Pyla/Pile 10 years on.
Pyla/Pile is a unique village in Cyprus with a certain notoriety for, amongst other things, smuggling and spying. Finding itself in the Buffer Zone between the North and the South of Cyprus, it has a complex and intricate history. Its uniqueness is primarily as the island’s only bi-communal village.
The name Pyla is believed to be derived from the word “Gate” and considered by villagers to be named as such as it is located just below two hills on the edge of the largest and most fertile plain in Cyprus. It’s now 10 years since Pyla’s crossing point at Pergamos was opened in April 2003, which is one of the most significant changes for the village and Cyprus this century. It came at a time when both Greece and Turkey were applying to join the EU. The Republic of Cyprus joined in May 2004.
In the early days of the opening there were extremely long queues of people wanting to cross to see homes and friends that they had not seen since the fighting in 1974.
The UN entered the village at the start of the fighting and many people speak positively about the village’s conduct during the time when first the Turkish Cypriots needed to seek refuge in the nearby British Sovereign Base, leaving their homes and possessions, non of which were touched by the Greek Cypriots who remained. This respect was returned when the Greek Cypriots needed to seek refuge in ‘74. Ever since, Pyla has remained bi-communal.
Like the island, Pyla has been in a tussle for, amongst other things, power and control between the Greek Cypriot, Turkish Cypriot authorities and the UN. Throw into this mix the British Sovereign Base Area and the SBA management of the nearby crossing and the interactions of daily life, on mobility and on commerce over the last few decades and it gets very complicated to understand.
The people of Pyla have been incredibly friendly, warm and positive about each other. I am not sure if this is true of all of them, but the majority of the people I spoke to, if not all of them, were. Many stories about saving lives, supporting neighbours, love and death have been truly heart warming. There were, however, niggles and issues like any community would have. Not withstanding some of the bigger issues such as inequalities in who does and doesn’t pay the local taxes and utilities, there did seem a strong pragmatic desire to make it work as best it can given the system they find themselves in. Almost everyone said, leave it to the villagers and things would work fine. One person did say to me that it only works given the power balance between the UN presence, the Turkish army on the hill and the Greek Cypriot National Guard in the south.
The people of Pyla have a long history of being together and have a pragmatic outlook on making their mixed community work. Changes in the economic situation could encourage more cooperation through trade and an increase in visibility of businesses working together. Bi-communal activities and the development of the University may help foster the desire and will for togetherness. Somehow Pyla’s symbolism as a gate might yet provide a new opening for the problems in Cyprus.