypriots, whose suggestions found no objections.

Censuses, communities and national identities

The first Population Census was issued by the British colonial administration in 1881. In 1956, due to the political turmoil of the time (the EOKA revolt had begun in 1955), a campaign to register the population in order to issue identity cards was carried out instead of an actual census. The first two censuses conducted by the Republic of Cyprus were published in 1960 and 1973. The latter is a micro-census, that is, a sample survey regarding solely the Greek Cypriot population; the Turkish Cypriot population, which, by then, was living in enclaves, was excluded.

Censuses differ with regard to the categorization of population and the thoroughness of the data they provide. Combining the available data with secondary literature as well as backward or forward projections when possible, we have been able to estimate the population of each distinct community and its distribution within the different city quarters. While the significant lack of data may have led to mistakes, it was thought that this was a risk worth taking, in order to visually represent the transformations that took place in the city of Nicosia throughout the period under investigation.

The choice of censuses for each map, where more than one was available, was based on their thoroughness and especially on whether they included a partial population distribution of the various communities within the municipal quarters of the city of Nicosia. For instance, we chose the 1891 census rather than the one from 1881 for the latter reason. We consider the existence and depiction of this distribution crucial for understanding the socio-cultural history of the city. As far as the categorization of population is concerned, one may observe differences from census to census, changes that we had to deal with in order to unify the censuses’ format. (These will be elaborated when referring to each census.) From 1956 onwards there was no distribution of population in quarters. While for 1956 we made the choice to proceed to such a distribution based on the distribution of population during the previous census (that of 1946), we did not proceed in a similar manner in the other two cases (i.e., 1960 and 1973). This was due to the fact that, during that period, there had been significant movements of population that drastically altered the ethnic synthesis of the various municipal quarters, turning Nicosia into a segregated or divided city.

In order to reconstruct the population distribution in the city’s quarters, we have used the available secondary literature. As far as the Armenian population is concerned, the work of Susan Paul Pattie (1997) and Alexander-Michael Hadjilyra (n.d.; 2012) was instrumental in our research and analysis. The latter author’s work has also provided insight on the Latins and the Maronites of Cyprus (see Bibliography for the booklets published by the Public Information Office, as well as Hadjilyra’s work on Cyprus’s religious groups post-1960). After producing an estimation of the population of each distinct community, we distributed the numbers into the different city quarters by using historical knowledge relating to where communities traditionally lived (for instance, historical sources show that the traditional residential areas of the Armenian community until 1963 were Arabahmet and Karamanzade).

When talking about areas where people from different communities traditionally resided, we are mainly referring to house owners or those who could afford to pay rent; poorer social groups, irrespective of the community they came from, lived all over Nicosia.

The 1891 census makes the distinction of population between ‘Mohammedans’, ‘non-Mohammedans’ and ‘Others’. The term ‘Mohammedan’ is indicative of an orientalist depiction of Islamic populations that was often used by British colonialists. In our case, and despite its orientalist overtones, it has been used to characterize the Muslim population of Nicosia. This was done because we wanted to use the same terms that the British censuses had used, and in this way to represent the censuses’ era. The term ‘non-Mohammedans’ is used for the population of the Greek Orthodox, Latin, Maronite, Armenian and any other religious and ethnic communities that were residing in Cyprus at the time. Due to the use of this all-encompassing term, it is difficult to determine the exact number of population corresponding to each distinctive ethnic or religious community living within municipal limits, and even more difficult to accurately distribute them to each respective quarter of the city of Nicosia. In cases where no communities other than the Greek and Turkish ones are stated with reference to a given quarter, we have assumed that any mention to ‘non-Mohammedan population’ refers to the Greek Orthodox population.

The 1911 census was more thorough than the previous ones. It provides the reader with a clear record of the population of the various ethnic and religious communities residing within the municipal limits of Nicosia. Thus, despite the fact that the distinction of population on the quarters’ level is still between ‘Mohammedans’ and ‘Non-Mohammedans’ (which are actually referred to as ‘Mahommedans’ and ‘Non-Mahommedans’), we can safely assume that the various communities are recorded accurately.

The census of 1921 was quite thorough regarding the number of each religious and ethnic community residing within municipal limits. Despite the fact that the city’s population was not distributed to their respective quarters, we can estimate the location of different groups through the available secondary literature on Nicosia.

The 1946 census is the most detailed and thorough census available, at least for the period of British colonialism. It provides invaluable information regarding the population, its religion and national origins, but, once again, the population is not distributed into their respective quarters. In addition, besides ‘Greek Orthodox’ and ‘Moslem Turkish’, the category of ‘Others’ also appears. This is the first census that does not use the term ‘Mohammedans’ or ‘Mahommedans’, but ‘Moslem’ in order to identify the Turkish Cypriot population of the island. From 1946 onwards, the island’s Latin community is demoted, since it is included in the religious group of Roman Catholics instead of being acknowledged as a distinctive community. (Nonetheless, in the tables regarding the island’s religions, reference to the Latin community is made as: ‘Roman Catholic (Latin)’, that is, with the term ‘Latin’ appearing in brackets.) The evolution from orientalist to ethnic-religious terms in describing the population can be viewed as progress. Nevertheless, the promotion of religious terms can lead to controversies, such as the one regarding the Latin community, since the various communities are being categorized solely in terms of religion. In addition, this census shows that since 1944 the village of Agioi Omologites had become part of the city of Nicosia.

A significant change in the 1956 census is that for the first time there is no distribution of population along municipal quarters. Only an overall number regarding the population of the city of Nicosia is provided, as well as that of each suburb. Moreover, and again for the first time, there is no reference to the Latin community’s population; although this had been gradually demoted in previous censuses, it was nonetheless present until then. Instead, the island’s population is now divided into ethnic communities: Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Maronites, British, Other Cypriots, and Other in general. Our distribution into both ethnic-religious groups and quarters presents an increased risk, which, however, we decided to take in order to present an overview of Nicosia that is as complete as possible. The reason for this is that the 1956 census was not a conventional one; in reality, it was a registration, carried out in order to issue the population with identity cards. (The conventional census did not take place at the time, due to the turmoil created by the EOKA revolt.)

The process we followed for the 1960 census was different from that followed for the 1956 one. Where in the latter case we took the decision to proceed to an estimation of the distribution of the population into their respective municipal quarters, this was not possible for the case of the 1960 census as, beginning in 1956, Nicosia had gradually become a segregated city.

Part of the Armenian population left traditional Armenian neighbourhoods such as Arabahmet even before 1963, the year when the inter-communal clashes began. Forced to leave the quarters of north Nicosia where they had traditionally resided until then, many Armenian Cypriots migrated to countries such as Britain and Soviet Armenia (Paul Patti 1977: 104-124). Nicosia’s Turkish population gradually abandoned, or was forced to abandon, the quarters of Tophane and Tahtakale, while the same happened with the Greek population of Agios Loukas and Agia Sophia. This process of enforced migration or displacement was completed by 1963. A distribution of Nicosia’s population among different quarters is therefore not possible for that time, since the continuous movement of the city’s population does not allow any estimations to be accurate. Furthermore, the movement of Nicosia’s population is evident in the shifts of the population of the suburbs, which are included in the 1960 census. It is estimated that 30% of the Turkish population of the Nicosia district moved to either the northern quarters of the city or the nearby suburbs of Ortaköy, Hamit Mandres/Hamitköy and Gönyeli (Kioneli) (Patrick 1989: 267).

Another significant difference is the integration of ethnic and religious minorities into the two main communities. Cypriot Armenians, Maronites and Latins were integrated into the Greek population data, while Cypriot Roma were integrated into the Turkish population. It is clear that the communities beyond the Greek and Turkish ones were gradually demoted to mere religious groups, even though in reality they had distinctive socio-cultural characteristics that differed from those of either the ‘Greeks’ or the ‘Turks’. One may also see how the censuses reflect socio-political changes and the construction of national and ethnic narratives; from the orientalist but religious term ‘Mohammedans’ and ‘Non-Mohammedans’, we gradually shift to the ethnic terms ‘Greeks’ and ‘Turks’ and the elimination of the already demoted ‘Others’.

The micro-census of 1973 is the outcome of a sample survey that excluded the Turkish Cypriot population. The survey regarding the Greek Cypriot population, including Maronites and Armenians, was conducted on 10% of the population; the findings were then processed by taking into consideration the prior census. The survey provides an estimation of the Turkish Cypriot population of urban Nicosia as being 29,000.

By the time of the micro-census, Nicosia was completely segregated. Greek Cypriots, Armenians and Latins no longer lived in the Turkish-dominated quarters of northern Nicosia, and Turkish Cypriots no longer lived in the Greek-dominated southern Nicosia quarters. Another significant change, in addition to segregation, was the inclusion of a number of suburbs and villages in the Municipality of Nicosia since 1968; namely, Kaimakli/Kaymaklı, Pallouriotissa, and Omorfita. It is interesting to observe that the expansion of the city limits outside the Venetian city walls was primarily done by incorporating suburbs where the Greek Cypriot population was dominant, with the exception of Omorfita.