When Lawrence Durrell, the British writer, first stumbled into this town overlooking Cyprus' northern Mediterranean shores, he could not resist indulging in a poetic meditation on "peace" as invoked by the town's breathtaking setting and ancient name.
Indeed, when he wrote the book "Bitter Lemons" about his stay in the village he insisted on spelling its name "Bellapaix" to emphasize the French word for peace.His research indicated the French word had been part of the original name derived from the 12th century Anglo-Norman Abbey de la Paix, the town's first building.
Unfortunately, like everywhere else on this sun-drenched island off Turkey's southern coast, peace has been a fleeting commodity here.
Since Durrell's stay here 2 1/2 decades ago, the peace has been periodically shattered by communal strife, anticolonial insurrection, foreign invasion, war, and, finally, the forced emigration of the town's original Greek Cypriot residents. The village that was once irrepressibly Greek is totally Turkish -- a product of Turkey's invasion of northern Cyprus six years ago.
Although peace has returned, for someone who once knew the village intimately in a different time, to visit it today is an eerie experience. On the surface it looks the same but underneath it is different. It is like seeing a familiar film only to realize belatedly that it has been reshot with a different cast.
The setting is as magnificent as ever. The village is dominated by the soaring rock buttresses of the ancient abbey ruins, which stand on a prow of land off the main square, with groves of olive and carob trees flowing from below its towering battlements to the azure sea a mile below.
The town's whitewashed walls shimmer in the summer heat and the jasmine-scented square is full of outdoor tables where old men still sit through the day hunched over cups of thick coffee.
The changes, however, assault the eye and the ear. The signpost outside the village announces that Durrell's Bellapaix, the Greek Cypriots' Bellapais, is now the Turkish Cypriots' "Bellapayis." Dimitri's old cafe is now called "Ulusoglu Kahvehanesi."
Over the abbey ramparts the Turkish flag flutters limply from a flagstaff where once the Cypriot national flag flew. Ioannis Kokkinoy's name has been crudely but effectively erased from the blue awning of his "Abbey Shop." Inside the old bar by the square, where the songs of Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis once welled from a primitive radio, a television set blares forth with Turkish soap operas.
Where the village men once drank ouzo, the anise-flavored Greek national liquor, today they sip raki, the Turkish equivalent. Apart from a handful of European expatriates who live in their retirement cottages in the village heights, not a single person in Bellapais today lived there before 1974.
In the immediate aftermath of the Turkish invasion that was triggered by a short-lived coup d'etat by Greek Cypriot ultranationalists in Nocosia, the island's capital, Bellapais' 719 inhabitants were confined to the town limits by the Turkish authorities who, only occasionally, allowed them to work their fields.
After two years, the villagers, one by one, were forced to leave for the south where Greek communities were being regrouped. The Turkish authorities gave them an offer they could not refuse; either take 24 hours to pack up their belongings on trucks for the ride south or be arrested for not doing so and be expelled with none of their possessions.
The old Greek Cypriot community was dispersed, along with 150,000 other Greek Cypriots throughout the southern part of the island where the majority of Greek Cypriots were still dominant. In retaliation about 37,000 Turkish Cypriots who lived in the predominantly Greek south were expelled to the north.
Kollis, the old keeper of the abbey, was spared, dying of cancer in Bellapais only months before the enforced move. Anthemos, the grocer, has ended up in Nicosia as a night watchman at the U.S. Embassy. Yorkula, the maid, lived in a squalid refugee camp until her daughter got a job with the post office and was able to set up the family in a small apartment in the city. The whereabouts of Frangos, Durrell's rogue neighbor, are unknown. Dimitri, the innkeeper, the last Greek Cypriot to leave the village, has settled in Paphos, on the far southwest edge of the island, the point farthest from the Turkish forces in the north.
The Turkish Cypriots who have replaced them in Bellapais are not triumphal about what has come to pass. They, like the people in whose homes they live, are just as much the victims of the Cyprus tragedy, which continues to divide the island into two hostile communities separated by U.N. peacekeeping forces and 26,000 mainland Turkish soldiers.
The 450 new inhabitants of Bellapais, to a family, came from a Turkish town called Mari, near the southern port of Limassol. Their story of the conflict includes brutality, deaths, harassment and the trauma of uprooting families. It is every bit as poignant as that of Bellapais' old inhabitants. For every tale of abuse a Greek Cypriot can cite, his Turkish counterpart has one to match it.
Enmity between the two communities is at least as old as the Ottoman Turks' takeover of the island from the Greeks of a defeated Byzantium in 1571. Not even the nearly hundred years of British colonialism healed the wounds.
"We hope things will change for the better for us here," said Ozgan Tatlisulu, a small, wiry driver from Mari who has taken over Anthemos' grocery store, drives the local bus to Nicosia daily, and is Bellapais' new mayor as well.
"We are not happy about everything that has happened, but until 1974 we never slept peacefully in our homes," he said. Now for the first time, we have a future to think of. We have homes that are safe and secure and we have no intention to ever give them up."
Although representatives of the two Cypriot communities will soon be negotiating again under the auspices of the United Nations in an effort to find a solution to their island's division, in Bellapais it is hard to believe that much can come from the talks. Pre-1974 Cyprus is dead and Bellapais today represents the new reality that any constitutional agreement will have to accommodate.
"No, there can never be any going back," said Refet Tahir, who has taken over Dimitri's to replace the small coffee shop he owned in Mari. "We can never live together among the Greeks again. We don't trust them anymore because we all know that if the Turkish Army had not come to our rescue we all would have been killed.
"We might find some solution which would allow us to trade together again, and to have free movement between our respective communities on the island, but we will not go back to Mari. Here, we intend to stay."