There are no Burger Kings in northern Cyprus, but if you really want to get a "Whopper" sandwich there, you are in luck. While technically you can't get a "Whopper" you can get the exact same thing made by the master franchisee of Burger King in China and Turkey. "The Griller," they call it. Like many things in Cyprus, the whole affair is a little off. "Burger City" offers "The Griller" sandwich in many locations around the island and essentially the entire Burger King menu re-branded as something else. Why? I'm not really sure but most probably Burger King may not have wanted to implicitly recognize a country that much of the world doesn't recognize. As I traveled through both the Greek and Turkish sides of Cyprus this weekend, I found that like "The Griller," the country/countries were far more complex than I had first assumed.
First a few quick facts about Cyprus. Technically the entire island is part of the European Union. Turkey is in accession talks with the European Union so it technically recognizes Cyprus's sovereignty. Turkey also simultaneously recognizes the sovereignty of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). How both are possible at the same time is not very clear. Citizens of the TRNC can freely cross the border into south Cyprus and citizens of south Cyprus can freely cross the border into the TRNC. This new development, about a decade old, has allowed for both groups of Cypriots to come together. Both countries are in unification talks and the unification of the island seems imminent. In 2004, some 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots voted to unify whereas 74 percent voted against unification of the Turkish and Greek Cypriot. Since then much has changed and should another referendum take place, both camps may vote to unify.
The most peculiar of things I saw on the island was the walled off city of Varosha. The southern quarter of Famagusta, Varosha, was abandoned by many of its residents following the Greek coup of July 15, 1974 in an attempt to annex Cyprus which precipitated the July 20th invasion by Turkey to protect ethnic Turks on the island. The heart of tourism on the island, Varosha's hotels and casinos have been left untouched and sit idly as nature reclaims buildings and roads. From the pristine beaches near Varosha the walled-off city is clearly visible and a reminder of what the island experienced in 1974.
The financial health of Cyprus was in the news following the collapse of the Greek economy with the European Union bailing out its eurozone member to the tune of over $10 billion dollars.
While many large investors in the country lost a lot of money, mostly Russian oligarchs who wanted to park their money in the tax haven, the people of the island walked away nearly unscathed. The recent appreciation of the euro and the post-economic crisis lending hand of the European Central Bank has made unification more attractive for Northern Cypriots. Ultimately, like all things, people vote with their pocket books and this factor alone will be the catalyst for unification in the coming years.
Both sides of the island are magnets for foreign students and foreign workers. The waitress at the Johnny Rockets in the TRNC 300 meters from the border was an Ethiopian student working part-time. Service employees across the island were, like in many of the rich Persian Gulf countries, temporary foreign workers. The diversity of the students on both sides of the island was surprising. The Greek side of Nicosia was dotted with students from the Indian subcontinent hanging out at restaurants and ice cream places late at night in their traditional "shalwar" dress. "Sri Lankan," they answered when I asked where they were from. Apparently Sri Lankans are one of the largest groups of students in universities in Cyprus. English language education from a European country that is relatively more affordable than continental Europe seems to be a major draw for students. The similar climate also appears to not hurt. The TRNC also is a major hub for foreign students, many from Africa. The population density of the entire island isn't great and laws make it easier for students to come and study in the country.
Toward the end of my trip I had a discussion with two TRNC couples shopping in the "Flying Tiger of Copenhagen" design outlet on the Greek side of the border and they echoed the graffiti on the street that separates the two sides, "there is only one Cyprus." With respect to the prospects of unification of Cyprus, it became clear to me that the writing is literally on the wall.