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.