By Constantinos Psillides
A WAR has broken out between youths that hang out at Phaneromeni square in the old town of Nicosia and the ever-increasing number of businesses opening up in and around the area, which has seen a major boom despite the recession.
Cafes and restaurants are taking more and more space to accommodate clients, limiting the space available for groups of youths who used to frequent the area around the 19th century Panayia Phaneromeni church, the biggest inside the walled city.
While the original response by the disgruntled youth was mainly shouting at the patrons and lighting up cooking fires at the square, things recently took a turn for the worse.
On Wednesday, Nicosia mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis held an open discussion at the Pallas theatre, to talk about Eleftheria Square and the progress made on all the other projects currently underway in Nicosia.
After opening the floor to questions the mayor received a barrage of questions regarding Phaneromeni Square, as well as some verbal abuse from young people attending the discussion.
Politis daily reported that the group threw flyers in the room that read “Where will the poor sit?”
Those angered by the issue accused Yiorkadjis of “catering to the capitalists and ignoring the needs of the people” and left the room shouting “Down with the capital. Long live the people”.
In the early hours of Thursday, police reported that the front windows of a number of businesses surrounding the square were smashed.
The Cyprus Mail visited the scene to secure an on the record comment from the shop owners but with no success.
The café, restaurant and shop owners did not wish to go on record, fearing perhaps that talking to a reporter could spell more trouble.
“Look, we didn’t have a problem with these people hanging around. A lot of them were actually customers, buying their coffee and sweets from us. I hope this thing blows over and things go back to normal,” said one.
Not all who disagree resort to violence. People who oppose giving more space to businesses created a Facebook group called “Claiming back the public spaces in old Nicosia”. The group creators regularly posts update regarding the dispute, criticising the establishment and demanding more public areas. The FB group posts pictures saying “the Square belongs to everyone” and gathers all news articles regarding the old town of Nicosia.
The group promised to post videos of those who took part in addressing Yiorkadjis on Wednesday, to showcase the extent of the reaction against allowing businesses taking up public space.
Not everyone agrees with their stance though. One FB user wrote: “It seems like the creators of this group want to take the old town back five years when it was abandoned by people, visitors and tourists, who are a source of income,” the user said.
Once an almost deserted urban area, the old town of Nicosia saw a surge in activity following the opening of the crossings to the north in 2003.
But the real boom came in the past couple of years, with bars, cafes, and restaurants multiplying fast. The once ‘abandoned’ city turned into a bustling meeting point almost overnight.
The rapid commercialisation of the old town led to complaints and reactions by the old patrons but also put a smile onto the faces of shop owners. The old town is experiencing an economic rush only comparable to the pre-1974 era, when Ledra Street was the epicentre of trade and commerce on the island.