Cyprus: 40 years of division

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I’ve just spent the last week in Cyprus filming on both sides of the divide for news coverage of the 40th anniversary of the Turkish invasion for the TV channel I work for.

I was in two minds whether to go as July 20 was also my 40th birthday. I’m Greek Cypriot and I was born in the area which is now the Turkish occupied north.

During our week of filming I met some inspirational people from both Cypriot communities who showed that some people, while respectfully remembering the events of July 1974, prefer to spend their energy looking forwards and at ways to unite the people of Cyprus.

Both communities seemed frustrated by the lack of progress by their politicians to move the situation on. But despite the barriers the politicians keep putting up or coming up against, in their defence, I struggle to see how the issue can ever be resolved without one conceding defeat to the other. I don’t see how everybody can be happy with any sort of solution. One of the most problematic issues is how do you could ever return property to original owners? It seems like an impossible task to me.

July 20 was a sad day for me. I went to a memorial for the Greek and Greek Cypriot war dead, where the President was in attendance. Across the divide, the Turkish Cypriots held a parade celebrating what they refer to as “Peace and Freedom Day” which included parachutists landing as they did 40 years ago. I admit I felt let down by how much the people in the south seemed fed up and rather unaffected by the anniversary. Although I can understand that for them, they are tired of looking backwards and want to resolve today’s more pressing issues like lack of jobs, money and prospects following their bailout last year.

Equally, despite being very patriotic and proud of being from Cyprus, I felt rather ill watching as young Greek Cypriot members of far right group ELAM prepared for an anti-Turkey demo by blasting out songs with lyrics telling us that Cyprus belongs to Greece and Greece is the motherland.

I don’t live in Cyprus, but I spend a lot of time thinking about what happened four decades ago. It’s still painful for me and my relatives who are all refugees, but I am glad to have met some Greek and Turkish Cypriots who dare to imagine a time in the not too distant future when they can live together and move on from the ethnic tension and violence carried about by a few, before so many of them were born.

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Cyprus: 40 years of division

cyprus40yearsdivided's Blog

In Cyprus, the Greek Cypriots say Den Xechno. It means I don’t forget. They are referring to the Turkish invasion of 1974. It resulted in the division of the island with Greek Cypriots living on one side and Turkish Cypriots living on the other. Nicosia is the only divided capital city in Europe.

I don’t forget. I think about it a lot, especially as the 40th anniversary on July 20 this year edges nearer. It’s also the date of my 40th birthday. I was born in northern Cyprus in a village now occupied by Turkey. I haven’t lived in Cyprus since I was 3 months old. We left hoping to return to our homes once the troubles had eased, but what we thought was a temporary move to the UK ended up being permanent.

Some people who know me joke that I hate the Turks. I don’t hate the Turks…

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Cyprus: 40 years of division

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In Cyprus, the Greek Cypriots say Den Xechno. It means I don’t forget. They are referring to the Turkish invasion of 1974. It resulted in the division of the island with Greek Cypriots living on one side and Turkish Cypriots living on the other. Nicosia is the only divided capital city in Europe.

I don’t forget. I think about it a lot, especially as the 40th anniversary on July 20 this year edges nearer. It’s also the date of my 40th birthday. I was born in northern Cyprus in a village now occupied by Turkey. I haven’t lived in Cyprus since I was 3 months old. We left hoping to return to our homes once the troubles had eased, but what we thought was a temporary move to the UK ended up being permanent.

Some people who know me joke that I hate the Turks. I don’t hate the Turks, I don’t hate anybody, but growing up and being known amongst family and friends as the one who was born on the day our lives changed suddenly, makes it a bit hard not to become obsessed by it.

I often wonder how children who have witnessed terrible, unspeakable, atrocities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, to name but a few, will grow into functioning adults despite carrying unbelievably painful memories around with them. I don’t remember anything about what happened in Cyprus, just a slightly difficult childhood, but nothing compared to what these other children must have gone through, and children continue to live through, and yet it has affected my life and mental state in ways most people are unaware of.

As well as the restarting of meetings between the two Cypriot leaders earlier this year, with a view to finally coming up with some sort of peaceful agreement, there are some amazing, positive, optimistic, joint projects by ordinary Greek and Turkish Cypriots, giving some hope that attitudes are changing. It adds to the feeling that this really is a make or break year for the island. I think secretly, the international community is fed up of the unresolved issues of the Cypriots but put up with it because we are too valuable to them because of our location and the gas. More openly, the UN are rather fed up with us. They have been updating their mandate to stay on the island to help keep the peace every 6 months for 50 years.

In truth, I am undecided on whether the suggested future for Cyprus, a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation, is something I would be happy with. I have a Cypriot passport and my family lost everything in the war, but I don’t live there, so maybe I lost my right to a say on what happens anyway.

Part of me thinks the world has moved on and the old arguments between Greek and Turkish Cypriots could be dying out, although there is nothing so good as an economic crisis to stir up feelings of prejudice and hatred. Add to that a bubbling dispute over who has the rights to gas off Cyprus and Turkey’s refusal to pay a few million euros compensation to some Greek Cypriots as instructed by the European Court of Human Rights a few weeks ago.

I wonder whether young Cypriots have any interest in remembering what happened 40 years ago. They probably have no desire to live on a divided island and are probably fed up of not a day going by without it being covered in the TV News or papers or hearing someone talk about it like it was yesterday. I’d be interested to know what those born after 1974 think.

It’s going to be a fascinating few months to watch what happens, and for some of us, a bit painful, as everything is stirred up again. But I suppose it is naive to think the status quo can carry on forever. Something needs to change, hopefully for the better.