Communal Visions for a Reunited Cyprus Are Still Alive
It is 2011, 37 years after Turkey invaded Cyprus and used military force to bring about a deep split between the Greek-and-Turkish communities; and 48 years after inter-communal fighting between those same communities.
Many decades after the ceasefire in '74, the Green Line drawn between the northern third and south of the island became a de facto border where citizens and visitors have to show their passport in order to get from one side to the other. Reunification talks are underway between the leaders of both communities, and while politicians on both sides fight over the details of a new constitution to reunite the island, ordinary people and activists cling onto their own visions of a united country.
The many years of division and everyday bitterness and anger expressed by generations of politicians have not killed the idea and dream that one day the island will have a lasting peace with reunified institutions and united communities. On the contrary, the ideal is still very much alive, surviving much poisonous propaganda and outright manipulation of public opinion for parochial and often narrow-minded political ends.
Shirin Jetha is a Turkish-Cypriot activist in the bi-communal movement, which seeks to bring together civil society organisations and activists from both communities. Her vision for a united Cyprus is of "an Island in which all communities live harmoniously are fully integrated into Society.. Where diversity is celebrated, differences acknowledged, accepted and respected. Where all people are treated equally regardless of their ethnicity, religious, cultural and social background," she says.
"My perfect vision for community relations in Cyprus is that of cooperation, communication and interaction amongst all communities in Cyprus. That the Island can be a vision for other countries in the building of relations after a conflict and that communities learn to re-build and re-invent themselves for a better future," says Shirin.
A bi-communal movement activist from the Greek-Cypriot community, Charalambos Perikleous, puts his vision of the future in the present tense, as if reunification has already happened.
"I am a citizen of the United Cyprus and I feel very proud of it. My country is very beautiful and I feel privileged living here. We have had to face a lot of challenges with our fellow citizens since reunification. Since we had set out to forget the past and live for the future we have gradually and patiently managed to overcome our fears and reservations.
The fruits of a peaceful coexistence are gradually yielding the fruits of prosperity. It is so wonderful to travel freely around the island, to enjoy the sea, the sun and the quiet afternoons without having to worry for the future of this place. We have millions of visitors sharing with us all these good blessings. Businesses are flourishing, people enjoy good health support systems and education.
People have put aside the bitterness of the past and enjoy peace of mind as they are no longer moving around with an open wound on their bodies. Since the reunification of Cyprus,the communities of Cyprus feel no longer estranged. They have by now realised that they have nothing to share but a beautiful and blessed land. They move freely around the island and enjoy each and every corner of it.
A lot of partnerships have been established between members of the community, be it Greek, Turkish, Latin, European or others. Mixed marriages,if you can call them so, are no longer a taboo. People share both happy and sad moments together. They go to each others weddings and cry together in funerals of their beloved ones. They hear and sing the same songs in any language; after all, most of them can communicate in the other's mother tongue. The history taught at schools relates to the past, yet it names no winners or losers. Indeed it teaches children that the mistakes of the past have only caused pain and agony to all.
It teaches them that peace and prosperity go hand in hand!" says Charalambos.
Gina Chappa is a member of Cyprus' civil society with an interesting and bridging perspective in that she is married to a Turkish-Cypriot activist and politician and comes from the Greek-Cypriot community. Her vision in her own words is down-to-earth and pragmatic.
"A united Cyprus… I visualize it like in any country in mainland Europe where you don’t even realise that you change countries… Of course here we are not even changing countries… I visualise normalization in the geographical aspect, where the island is again one entity… where whether you are in Karpasia or Pafos, and moving from one area to the other will be characterised by the attributes of the place rather than who it “belonged” to.
Of course this also involves normalization in people, where there are no classifications of Turkish
Cypriot / Greek Cypriot, or even Cypriot… when we are all just people, humans with respect for our human rights. And then there will be links between people with similar interests, ideas, visions, irrespective of the communal origin. This will be achieved when people are “forced” to interact with one-another, like in workspaces, markets, social events. Getting to know each other will first bring down the “wall” in our minds and then will enable the complete collapse of our identity based on ethnic origin.
We have spent too many years discussing this “obstacle” in our lives – the Cyprus issue – that we have missed growing as individuals, as people, as groups with similar aims for the good of our society. My vision is for people to be defining themselves/others according to their views rather than their ethnic origin; when it will be irrelevant if my name is “Greek” or “Turkish”, but rather more importantly who I am as a person and what I strive for. Because then, I will be working / struggling with people of similar ideas and we will be all progressing. And where I live will merely be a geographical location on the planet…" says Gina.
For musician Costas Austin, the important thing is the future: "the time is right for a reunification of the island cause we Cypriots have a common land to make it a better place, leave the past behind and look forward to the future," he says.
Doros Theodorou believes that achieving a united island means putting extremists and political fanaticism to the side: "Times are right for unification of the island, yes there was the Turkish invasion and yes there was "1963", still, people now are more educated and can live together. Extremists will always exist everywhere," he says.
So the dream of reunification stays alive. But like any dream, sometimes it is hard to remember after waking up to the daily reality of status quo, fear of the future, mistrust, political in-fighting and Turkish occupation troops which are always there, always armed, always dividing...and always menacing.