Cyprus

 

The Cyprus Problem--Rachael Pettus

I wrote this eighteen years ago, after a chance meeting with a Turkish Cypriot policeman on the ferry from Tascucu in Turkey, to the port of Kyrenia in the Occupied North of Cyprus.  Since then, the borders have opened somewhat, allowing Turkish-Cypriots in the north to visit their homes in the Government Controlled Areas, and Greek Cypriots to visit their property in the north.  But no significan progress has been made in the political arena on the two main areas of contention:  the presence of 120,000 Turkish settlers from the mainland, and the settlement of the lands’ disputes.  Until those problems are clarified, discussed, and dealth with, the Cyprus Problem will continue intractable, and the populations will remain discrete.

Today's blog is written by Voices' member, Rachael Pettus, who lives on Cyprus.

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Starting Over: Refugee’s Story

After breakfast of halloumi – hellim on this side -- and watermelon, Ayesha, Mehmet’s mother told us her story of life in Paphos in the 1960’s, the Invasion of 1974, and her thoughts on the Cyprus Problem today.

“Starting again was hard,” she said, the lines around her calm brown eyes deepening as she looked back on the events eighteen years before that changed her world.  “But we gave thanks to God that we lost no one from the family.”  In August 1974, Ayesha was thirty-six.  With her husband Emir and her four children, she became a refugee – a single figure in a flood of humanity displaced by the inter-communal strife in Cyprus, and the Turkish invasion that followed. 

Born on September 14 at Sinat, a small village close to the port of Famagusta, Ayesha had a quiet childhood.  Her family were farmers, renting their land from the government, and selling their excess produce in the local market.  Ayesha grew up knowing that the Turkish Cypriots shared the island with Greek speakers – her father worked with Greek Cypriots – but not until her teen years did she learn about and begin to fear the ‘Megali Idea’ – the Great Plan cherished by some extremist elements within the Greek Cypriot community to gain independence from Britain and unite Cyprus with Greece. 

In 1956 Ayesha married Emir Mehmet, a handsome twenty-year old police constable from Nicosia and the couple moved to Larnaca.  In the New Year, their first child, a boy whom they called Mehmet was born.  Next year, a daughter, Serap, followed.  Family life was peaceful.  Emir transferred several times, and each time the young mother settled herself without fuss into the Turkish or mixed neighbourhoods of her husband’s new beat. The births of two other boys soon followed.

In 1960 Britain granted Cyprus independence.  A short period of euphoria followed the August charter.  Freedom!  Self-determination!  The catchwords and phrases intoxicated both sides of the community.  No longer an Auxilliary Constable for the colonial British administration, Emir proudly became a constable in the police force of the independent Republic of Cyprus.  The governments of Great Britain, Greece, and Turkey guaranteed Cypriot independence and a complex constitution balanced and protected the rights of both communities.

map of cyprus

Three years later the situation was in tatters.  The constitution proved unworkable.  Extremists on both sides fanned tensions that led to killings of Turkish Cypriots by Greeks and Greek Cypriots, and of Greek Cypriots by Turkish Cypriots in December 1963. The Turkish Cypriots moved from over 100 mixed towns and villages into eight cantons scattered around the island, rejecting government authority within their enclaves, and forming their own administrations.  The following year soldiers from the United Nations arrived on the island to keep the communities apart. 

In December Ayesha and her young family had just completed their fourth move – to the west-coast town of Paphos.  As in the other towns where she had lived, many of Ayesha’s neighbours were Greek-Cypriots.  Although she did not speak their language, Ayesha was on friendly terms with her neighbours, sharing coffee during mid-morning breaks from housework, and exchanging smiles on the street. 

Killings of Turkish Cypriots changed that.  Ayesha’s family moved to another part of town with the rest of Paphos’ Turkish Cypriots.  Emir left the Cyprus Police Force and became an Acting Sergeant in the newly formed Turkish Cypriot Police. 

Although protected in their enclaves by UN soldiers, Turkish Cypriots, Ayesha related, felt far from secure.  Travel around the island was difficult with roadblocks and checkpoints, and Ayesha remembered searches, delays, and humiliation.  “We felt that the Greek Cypriots hoped that if they could persuade enough of us to leave,” remembered Mehmet. “There would be no barriers left to prevent union with Greece.”  Many Turkish Cypriots, including members of both her and her husband’s families took passage to England, Australia, or Canada.  “They wanted their children to grow up free, without fear,” said Ayesha. 

She and her husband stayed.  Mehmet and Serape started school, and in time were joined by their two younger brothers.  The children grew up apart from their Greek-speaking counterparts; not learning their language or their customs; not understanding the forces that motivated them; aware of, yet not comprehending the pressures that tore the two communities of one small island so relentlessly apart. 

In July 1974 the end began.  An extremist coup toppled the government of Archbishop Makarios, and the government of Turkey, citing its role as guarantor of Cypriot independence and Turkish-Cypriot rights, sent troops and warplanes on a ‘peacekeeping’ mission. 

Within days, Turkish forces had established a hold on the northern sector of the island and Turkish Cypriots, fearing all out war and intercommunal killing, streamed north on the narrow roads meeting, as they did so, thousands of Greek Cypriots hastening southward – refugees from the advancing Turkish forces. 

“We were in Famagusta when the war began,” related Mehmet.  “My sister and I were taking the weekly boat to Turkey – leaving Cyprus to study in Istanbul, and the whole family had come to see us off and take a short holiday.  We were staying at my aunt’s house on the outskirts of the city.  The coup happened, and the boat never came.” 

“We barricaded ourselves in when the fighting started,” he continued.  “The houses around were Greek and we were afraid to come out.  Several times Greeks came and pounded on the door, trying to break it down.  The last time, they would have succeeded but for one man in the crowd – God must have sent him – who persuaded the mob that there were only old people inside.”  That night Ayesha’s niece slipped out of the house and down the road to a UN encampment.  The soldiers took the family in an armoured carrier to the fortified walls of Famagusta’s old city where the Turkish Cypriot community was sheltering.   

Ayesha and her family were living in a store in the walls when Turkish tanks rolled into the city the following month.  They never returned to Paphos.  They lost everything that had made their house a home.  With only what they had taken for a short holiday, and what Mehmet and Serape had packed for Turkey, they had to begin again.  Mehmet pointed to the photographs that hung on the walls of his mother’s neat, quiet Famagusta home.  “All these are after 1974,” he said.  “My parents’ wedding pictures are from copies that my parents had given to relatives.  I used to have pictures of my childhood.  Now I have only five – and they, too, are copies that other family members had.” 

“We had no money,” said Ayesha.  “But we were lucky.  We had our lives.  We worked, we earned the money to begin again.”  Once again she created a home.  Emir began work in the police force of the fledgling Turkish-Cypriot state, and his wife and children fixed the house that the government allocated them. 

“This was a Greek-Cypriot house,” she said.  “When we moved here there were two chairs and a broken table.  We dug a water tank.  We fixed everything and painted.”  One day at a time, she remembers, Ayesha’s life regained its rhythm.  Her younger boys returned to school and made new friends.  With other refugee women Ayesha made strong bonds, united by their common experience.  Slowly, once again, they began to thrive. 

Ayesha was not bitter.  He life was too full.  She has not taught her children or grandchildren to hate the people who brought misery to her life, but she is wary.  “I would like to go back to Paphos,” she said.  “Just for a visit.  Just to see my house and to talk to the people who live there today.  But not to live.  Never to live.  I cannot trust the Greeks.  Give them time and power over us again, and I believe that they would treat us the same way.”   

And if one day a Greek Cypriot woman were to knock on her door, and say, as Ayesha would like to say to a Greek Cypriot woman in Paphos:  “Good morning!  This was my home once.  Do you mind if I come in for a moment, just to look…”? “I would welcome her,” Ayesha says.  “Without hesitation.  I would ask her in for a coffee or something fresh to drink.  She would be a visitor from God!” 

Ayesha and Mehmet described where their house had been in Paphos and drew us a map.  When we arrived back on the Greek side, nine months later, we looked for it and were pretty sure that we found it, but not sure enough to knock on the door and ask.  Twenty years later, I am certain that the house they described is one of the two that still stand beside the new bridge on the left hand side of the road to Chlorakas.  The government does not knock down Turkish Cypriot houses unless absolutely necessary, and the two houses still stand side by side, unchanged, though massive road works have gone on around them.  They are occupied by families, and perhaps one day I will knock on the doors and ask if they are Turkish Cypriot houses, and if the family that once lived there has come back to see them.

c. Rachael Pettus  1992

The Line of Divide: Cyprus--Rachael Petts

Background

Cyprus has undergone many ups and downs before and even after independence because of the tension between the Turks and the Greeks. The country gained independence from United Kingdom in 1960. But UK retained some power in Cyprus. Political Division in Cyprus is a result of the clashes between the Greece and Turks. 

Cyprus political division took place in 1974. Following a Greek military sponsored coup the country witnessed the Turkish invasion. They formally set up their institutes. A separate president and a separate prime minister was also elected. After getting divided the southern two-thirds of Cyprus came under the control of the Greek Cypriot. The northern third was occupied by the Turkish power. 

After the political division of Cyprus the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus (the southern two-third) over the whole island is recognized. It is also the internationally accepted government of the island. 

However the rule of the Republic of Cyprus is not recognized by the northern third that is ruled by the administration of the Turkish Cypriot . They refer to it as “Greek Authority of Southern Cyprus”. In 1975 the north proclaimed independence. They declared an independent “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” in 1983. They adopted their constitution in 1985. The election was held the same year. 

Line Tour

This reflection was written 18 years ago.  Except for the fact that the British Army has replaced the Canadian, the checkpoint is now at the end of Ledra Street, and vastly many more people – Cypriots from both communities and foreigners – can now cross the line, the situation in the Buffer Zone itself remains unchanged.  It cannot be visited except with a UN pass, booby traps are still in place, and the two armies still jockey for position in much the same way as described below.

Today's blog is written by Voices' member, Rachael Pettus, who lives on Cyprus.

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Ledra Street Checkpoint

Back in the Republic of Cyprus I got in touch with Colonel Murray Swan, the commanding officer of the Canadian Battalion of the United Nations Interim Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). He was also Chief Humanitarian Officer, and a useful contact.  We were hoping to join a UN Humanitarian convoy – either to check on Turkish Cypriots living in the south, or to take supplies to the few elderly Greek Cypriots who had remained in enclaves in the north.  Colonel Swan told us that there was no way that we could join a convoy, but that he could get us two slots as journalists on a Line Tour – a VIP tour that took place about once a month through the Buffer Zone of the Old City.  The next one was due to take place the following day.

We arrived at Wolseley Barracks, the Ledra Palace headquarters of the First Regiment of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery at nine, and were ushered into a briefing room with seven other ‘line-walkers’.  Canadian officers briefed us on the UN mission in Cyprus, concentrating on the role of City Battery, whose sector we were about to ‘patrol’.

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Ledra Palace Headquarters

Deployed in Nicosia since the 1964 intercommunal strife between Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots, the Canadians’ task was to ensure that neither side infringes the cease-fire line – a tough job in the highly populated inner city where soldiers of the opposing sides faced each other from only a few metres apart.

After the 1974 invasion, the Peacekeepers’ role became an international one:  on one side of the Buffer Zone stand soldiers of the Greek Cypriot National Guard; on the other, Turkish-Cypriot units backed by numerous and well-equipped Turkish mainland forces. In such circumstances, it was hardly surprising that City Battery dealt with as many incidents of cease-fire infringements in a day as others did in a week.

Briefing over, we piled into a van with Captain Billings and Lieutenant Draho, our guides, and drove to the far end of City Battery’s sector. We climbed the steps to OP Bastion.

”This will let you see what our guys see every day,” Billings said.  Built atop the city’s 16th Century Venetian Walls, the observation post was roughly equidistant between Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot positions. To our right, a concrete emplacement marked the Greek-Cypriot ceasefire line; fifty metres to our left, a soldier from the Turkish-Cypriot Wolf Regiment watched us from beside his camouflaged bunker.

Most of City Battery’s sector, we learned, was narrower than at Bastion.  In some places it is the width of 08 double lapithi1the single-lane patrol road.  Contact between the opposing sides is inevitable.

“Sometimes the soldiers just insult each other,” said Lt Draho.  “Sometimes it’s a little worse.  Last week we had a bunch of Turkish soldiers lobbing stones at the Greeks with sling-shots.”  Gunfire across the line is unusual, and fatal shootings such as the incident earlier that month when a Greek-Cypriot National Guardsman was killed by a Turkish soldier, are very rare indeed.

Nearby Beaver Lodge, once Agios Kassianos School, used to be a Canadian barracks.  In 1974 after giving the Canadians 15 minutes to vacate the building, the Turks opened fire with heavy weapons.  Two Canadians lost their lives, and the area is still contested.  Turkish-Cypriot soldiers enter Beaver Lodge every six months for maintenance under UN supervision.

“Maintenance?” we all raised our eyebrows.  “How can anyone maintain the roofless shell of a building whose walls have been riddled with .50 calibre machine-gun fire?” someone asked.

“They paint rocks,” Captain Billings replied with a straight face.  “That’s how they let us know it’s their turf.”

A few steps west of Beaver Lodge stands Annie’s House.  Annie, A Greek-Cypriot ‘madame’, was the only resident to remain in the Buffer Zone during the fighting and after the cease-fire.  Several years before, when Canadian foot patrols noticed no movement in the house for days, soldiers entered and found her dead.  “The UN took care of Annie,” said Billings.  And the last resident of the Buffer Zone became a part of history.

The patrol road winds through the heart of Old Nicosia, an area of stone and mud-brick buildings that date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Most were damaged in the fighting that ravaged the city during the ‘60’s and early ‘70’s.  Only a few are casualties of time.  Plaster crumbled from the walls and the intricate wrought iron of balconies and fan-lights hung in rusted confusion amid rotted wooden shutters and a jumble of smashed beams.

Some of the buildings are on the point of collapse.  Lt Draho pointed to a section of wall.  “We have tried for three years to get the Turks to demolish this section, but if they take down a wall, the Greeks have to take down a wall, and the Greeks have nothing that they can lose in this area.”

A move by one side had to be reciprocated by the other.  “It would make our job easier if these buildings could all be cleaned of all the rubble,” added Draho.  “But neither side is willing to risk losing ground.”

The patrols had to be constantly vigilant.  “If we don’t go into an area for a day or two, one side or the other will move in,” said the Captain.  He pointed to a Turkish position of galvanised iron that jutted out into the middle of the patrol road.  “We didn’t come down here for a few days and the Turks moved this construction right out into the middle of the Buffer Zone.”  After days of negotiation, the Turks agreed that the building was unlawful.  Eventually, so that the Turks saved face, the Canadians drove armoured personnel carriers along the patrol road at night without headlights, and partially destroyed it.

The Line Tour culminated at the Magic Map. “This started as a small map of Cyprus on the road outside the Greek-Cypriot bunker,” Draho told us.  “Each time the Greeks repainted, it grew a little.”  The Canadians asked the Greeks to restrain their artistry to no avail. They eventually put barrels at the edge of the map, and painted outlines on the ground to indicate the barrels’ final position.  According to Captain Billings, the barrels had so far remained in place.

c. Rachael Pettus  1992

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