The Cyprus Buffer Zone as a Socio-Ecological Landscape
SUBMITTED ORGANISATION :
University of Cyprus
DATE OF SUBMISSION :
Cyprus (Buffer Zone)
This report examines biodiveristy and social interaction in Cyprus’ Buffer Zone, as re-claimed by nature and human activity. The natural enviroment of the Buffer Zone remained largely ‘untouched’ for forty years, following the division of the island across ethnic lines in 1974. Since then UNFICYP, which formally manages the Buffer Zone, has worked in collaboration with Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot authorities to support civilian uses and environmental protection. This case study shows how the limited human activity in the Buffer Zone by default preserved natural landscapes as well as endangered flora and fauna. Furthermore, the involvement of stakeholders in the administration of this area supported the development of co-management practices and institutions. As a result, ironically and paradoxically, new commons have been created in the very line of separation, such as common grazing grounds and mixed farming for both ethnic communities. The case study also looks at how the ecosystem of the Buffer Zone still conveys socio-ecological risks, such as the proliferation of pests or illegal human activities, such as the hunting of protected species. In short, the Cyprus Buffer Zone provides an interesting example of a socio-ecological production landscape that is both shared and contested.
Cyprus, buffer zone, biodiversity, co-management
Costas M. Constantinou and Evi Eftychiou
The island of Cyprus has been divided across ethnic lines since 1974, and in some areas since 1963. The current Buffer Zone was established as a cease-fire line on 16th of August 1974 and has been depicted over the last four decades as a demilitarized ‘Safety Zone’, a ‘Green Line’, a ‘Dead Zone’[i] or a ‘No-Man’s Land’ under UN control and authority. Even though poets, journalists, photographers and scholars contributed in the construction of an essentialized vision of the buffer zone as a mysterious empty space or ruinous site, with no life and activity worth mentioning, there are also works that expose it as a site of interaction and possibility (Papadakis 2005, Constantinou 2008, Antonsich 2013). This report will be concerned with forms of life and ways of being in the Buffer Zone, as it is currently re-claimed by nature as well as from mainstream and non-mainstream human activities. It will be approached as a socio-ecological landscape – shared but also contested. A production landscape that can support cross-communal collaboration and co-management in the midst of ethnic conflict as well as a good example of coexistence of the natural environment with human activity.
The Cyprus Buffer Zone divides the island into two parts: the southern part, controlled by the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus (RoC) and the northern part controlled by the unilaterally declared and internationally unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Consequently, it provides a border between a de jure and a de facto state; the former state defining it as a temporary limit of authority and the latter as an international border, which often intensifies dilemmas on whether one should or should not cross it, and if so under what conditions (Demetriou 2007). Some parts of the Buffer zone are porous and penetrable, especially entering from the south and outside the urban areas, and since the opening of the checkpoints in 2003 security concerns have significantly decreased making it more accessible. In addition, the de-mining of parts of the Buffer Zone over the last years have made it more amenable to human activity, including farming, grazing and beekeeping.
The Cyprus Buffer Zone stretches for 180 km and occupies 3% of the island’s total land. In the walled city of Nicosia, it is sometimes only few metres wide, while in other parts its width can extend to several kilometers. It is patrolled by the United Nations Peace Keeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), which following the intercommunal clashes between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots in 1963/4, it was given the mandate ‘to use its best efforts to prevent a recurrence of fighting and, as necessary, to contribute to the maintenance and restoration of law and order and a return to normal conditions’ (Security Council Resolution 186). Following the Turkish invasion in 1974 and the ceasefire on August 16th, the ‘Green Line’, which divided only the capital city, was expanded across the island and UNFICYP’s mandate was extended to cover its administration.[ii]
Specifically, UNFICYP’s role has been to monitor human activities ensuring, on the one hand, that the integrity of the Buffer Zone is preserved, and, on the other hand, that ‘normal civilian activity’ can continue and be encouraged, where possible, i.e. without compromising security.[iii] In effect, UNFICYP has the authority to decide on a case-by-case basis whether a wide range of activities, such as the use of private property, farming, grazing, photovoltaic investments, educational centres, civil society meetings, trekking, and crossings from south to the north and vice versa constitute ‘normal civilian activity’ which can be allowed or not. In this report, we will concentrate on information concerning effective administrative approaches and co-management practices in the Buffer Zone that contribute to the conservation of biodiversity and traditional sustainable landscapes. In the first part, the Buffer Zone is examined as a shelter of endangered flora and fauna species, while in the second part, farming and grazing are addressed as practices that contribute to the conservation of heritage landscapes, which are otherwise increasingly reduced in non-Buffer Zone areas due to mass tourism and property development.
2. The Buffer Zone as a Site of Socio-Ecological Interaction
Cyprus is considered as a biodiversity ‘hotspot’ with significant diversity in species, habitats, flora and fauna (Gücel et. al 2008). Cyprus’ geographical position and use as a migration route, its diverse geomorphological landscape, the extreme fluctuations of temperature and rainfall have contributed significantly in the development of rich biodiversity on the island (Kadis et. al 2010, p.114). In particular, 48 habitat types that are included in the European Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) Appendix I, are met in Cyprus, including habitats which are found exclusively on the island. The existence of diverse habitats results in considerably large numbers of plant species. Currently, 2000 taxa have been identified, out of which 145 are identified only in Cyprus (Hadjikyriakos 2007 cited in Kadis et. al 2010, p.114).
Nonetheless, biodiversity preservation is facing challenges and threats related mainly to human activities such as tourism development, urbanization, unhindered construction, climatic change, pollution, rural abandonment, invasive species, illegal hunting, overgrazing and forest fires (Department of Environment 2010, p.29). Based on recent evaluations of the conversation status of the island, 23 taxa are classified as ‘regionally extinct’, 46 as ‘critically endangered’, 64 as ‘endangered’, 128 as ‘vulnerable’, 45 as ‘data deficient’, and 15 as ‘near threatened’.
Interestingly, the pressure and threats posed on habitats and species, from external factors such as human activities, are reduced significantly in the Buffer Zone. Similarly to the demilitarized zone of Korea (Kim, 1997) or the Iron Curtain in Germany,[iv] the Cyprus Buffer Zone provides a haven to endangered flora and fauna species.
Figure 2: Abandoned village in the Buffer Zone (Varisheia), reclaimed by nature
2.1. The Buffer Zone as a Safe Haven for Endangered Flora and Fauna
The limited human activity for forty consecutive years transformed the Buffer Zone into a sanctuary of wild life. Less human encroachment in the area resulted in reduced habitat fragmentation, which created the necessary conditions for the nature to reclaim space and for endangered species to proliferate. These were the results of the first biodiversity survey in the Buffer Zone that was funded by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 2007. A network of 18 experts and field assistants from the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities recorded plant, mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and invertebrate species in order to develop a species inventory (Gücel et. al 2008). Eight diverse habitat types were selected as fieldwork sites, in which researchers set traps to catch invertebrates, live traps for small mammals and infrared cameras for photographing mammals.[v]
2.2. Socio-Ecological Production Landscapes in the Buffer Zone
Another success story that enhances multi-perspectival sustainability is the effective co-management of farming and grazing activities in the Buffer Zone. As mentioned above, based on the UNFICYP mandate to support the continuation of normal civilian activity, the Civil Affairs Section developed a ‘permit system’, which grants on a yearly basis the so called ‘buffer zone pass’ to civilians so as to proceed with authorized activities such as farming, grazing or working in the case of buildings’ restoration or construction and maintenance of public infrastructure. As a result, some areas of the Buffer Zone are to a great extent easily accessible, in comparison with others that are extremely difficult to access. Walter Absmann (Personal Interview, April 1, 2014), who has been in the UNFICYP for 8 years and served also in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Western Sahara, Sudan and the Golan Heights, has highlighted the uniqueness of the Cyprus Buffer Zone:. ‘The civilian activities have increased in the last decade; now that everybody can travel to the north, people are more relaxed. It is the only Buffer Zone in the world that is like this. In other parts of the world, such as the Golan Heights, you will see a fence. What you have in Cyprus is a busy buffer zone’.
Table 1: Buffer zone permits in 2013. Source: United Nations Peace Keeping Force
Figure 7: Mixed (cross-ethnic) grazing area in the Buffer Zone
The Cyprus Buffer Zone provides a good – though not unproblematic – example of a socio-ecological production landscape. Whereas in both parts of divided Cyprus, unsustainable models of development and environmental exploitation have been prevalent, the Buffer Zone regime has established limitations to human and economic activity and to that extent more sustainable forms of development and biodiversity protection are more readily pursued or pursued by default. As shown above, agricultural landscapes that are under severe threat elsewhere due to property development are thriving in the Buffer Zone. Moreover, the necessarily more limited human activities in the Buffer Zone have preserved old natural landscapes and established new ecological safe havens and green zones, which support more sustainable and reflexive interactions between people and nature.
Finally, the peculiarity of Buffer Zone administration has ‘forced’ the development of co-management practices and institutions between the different stakeholders so as to regulate civilian activity. Thus bicommunal technical committees have been established, working with the support and under the auspices of the UNDP for environmental protection. Without belittling the effects of ethnic cleansing and displacement, we have seen in some areas of the Buffer Zone the creation of new commons, such as common grazing grounds and mixed farming for both ethnic communities that has not been elsewhere possible following the division of the island 40 years ago. This co-management has sometimes taken the form of official collaborations and agreements at the governmental level, often with the mediating assistance of the UN, but sometimes more successfully at the local level, through civilian and inter-village networks, that the UN is careful not to disturb through bureaucratization and the omnipresence of UNFICYP. In a nutshell, the development of the Buffer Zone as a socio-ecological landscape has been possible through creative UN peacekeeping – i.e. by designating parts of it for civilian use, progressively extending these areas and activities that ‘normalize’ conditions of living and supporting technical collaboration in protecting biodiversity – but also by withdrawing robust peacekeeping and providing only for symbolic presence, where local cross-ethnic partnerships and networks have been successful in managing life in the Buffer Zone on their own.
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[i] The term ‘dead zone’ is a translation of the Greek term nekri zoni, that is widely used to describe the demilitarized zone that divides the .
[iii]http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/unficyp/background.shtml, Date accessed: 26/3/14
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[v] The areas of the Buffer Zone examined were the following: Derynia, Ag. Nicolaos, Troulli, Kaimakli, Pedieos River, Nicosia Airport, Astromeritis,Varisheia and Kokkina.
[vi] The project was initially funded by the United Nations Development Program and after its completion it was extended by grants received under the LIFE+ program of the European Commission.
[vii] The PMR is a considered a successful conservation method that ‘envisages the monitoring and conservation of small land plots ( 5-20 ha) of great value in terms of plant richness, endemism and rarity’ (Kadis et. al 2010, p.114).