The Cypriot Voice

The voice of the not-so-silent majority

Friday, 22 February 2008

Respect and tolerance for other religions is essential for peace in Cyprus

Alkan Chaglar

If you can imagine the significance Hala Sultan Tekke holds for generations of Muslim Turkish Cypriots, then you might be able to understand the importance Sourp Magar Monastery has for Cyprus’ 1000 year-old Armenian community. The monastery holds historical, religious and sentimental value to Armenian Cypriots, yet like many Christian places of worship in Northern Cyprus, it has faced desecration and looting since the forced partition of 1974. With every issue now postponed until a political solution, authorities in Northern Cyprus who claim to pursue a policy of “peace, solution and reunification” have failed to address the matter of cultural destruction, and in many cases are hindering any essential restoration work to stop the continued decay of Christian places of worship.
Originally founded by a Coptic Christian recluse Saint Magar in 1642, Sourp Magar through the close relations between Nestorian Christians, together with the increased influx of Armenian refugees from Anatolia in the latter period of the Ottoman Empire, soon became an important religious centre for Armenians in Cyprus. Perched on the Kyrenia Mountains, the monastery has played an important role in the lives of Armenians who have used it for baptism, weddings, healing the sick, for their daily prayers and for funeral ceremonies. More than just a place for worship, Sourp Magar or Makaravank as it is affectionately known in Armenian was part of everyday life for Cyprus’ 6,000 strong Armenian community.
Sadly, with the partition of the island in 1974 and consequent efforts to turn the North into an ethnically homogenous Turkish state, the monastery was absorbed into a closed-off military zone, and has remained off limits to Cypriot Armenians since. To add to its demise, deliberate acts of vandalism and desecration, along with the looting of religious icons has left the monastery in severe decay. Religious groups in the Republic recently brought to attention the fact that a large number of religious icons from the monastery and countless other Christian places of worship have ended up on the international market.
Almost adding insult to injury, developers working on the land adjacent to the monastery have carelessly destroyed a large number of its holy inscriptions, and even more shocking a report in the daily Kibris Gazette in 1998 revealed plans that were underway to turn Sourp Magar into a casino. The plans were only halted when the Vatican personally intervened, but what is perturbing is how any official could even entertain the scheme of turning a religiously sacred and heritage site into a place of gambling!
More recently, Armenian Cypriots accompanied by their community leader Vartkes Mahdessian and Archbishop Varoujan Hergelian was permitted to visit Sourp Magar for the first time in 33 years last week. It was an emotional time for many of the 200 pilgrims who held sentimental childhood memories of family baptisms, weddings and funerals. Ever conscious of the dangers of assimilation, the Armenian community, which has never been party to Cyprus’ Greco-Turkish conflict, are pinning all their hopes on a solution that will arrive in time to save their monastery from total destruction – it may already be too late.
Adding to the tragedy is the fact that, Sourp Magar is no isolated incident; numerous Greek Orthodox and Maronite churches too have been looted and desecrated. Newspaper reports from Northern Cyprus describe how the Church of Ayia Anastasia in Lapta / Lapithos has been stripped of all its icons and converted into a hotel and bar, while the Church of Panagia Tochniou near Mandres / Hamitkoy has been desecrated (Avrupa 25/4/1998). During my last visit to the island I was personally shocked to discover that the church of Kalecik / Gastria village near Bogaz now houses farm animals. I wonder how we would react if a mosque was treated in a similar way.
Careless and senseless acts by a few it may appear to some, but the destruction, looting and vandalism of Sourp Magar and countless other religious buildings could have been avoided if greater priority and care was given by the authorities in Northern Cyprus. Failing to grasp the huge political and symbolic gesture of peace the protection of these historic and sacred properties would have, our past leadership even with their legal expertise failed to take note of the fact that under the Hague convention, it clearly stipulates that in cases of armed conflict, the conflicting parties must “prohibit if necessary, and put a stop to any form of theft, pillage or any acts of vandalism directed against cultural property.” What message are we as a community conveying to the rest of the world if we cannot prevent by law and in practice the destruction of cultural property by mindless vandals and avaricious looters?
Some legal experts in the TRNC point out that “local remedies” should permit the use of Greek Cypriot, Maronite and Armenian property for economic purposes, arguing that Turkish Cypriots should have the right to a livelihood and “life must go on”, but I am compelled to ask, is the conversion of religious buildings into businesses for tourists the way to achieve this?
However, in a bid to save some churches, lawmakers in Northern Cyprus have attempted to convert many into museums; in the case of St Barnabas Church in Famagusta this has helped preserve the building in almost perfect condition. While this can benefit many churches, there is an underlying fundamental flaw in thinking when one begins to consider Christian places of worship as museums of antiquity. Let us not forget, these buildings are not representing an extinct civilisation in the same way that Salamis or Kourium ruins might, indeed these Churches and Sourp Magar itself still belong to the communities who were forced to leave them behind only 30 years ago.
For those who left these ‘museums’ behind, they are not so ancient; in fact there are many people today who still hold in their memory the regular family Sunday prayers, baptisms, weddings, and funerals that took place there and that are part of their own personal history. Considering the personal value to the existence and identity of their respective owners, it becomes sadly apparent that their destruction amounts to the erasing of the mark and memory of a community who once lived around these churches.
Trying hard to ignore our past coexistence, those who seek the recognition of a state built on a graveyard of looted churches should realise that such acts cannot be simply brushed under our carpets; by doing so we are only staining the reputation of our community abroad. If we are to seek a long lasting peace as our leadership emphasizes to all, then we need to demonstrate tolerance to other faiths including their property before a solution is reached – a change in our attitudes and actions may still save Sourp Magar. After all respect for diversity of culture and religion or belief is essential to laying the foundations of peace for a new Cyprus.

Why an ethnocentric view of human rights is dangerous


Sanctions imposed against governments in general seldom achieve their idealistic goal, rather they inevitably lead to the isolation of an entire community, preventing citizens from enjoying their human rights and building for their future. Whether imposed on a supranational level or by one community against the ‘other,’ collective, punitive or reactionary sanctions are contrary to the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Cyprus they are hindering work towards regaining trust and eventually national unity. However, those claiming victimhood of sanctions and consequent isolation must ensure that they too are not imposing their own collective sanctions on others.Who is being sanctioned by whom?
While it is a common sentiment among the Turkish Cypriot community in Northern Cyprus that their inability to establish direct flights and trade with the rest of the world is largely due to sanctions imposed by Greek lobbying, from a Greek Cypriot point of view this lobbying is the only weapon available to dispossessed people to protest against sanctions preventing them from returning to their homes by a powerful neighbour. Equally, Greek and Maronite Cypriots enclaved in North Cyprus since 1974 also complain they too are victims of sanctions imposed by the ‘TRNC state,’ amounting to isolation within isolation, thus depriving them of their basic human rights.Turkish Cypriot isolation
There is no doubt isolation caused by imposed international sanctions is making one Cypriot community; the Turkish-speakers feel as if they are second-class citizens, regardless of whether or not they endorse the ‘TRNC’ and separatism. Feelings are worsened and trust shattered when 65% of Turkish Cypriots endorsed reunification in the 2003 Annan plan referenda, only to see their political will ignored and isolated continue. There is no doubt too that Turkish Cypriot sportsmen, intellectuals, artists, academics and others who are barred from participating in international events are being wrongly discriminated against, and barred from fulfilling their personal potential.
With the 1996 European Court of Justice ruling that effectively barred trade to the ‘TRNC’ and recent refusal of the UK Department of Transport for direct flights to Ercan, those suffering the consequences are not politicians with a separatist agenda but citizens. It is a disgrace to see sanctions originally imposed against the separatist politics of Denktash, destroy the lives of people who happen to have been brought up in Northern Cyprus today. Also it is even more sickening when a Cypriot President Papadopoulos remains insensitive to this isolation. No community deserves this kind of humuliating collective punishment.
Certain ‘human rights groups’ within our community will argue that we should be fighting for “Turkish Cypriot human rights” alone as if somehow our human rights are separated from those of others or more important. But this is a narrow-minded approach to human rights, as it ignores our own short-comings that originally led to the isolation of the breakaway TRNC. It is these short-comings that have kept the cycle of emnity moving and that challenges the universality of human rights. If we employ such an ethnocentric approach, human rights can only ever be secured by the politically mightiest- lessons we have learnt from the past should warn us against this. Double isolation – our imposed sanctions on others
To emphasize my point on the need to view humans rights as a universal right, I invite you to look at sanctions we Turkish Cypriots impose on others. Sanctions that lead to isolation are not an issue confined to the Turkish Cypriots alone, nor do they always lead to isolation, but still cause an equal amount of suffering for the victim of that isolation, i.e. dispossessed Greek and Maronite Cypriots sanctioned against living in their homes now living in Southern Cyprus.
Until recently, Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in Northern Cyprus since 1974 needed police permission to leave their homes just to fetch groceries, with many left dependent on UN aid forcing many to leave. More than a hundred thousand Greek Cypriots living in the Republic are still sanctioned from living in their homes. It is wrong to look at isolation without also paying attention to the enclaved and those forbidden to return.
Even now in the 21st century, very little has changed in Northern Cyprus. There are effectively unofficial sanctions imposed by the TRNC authority against Greek and Maronite Cypriots enclaved in the North. Despite the fact that there is now a Greek school in Karpaz / Karpasia, Maronites are still being continually punished by a refusal of the authorities to open them a single school or allow them to return to three of their closed off villages. Even if you use the argument that war changed the territories of Greek and Turkish Cypriots indefinitely, an argument that is flawed and has no international legal basis, Cypriot Maronites still reside in the North, and were never even involved in the inter-communal conflict of the 1960s and 70s; they were in fact neutral.Human rights are universal
Clearly faced with double standards, the need to end isolation and safeguard human rights requires a certain versatility of one’s understanding of human rights. As a multi-cultural island with communities like Maronites, Latins, Armenians, Roma Gypsies to name but a few, Cyprus is not a mere Greco-Turkish affair and cannot afford to view human rights in such an ethnocentric way. The view that each community of Cyprus is clumsily glued together with their own territory and government is no panacea, because as Cypriots we are all destined to coexist on this small island.
A short-term policy of “I want my human rights but to hell with the human rights of others,” is a dangerous game and will not safeguard the human rights of one’s individual community in the long run, as such rights will only be determined by whichever community happens to be in power. Unless we all fight for the universality of human rights, our own rights will be subject to punitive and reactionary sanctions by those in power with nobody left to speak out against the violation of our rights.
Regrettably with both Greek and Turkish Cypriots each arguing for their own specific human rights at the expense of the universality of human rights, and waiting for the other side to defend their own human rights, there is little hope for groups like the Maronites. The fact that Greek and Turkish Cypriots can only see human rights through their own eyes for their own communities is a worrying sign that Cypriots can casually tolerate each others injustice at will and are prepared to easily brush aside each others human rights when it suits them.

Meet the new Cypriots!

Alkan Chaglar

Generally people regard Cyprus as an island inhabited exclusively by Greeks and Turks, but now providing a new home or sanctuary for tens of thousands of refugees, economic migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa and settlers, the former British colony is experiencing its most diverse multi-culturalism, yet in the mindset of both Greek and Turkish Cypriot politicians, it is still very much a Greco-Turkish Cypriot affair. Long pursuing their own unofficial policy of monoculturalism that has led to the assimilation of traditional minorities such as the Maronites and Latins, now even pro-reunification politicians in both the Republic of Cyprus and the North are pursuing a new goal of biculturalism, itself an offshoot of bizonality. But is this adequate as a sustainable solution for the kind of multicultural state post-1974 Cyprus has become?

Cyprus has always been home to more than two communities, but in recent years owing to the strength of the Cypriot economy and the historic accession of the island to the European Union (EU) in May 2004, the Republic of Cyprus has rapidly become a magnet for economic migrants from Asia and a safe haven for refugees from rickety democracies in the Middle-East, while many more trying to enter the Republic often end up living in transit in the North. In addition, an increased presence in recent years of entrepreneurial Russian and Pontian Greek communities, Asian guest workers as well as ethnic Muslim Kurds and Arabs from within Turkey in North, are each playing their part in transforming the character of the island. Following EU membership, there is a new ease at which people from across Europe can study and work in Cyprus, and with thousands of Europeans each year looking to purchase their very own patch of turf beneath the Mediterranean sun each year, the island is continually changing.

However, official policies and attitudes regarding the island’s own cultural diversity remain lost in a time when assimilation was the norm for small minorities in Cyprus. Regardless of how many tens of thousands of economic migrants, and refugees have settled on the island, successive Cypriot governments still pursue an unofficial policy of assimilation, claiming that even traditional communities like the Maronites, Latins and Armenians who have lived in Cyprus since the 9th century ‘belong’ to the Greek Cypriot community. Erroneously interpreting the 1959 agreement, where these communities were put in an awkward position of having to choose whether they wanted to be registered under the Greek or Turkish Cypriot electoral register, Cypriot politicians today exploit this as justification to pursue a goal of monoculturalism. Worse, some Cypriot politicians even in this day and age so obsessed with a majority rule theory are convinced that they alone can claim the name Cypriot; they fail to even come to terms with the fact that Turkish Cypriots are Cypriots, or that even communities smaller than theirs are still equal.
In the occupied North matters are by no-means better. Cypriot Gypsies are not even registered as an official minority community. Moreover, they are presumed to be Turkish Cypriots or a sub-group within that community despite their separate language and nomadic lifestyle. Yet many Turkish Cypriots rather than involve them in sharing power and in the future of the North they view them as common criminals.
But alas, times are changing and attitudes must change also, particularly now Cyprus is anchored into the EU. For those still unable to think of themselves as Cypriots, but continue to struggle for “Turkish Cypriot rights” or “Greek Cypriot rights,” they now have competition. An obstacle to their ethnocentric campaigns, the new arrivals will later become their headache. What will they do when these new growing communities of Kurdish Cypriots, Pontian Cypriots, the target of much racism today on the island will sooner or later organise and too demand their own community rights?

Perhaps, a result of physical separation, many Greek and Turkish Cypriots are unaware of the implications of their changing environment, with supporters of pro-reunification busy gathering with friends from the ‘other side’ to re-live old times. But while it is positive to see Greek and Turkish Cypriots unite in their campaigns, some are struggling for a false solution, a future biculturalism or a bi-ethnic state, whereby Greek and Turkish Cypriots will inevitably both share the process of assimilation. In other words, “continue a policy of monoculturalism in your own future component state and we’ll do likewise.” Traditionally, the uneasy final agreement between two communities involved in an ethnic conflict in which neither community has gained absolute triumph; biculturalism is already becoming outdated in modern day Canada, where it was originally introduced to appease the nationalisms of the two main communities there. Ill-equipped to multi-cultural societies, the trouble with biculturalism is that it only works if everybody is from two communities.
Biculturalism to compliment a bi-zonal solution is inappropriate for 21st century Cyprus, as it is merely a marriage between Greek and Turkish Cypriot monoculturalist politics, with everybody else who doesn’t fall into these two labels forced to assimilate or remain socially excluded. The government of Cyprus and northern authorities needs to recognise the more accurate multi-cultural environment and apply to their politics before we can claim to have grasped a solution. Without viewing involving all communities in governance and nation-building, even a reunified Cyprus will fail to achieve social reunification.

Without incorporating the true face of Cyprus into official policies and attitudes, Cypriots can and should expect Cyprus’ ten of thousands of Kurdish Cypriots, Sri Lankan Cypriots, Filipino Cypriots and many other permanent residents of island to soon build their own list of multiple ethnocentric demands. After all, have we Greek and Turkish Cypriots not set fine models for them to follow? Unless we include every community on the island in a peace process and in future nation building by embracing diversity, then frankly we should expect cultural ghettos to form leading to a segregation of the ‘natives’ and the new arrivals.


For those still in doubt to the true face of Cyprus, I invite you to simply walk around the island’s towns, to places like Famagusta where Kurdish Cypriots as well as Arab Cypriots from Hatay (Turkey) argue over taxi fares or sip tea outside tea houses as they do in Anatolia. Or to the countryside, where Laz Cypriots conscious of the Black Sea mountains and valleys they left behind escape to cool forests to avoid the heat of the Mediterranean sun, or outside a Nicosia café, where a Senegalese man flirts uncontrollably with a native Cypriot girl, while in the adjacent park, Sri Lankan Cypriots gather to peel mango and talk in Sinhala or Tamil about recent political events in Colombo. Meet the new Cypriots!

Cypriot Maronites, yet another casualty of Greek and Turkish Cypriot ethnocentrism


Most people in the West have never heard of the Maronites, yet alone the Cypriot Maronites despite the fact that Cyprus is now an EU member state and major tourist destination. Yet in an island country where every single issue is perceived in either a “Greek” or “Turkish” way of thinking, this small community have effectively been condemned to die without so much of a raise of the eye brow; the tragedy is not just the impending death of their language itself, but that it is largely avoidable. Deep-rooted in their own ethnocentric policies, both the authorities of North Cyprus and the Government of the Republic of Cyprus are too preoccupied protecting their Greek or Turkish Cypriot interests, including a new cheese war (is it Halloumi or Hellim?) to worry about Cyprus’ many silent minorities.
The 1200 year old Cypriot Maronite community are descendants of 9th century Lebanese Maronites Catholic Christians who fled turmoil in their native lands settled in Cyprus, where they had as many as 19 villages in the 14th century. Following the partition of the island in 1974, the entire occupants of three of the four remaining Maronite villages were forced to flee to the areas still controlled by the Republic of Cyprus, while those few who remained under occupation no longer had school for their children; a method used by the Turkish military to encourage them to leave. As a result of the division of the island, Cypriot Maronite Arabic, which has been described as the closest living language to that of Jesus of Nazareth is spoken today by no more than 130 enclaved people in Kormakitis (Kormacit) in Northern Cyprus and under five hundred in the Republic. The language and its speakers are in the ill-fated position of living in a country divided along ethnic lines, where everything rests upon a mutually acceptable settlement between the larger Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.
Yet with a majority of the residents of Kormakitis over the age of sixty, and with most Maronite Cypriot children and their parents now living for reasons of schooling in the Republic, the community language that had been preserved for over a millennia is dying fast, while the community itself which is now mostly Greek-speaking is facing assimilation into the Greek Cypriot community. In the North, according to village residents of Kormakitis the language will be completely extinct within 20 years as no Maronite school exists there and therefore few families can realistically return. Three other Maronite villages still remain firmly closed by the occupying Turkish military forcing the inhabitants to live away from their homes in cities in the Republic.
A Turkish Cypriot diplomat once argued that since the Maronites were not ‘TRNC citizens’ that they should not expect a school, basically it was hard luck that they were not Greek Cypriots who through negotiation had already secured their own school in Karpaz / Karpasia. But does it matter if a community who has lived off the soil of North Cyprus for 1200 years are citizens of a 23 year old phantom state? Surely, it is a disgrace and outrage to any country or indeed political entity that claims to identify itself as a democracy and uphold the principle of human rights to deprive a community of a school leading to its dispersal and death of its language.
For the Maronite Cypriots the death of their language in effect means cutting off any remaining links with their past, from which their unique religious sect, its hymns and prayers derive. Language is not just another way of saying the same things; it is a different thought process with new ideas and perspectives, as is commonly said in the Czech Republic: “You live a new life for every new language you speak.” Like a museum, language contains within its cluster of words the story of how we came to our present time, from where we came and who we encountered along the way – essentially it reflects who we are.
Despite the fact that many Maronite elders as a form of defence refused for decades to speak “Romaika” (Greek) with their children, the community’s moribund language is dealt a final blow by a double failure by the Republic of Cyprus to appreciate the resonance of the language to the Cypriot Maronite identity by teaching it in schools. Within the Greek Cypriot community who have a monopoly over the Cyprus government since the withdrawal of Turkish Cypriot deputies from the House of Representatives in 1964, attitudes are shaped by an unofficial assimilation policy whose undercurrents are a yearning by some for Hellenism. When I questioned a Greek Cypriot politician what is being done to reverse the death of a language spoken by Cypriots, his response astounded me. “Maronites belong to the Greek Cypriot community,” he asserted. It was as if I had over stepped the mark by daring to ask him about ‘a piece of property’ of the Greek Cypriot community. The politician was not in the slightest interested in the death of Cypriot Maronite Arabic, he had never heard of it, pointing out “Maronites speak Greek, they don’t speak…eh…this Arabic - they are Greek.”
Following this incident, a Greek Cypriot colleague asked me: “Who cares about the Maronites anyway? Are you Maronite? He asked me.” Sadly, such attitudes reflect for me the crux of the Cyprus problem, that each of the main communities can only see matters through their own ethnocentric eyes. Unless you are a Maronite, you are not expected to challenge any injustice against that community, and vice versa. The expectation of many for a solution is that human rights will eventually be secured when each of the two main communities enters dialogue and negotiates their human rights using bargaining chips and powerful ‘motherlands’ to exert pressure.
Naturally the problem with this is the lack of equality, as the most militarily, politically and economically powerful negotiator will always secure greater rights for their own ‘people,’ Annan Plan anybody? And I’m curious with these expectations, exactly what ‘motherland’ will help communities like the Cypriot Gypsies?
The bitter truth is, regardless of the multitude of ‘other’ ethnic and religious communities, and claimed universality of human rights, unless you are either Greek or Turkish Cypriot in Cyprus, you simply do not stand a chance of getting anybody to listen to you and take you seriously. Perhaps Maronite leaders should react to this Greco-Turkish ethnocentrism by using the religion card, seeking ‘divine intervention’ from the Vatican and enlisting the help of hundreds of millions of world Catholics to see the reopening of their villages and school, and to get the government to treat the death of their non-Greco-Turkish language as a priority.

Be wary of those who speak of Motherlands!

Cypriots repeatedly speak of their ‘motherlands’ –to refer to our neighbours Greece and Turkey. Like an adult who has never grown up there is a paradigm in our thinking where we believe everything our ‘motherland’ tells us and even get impassioned to defend the ‘motherlands’ against any criticism. Acting more Turkish than the Turks or more Greek than the Greeks, Cypriots often disregard the fact that EU Cyprus is a sovereign state in the international community and a partner of both Greece and Turkey at international organisations. So why do we continue to speak of ‘motherlands?’

One connotation of the term ‘Motherland’ is one’s country of birth. One definition I located on the internet described the ‘Motherland’ as the place where one grows up, with the country being respectfully viewed by its citizens as a “benign mother nurturing its citizens as her children.” Since most Cypriots with the exception of the diaspora were born and raised in Cyprus this I assume disqualifies Greece or Turkey as a motherland. But if such talk is aimed at uniting Cypriots, the stumbling block of this definition is that many diaspora Cypriots cannot call Cyprus their motherland since they were born and raised abroad. This is most notably the case of the British Turkish Cypriot community who now far outnumber their fellow Turkish Cypriots in Cyprus.

However, some go further arguing that ‘motherland’ can also refer to a land where our ancestors came from centuries ago. In Spanish-speaking countries one often hears the term “Madre Patria” (Motherland), which is generally used to refer to Spain since most White Latin Americans came from Spain. But can the term with the same definition be applied to in Cyprus? I think not, Ottoman Anatolia was not known as Turkey back in 1572; Turkey is a new term in modern history. And although there was limited Ottoman settlement, there was also large scale proselytism to Islam and other emigration to Cyprus. In the same way that not all Greek Cypriots derive from the two thousand year old Ancient Greeks, not all Turkish Cypriots derive from those that settled in 1572. In fact I doubt many Cypriots would be able to find a straight uninterrupted line of Greek or Turkish ancestors without finding instead an Arab grand father, Armenian grand mother, Sudanese great uncle, or some Circassian or Bosnian great aunts!
In response to this insanity of worshipping a land we may or may not have come from hundreds of years ago, Petros Katsouloudes, a Maronite Cypriot friend once asked me: “Aren' t there, any Cypriot Cypriots?” He said: “My community, the Maronite Cypriots, do not consider Lebanon, our country of origin, of nearly 15 Centuries ago a fatherland or a motherland, even though we maintain ties with Lebanon, mainly religious ones. “We do not adore it, worship it, we have only one home, and this home is Cyprus. This is our land, the land of our ancestors, and we love it as such!”

In France the term ‘Motherland’ can be used to refer to La France Metropole or the main geographical part of France, since there are French overseas territories that are part of the French Republic throughout the World. From French Polynesia to La Reunion and from French Guyana to the small Islands of Saint Pierre et Miquelon you can find the bust of Marianne beneath French tricolour. But in Turkey now, there are a growing number of people who believe that Northern Cyprus is their Overseas Territory. I have heard Turks talk among themselves of the “Yavruvatan” (Baby homeland); a term which rather amusingly is equally patronising for both those Turkish Cypriots who seek reunification and even those who struggle for the recognition of the TRNC. Even so, it certainly gives us an idea of where terms like ‘Motherland’ can lead to. Thinking of those who use such terminology, it makes one speculate how a sovereign people can reduce themselves to a position of an unofficial overseas territory? La Turquie Metropole, ah non Monsieur, nous sommes Chypriotes!

Yet still people cannot abandon the notion of motherland. Some even argue that both Greece and Turkey are the cultural fatherlands but the political motherland is Cyprus. But I do not accept the notion that the two main Cypriot communities are extensions of Greece and Turkey. Greek and Turkish Cypriots have not ended up on the ‘wrong side of the border.’ This may be the case in other parts of the globe but Cypriots whatever their language after half a millennia of coexistence have much more in common than they do with neighbouring Greece or Turkey. In fact, culturally there is very little that divides the communities of Cyprus.

Suspicious of terms like ‘motherland,’ in his article “Death to the Motherland,” Vled Melamed the President of the organization New Tradition writes that powerful patriotism often employs terms like “Love of ones country, devotion to the nation, the great Motherland and so on” to connect with human emotion and instincts in order to make citizens “more controllable.” Melamed argues that the notion of country is not at all as “natural” since every “country is per se a political association, and, when they say: I love my country, this, using the strictest standards, is just as strange as to say I love the United Nations or I adore the lower house of parliament” Believers of this propaganda are according to Melamed the “the primary bearers of national propaganda, mistakenly equating patriotism with political association with the country.” So engrained are these ideas into our subconscious that “loss is equivalent to the destruction of the family” claims Melamed.

By this stage you would expect me to say that Cyprus is our ‘motherland.’ But I’m not going to say that. There is no ‘motherland,’ Cypriots have no motherland; a myth created as nationalist propaganda, this myth is merely used as a tool to gain your endless and blind folded loyalty to an ideology that benefits the interests of a larger neighbouring country. As much as Greece or Turkey are not motherlands, Cyprus is also not a motherland. Cyprus is a Common Home, but as a state it does not nurture its citizens like a mother or father. States do not function to nurture their citizens, as Franz Oppenheimer argues the state is a “vehicle of capitalism” and in Cyprus as in most of the world “if you want to eat you have to work.” And Cypriots must wake up to the reality too that in the world of states there is no concept of “family” either, such loving terms do not exist and even friendships between states and peoples are subject to change over time. States form their relationship only due to their political and economic constraints that make up their individual strategic interests. But as long as they are wretchedly distracted by foreign nationalist propaganda Cypriots can never fully expect to exert theirs.

The Cyprus problem is not ethnic but philosophical

In its earnest efforts to resolve the Cyprus question, Britain has for decades done everything to comprehend the concerns of both Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities in Cyprus. British foreign policy and international peace plans Britain has endorsed for the war torn island country has always centred on the hypothesis that the Cyprus problem is an ethnic issue. This notion that dictates that the only people residing on the island are either the conflicting Greeks or Turks has in more recent times led the British government to play political hopscotch, frantically currying favour with one community before hastily sucking up to the other in order to find the so-called ‘middle ground.’ But to believe the Cyprus problem is divided along ethnic lines is an illusion, the Cyprus problem is as much philosophical as ethnic.

As a British crown colony, Cyprus was commonly known as an island of Greeks or Turks. Were they ignorant of the Cypriot identity and culture? Not at all, according to a great many academics, the origins of Britain’s characterisation policy stems from a colonial politics of divide and rule, when these such perceived divisions would have acted as a useful control tool for the island’s colonial administration. The principle of “Divide et Impera” has always been a common feature to empower the colonial power to control its subjects, and has been a policy of past imperial powers worldwide. In fact according to Machiavelli, good leadership requires a leader to forcefully divide and separate its opponents or those that oppose his / her rule in order to weaken them.

But in Cyprus’ case categorization coupled with a divide and rule politics led from one historical mistake to another. There was hardly any mention of the “Cypriots” in the 1960 London and Zurich Agreements that laid the foundation for an independent Cyprus. This failure and the fact that everything in this Republic was categorized as being either ‘Greek’ or ‘Turkish’ themselves terms that do not necessarily apply to both communities meant that the newly independent Cyprus was effectively a “Cypriot Republic without Cypriots.”
To avoid any confusion, even the millennia old Maronites, Latins and Armenians were put in an awkward position where they had to choose which community they would ‘belong’ to.
Not to be too harsh, perhaps a mention that in Cyprus there are indeed Cypriots living there was to be added later? But undoubtedly, these chain of historical errors hindered the development of an island-wide identity in the Republic days; in fact some may argue that it was this very policy that may have even helped laid the foundations of partition.

Predictably with the denial of the existence of Cypriots coupled with outside influence by Ankara and Athens, Cypriotness among Cypriots has remained suppressed. By contrast, it was common for members of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to define themselves as Greeks or Turks, not as Cypriots. To say one was a Cypriot then was unthinkable and hitherto to most elderly Greek and Turkish Cypriots is still unimaginable. This low esteem maintained by Cypriots for Cypriotness was not the result of informed free choice however, but was historically due to the fact that a sense of Cypriotness was never allowed to be developed in modern Cypriot history since the island had until recently always been ruled by outsiders. Importantly, in addition neither externally backed EOKA nor TMT would have tolerated talk of such ‘nonsense’ in the zenith of their terror campaigns.

Long in a deep freeze and even with lack of promotion a Cypriot identity has continued to exist. In fact, some may argue, the Cyprus problem needed to get worse before it could get better. Surrounded by the turmoil caused by inter-communal conflict amid the rubble and graves of the dead, Cypriotness has resurfaced again. As if unconquerable, Dr. Hubert Faustmann said in his article “Cypriotness in a historical perspective,” Cypriots have always had a Cypriot identity even in pre-nationalist times. Indicating deep origins, Faustmann continues: “The origins of a Cypriot identity are rooted in the link between human nature, geography and culture. “On any clearly defined geographic unit and particularly on islands, people inevitably develop an identity as inhabitants of this territory. “Moreover, the territorial separation of an island encourages the development of specific ties and customs as a cultural source for a distinct island identity,” he adds.

Faustmann is right to cite the geographical importance to Cypriotness, but philosophy too plays a momentous role. To understand the change in the paradigm way of thinking, one needs to appreciate that the Cyprus problem today is constantly changing and is far removed from the time of inter-communal conflict. No longer can we speak of a ‘Greek’ or ‘Turkish’ side in the Cyprus problem. Independent from the disingenuous notion of an ethnic conflict, the Cyprus problem has become a philosophical problem today.
Cypriots have over the past 47 years undergone an enormous change in their paradigm way of thinking. Faced with the sickening crimes of ultra nationalists, incompetent governance and open interference from the ‘motherlands,’ a sense of Cypriotness has been revived in all communities in Cyprus. This revival has led to the emergence of a progressive group of Cypriots on both sides of the Green Line who work closely together to increase Cypriot cultural activity, be it films, novels or poetry. With some suppression still in place, art has found itself as the tool for expressing this revived Cypriotness. Also politically, for the first time, there are Greek Cypriots who are fighting for the rights of their Turkish Cypriot compatriots, Turkish Cypriots who are raising awareness of the Maronites, Latin Cypriots who are campaigning for the rights of Armenian Cypriots and so on.
These past weeks I have heard Greek Cypriot lawyer Costas Apostolides complain that not enough information was available in Turkish for the introduction of the euro, while Serdar Atai, a Turkish Cypriot criticised the looting of Greek Cypriot properties. New colourful characters in Cypriot society as poet Neshe Yashın, Journalist Sevgül Uludağ and Academic Alev Adil, as well as film-director Panicos Chrysanthou, writer Tony Angastiniotis and novelist Andreas Koumi, frequently challenge the narrow communal perspective of the Cyprus problem. Are they all traitors perhaps? Not so unusual or marginalised, this is called being and thinking as a Cypriot.
A class of Cypriots has been born. Yet in the last Annan Plan there was no mention of Cypriots again! Another mistake?

Overshadowed by the political dimensions of the unresolved Cyprus question, Cypriots nevertheless exist. The Cypriot is not just a Greek Cypriot nor is it a Turkish Cypriot, nor a Maronite Cypriot, an Armenian or even a Latin Cypriot but all of these communities combined. How? By taking ownership of all these communities while embracing Cyprus’ true multi-cultural heritage and identity- this is what being Cypriot really denotes. Whereas some Turkish Cypriot or Greek Cypriots may think communally, being Cypriot is the ability to think nationally. A Cypriot is somebody who puts the interests of Cyprus as a nation before the interests of the community from which they stem.
Being Cypriot is not treachery nor does it depend on your birth, lineage or your religion or language, it is not a matter for the Church to decide or a constitutional arrangement, it is completely and unconsciously the product of the Cypriot people themselves. Unlike Greek and Turkish Cypriots, or Cyprus Greeks and Cyprus Turks, the Cypriots do not constitute an ethnic community but a state of mind. Based entirely on philosophy, Cypriots are not delimited like ethnicity or religion, and therefore can grow faster than any of these groups. From my own experience Cypriots tend to be young, university educated and many will have had a philosophical change in their life with regard to their perception of the Cyprus problem. This philosophical revolution is bringing more and more converts daily. A future force to be reckoned with, few Cypriots ever revert back to being Greeks or Turks of Cyprus.

If Britain is serious about resolving the Cyprus problem and if its policy towards Cypriots is sincere, then Britain must update its perception of the Cyprus problem by beginning to look at the Cyprus question no longer from the perspective of a Greco-Turkish dispute but as a philosophical dispute. In its bid to help Cyprus, by surrounding itself with either Greek or Turkish Cypriot advisers, Britain will only alienate chunks of both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities who view themselves as Cypriots. What one Greek or Turkish Cypriot says is not necessary what a Cypriot who may also be a member of either community will endorse. Equally, Britain too must not fall into the trap of dismissing those progressive Cypriots today as simply ‘free thinkers’ or ‘peace activists,’ while it is true that they fight for peace, they are the more importantly the voice of the Cypriots speaking. It is time Britain as a guarantor power and active player in the resolving of the Cyprus problem recognises this revived voice.

There is no separate justice to a shared tragedy

Alkan Chaglar (archive article - Sunday, July 29, 2007)

IN A SPEECH made last week on July 20, Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat thanked the Turkish Army for its ‘peace operation’, urging Turkish Cypriots to fight for “Turkish Cypriot Human Rights” and to continue the “Turkish Cypriot struggle”.As if their struggle or fight for human rights was different to that of all Cypriots, Mr Talat erroneously elevated Turkish Cypriots as the sole victims of the Cyprus problem, insensitively and recklessly ignoring the enormous suffering and decades of pain brought about by the invasion for those Cypriots of Greek, Armenian and Maronite origin. What is sad is that Mr Talat’s speech was made just as the United Nations were still exhuming the bodies of Cypriot civilians taken from their families and murdered in 1974. Steering dangerously towards ethnocentric bias, Mr Talat exposed a familiar yet extremely contradictory and dangerous trend of thinking among the Turkish Cypriot community – Exceptionalism.As a Cypriot but above all a human being, I felt disturbed by Mr Talat’s rhetoric. Precisely what are “Turkish Cypriot Human Rights”? Does the term “human” not sufficiently cover Turkish Cypriots as far as Mr Talat is concerned? According to the preamble of the UN General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948, human rights is the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.” And my perception is that Turkish Cypriots, like Greek, Maronite, Armenian and Latin Cypriots are an integral part of that human family. So why would anybody with any degree of good will attempt intentionally to set up their community above this universal rule?Perhaps while preaching selective human rights, Mr Talat was oblivious to the suffering of Greek, Maronite and Armenian Cypriots? But if this is the case, should he not refrain from dismissing suffering he has not personally witnessed himself? To take you back in time, the invasion was no ‘peace operation’. Over 200,000 Cypriots (a third of the population) were displaced and had to seek shelter in makeshift tents, thousands of innocent civilians were killed, thousands more injured and nearly 2,000 are still missing even to this day, while those who perpetrated these killings – whether Greek or Turkish Cypriots – are still free today. Since then, Christian places of worship have been desecrated, cemeteries destroyed, homes looted, land stolen and built over, while the island remains heavily militarised. Is this the ‘peace operation’ Mr Talat is so grateful for? For a leader who led the Turkish Cypriots to vote for peace and reunification in 2003, and for a politician who prided himself on his dialogue with Greek Cypriot leaders, Mr Talat’s justification of the invasion is totally insensitive to the common suffering during this period and more importantly, a contradiction to the claim that he seeks dialogue and peace. Claiming that “the aims of the July 20, 1974 operation are completely in line with the peace oriented Settlement Plan of the United Nations”, and treating the past inter-communal conflict as a pretext to a brutal invasion and a collective punishment of Christian Cypriots, Mr Talat attempted in his speech to maximise the suffering of his community while dismissing and ignoring that of other Cypriots communities. But such a game of blame, politics is fruitless. Mr Talat should realise that for every Turkish Cypriot story of injustice, there is a Greek Cypriot one. So what purpose is served other than division and distortion by the singling out and attempt to create the impression that one group of people, sui generic, are the sole victims of the Cyprus problem? Unquestionably in my mind, the main issue ought to be not how we best present ourselves as victim and convince the world of it to seek their pity, but how can we now come to terms with what has happened and reconcile with the aim of a lasting peace. Regrettably, Mr Talat is not alone in this exceptionalist way of thinking. Many Turkish Cypriots, among them self-styled human rights defenders, unashamedly and illegitimately assert the historical necessity the 1974 invasion and war crimes in the wake of attacks against Turkish Cypriots. Contradicting their own struggle for human rights, they subscribe to the extra-judicial view that one crime can be cancelled out by another, and thus they direct their compassion selectively. With more interest in blaming the Greek Cypriots, while desperately turning the tables around in a bid to reassure themselves of their righteousness, they snap: “What about our suffering!” “Why don’t you write about our atrocities committed by the Greeks?” But Turkish Cypriot refugees like my family know only too well their own suffering at the hands of a few Greek Cypriot militiamen, they do not need to be reminded of it, nor do they need to reconfirm it. No amount of repetition by Turkish Cypriots will address any of the injustices, but we can learn from our own errors and hope that Greek Cypriots will learn from theirs by openly and frankly admitting and talking about them. And yes, these include crimes committed by our ‘saviours’ and by our own irregulars against those we blame. As a community, we talk of “embargoes” on our community, but how about our embargoes on Greek, Maronite and Armenian Cypriots from returning to their homes? In the Republic, the custodian of Turkish Cypriot properties pending a solution protects Turkish Cypriot properties, yet our ethnocentric bias has led us to sell Greek Cypriot properties to tourists. While mosques are generally kept in good condition in the Republic, we desecrate churches, remove and sell their crosses and artifacts and use them as barns. Still there are Turkish Cypriot human rights activists who will argue, ‘but Turkish Cypriots were refugees in 1964!’ So was this crime justification for another crime? Can they try and explain this extra-judicial way of thinking to the entire world?Mr Talat demands the lifting of ‘embargoes against the right of Turkish Cypriots to trade and fly directly into Ercan’, but refuses to return Varosha to its 30,000 owners. Is the right to sell items such as potatoes in his view more important or more urgent than lifting the embargo we impose on Greek, Armenian and Maronite Cypriots from the right to return to their homes, the right to a school for the enclaved Maronites in their language, the right for information on the missing? Mr Talat obviously believes these issues can wait another 33 years. It is great to see where his priorities lie in terms of human rights.Echoing a distorted history of events, fighting for selective human rights together with an unashamed ethnocentric bias to one’s own community amounts to moral corruption and is not a solution to the Cyprus problem, nor is it a road map to peace. Above all, it demonstrates our inability to acknowledge the suffering of others caused by our own ‘saviours’ or irregulars, and exposes just how much Cypriots under-value the suffering of those with whom they seek dialogue for peace. Turkish Cypriot human rights and their struggle for justice is no different from those of other Cypriot communities. Calls for restoring these rights are just, but must be achieved within a wider solution that will benefit all Cypriots. Seeking a separate justice to a shared tragedy by focusing solely on Turkish Cypriot human rights is highly contradictory and will only entrench division.