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.