The Cypriot dispute goes back decades. Since 1974, northern Cyprus, with Turkish military support, has been occupied by Turkish Cypriots. They created the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized by no country other than Turkey. The remaining two-thirds of the island is governed by the Republic of Cyprus, the island’s only legally recognized government.
When I first visited Cyprus years ago, it was a major deal to go through the Nicosia checkpoint from south to north. Only a few people did so each day. Cypriots could not.
Today, traffic from one side to the other is brisk and open to all, in both directions. The island is peaceful, despite intense animosity.
We got involved in this animosity quite accidentally. For several years a fine, reputable Turkish tourist agency has handled some tours for Biblical Archaeology Society, the publisher of Biblical Archaeology Review. This summer, one of these tours follows in Paul’s footsteps. And Paul went to Cyprus (Acts 13:4). Ten people signed up for the tour, and they were included with other archaeological tour groups in Turkey.
From Antalya, Turkey, they were scheduled to fly to Ercan, the airport in northern Cyprus. From there, they would visit sites in northern and southern Cyprus.
I am uninvolved with our tours and was completely unaware of the looming crisis — until I received a letter from the Cypriot Embassy in Washington, saying its officials wanted to see me. I replied that I would be glad to see them, provided someone from the Turkish Embassy could also attend. When I found I could not get the two into the same room, I saw them separately.
Each was friendly, civil and informative. Officials from the Cypriot Embassy, unhappy about potential implications of the tour, emphasized that no government except Turkey recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Moreover, only Turkish airlines use the airport at Ercan to enter Cyprus — and Ercan is not recognized by the International Civil Aviation Organization. Numerous U.N. resolutions condemn the occupation of northern Cyprus by Turkish Cypriots.
The Turkish Embassy emphasized other things. Northern Cyprus operates as a de facto state. More than 100 scheduled Turkish flights use Ercan airport each week. Non-Turkish charter flights from elsewhere also use it. Virtually all flights to Cyprus from Turkey, including archaeological tours, use this airport to enter the island. Thousands of archaeological tourists from Turkey enter Cyprus this way every year — without problems. It is the only practical way to enter Cyprus from Turkey. The alternative is to fly to Athens or Amman, Jordan, and then fly to southern Cyprus, which adds days and cost to the trip. Material from the U.S. State Department contains nothing advising Americans not to enter Cyprus via Ercan.