Friday, April 27, 2012

An Italian Girl in... Cyprus

Curious to know something about the EU? Beyond the currency crisis and the jokes about the virtuous Germans and the lazy Italians (you're reading about a lazy Italian on my posts already)? A very interesting debate before the European newspapers were phagocytize by the euro shocks was the "Turkey in, Turkey out" issue. Beside religious and cultural aspects, there is a key point that is freezing negotiations since 1974: Cyprus. An isle located in the far Easter extreme of the Mediterranean sea, in front of Lebanon. How can one of the smallest State of the EU be so problematic? You need to visit it to get to know.
Cyprus has historically owned a double identity: a Greek orthodox and a Turkish Muslim one. In 1878 Great Britain signed a 99-year long agreement with the ruling Ottoman empire to control the island which became part of the British empire during WW1. In the 30s the Greek Cypriots began to praise the enosis, that is the unification with the rest of Greece, while the 17% Turkish minority asked for a division of the island in two States. Cyprus got finally independent from Great Britain in 1960. The political system would have ensured a proportional representation  to the two ethnic groups, still the internal conflicts kept increasing, until a climax in 1974. In that year, the Greek military regime tried to took over Cyprus hence completing the enosis. Despite the failure of the golpe, the Turkish army invaded the Northern part of the island. It was July 1974 and since that moment Cyprus is divided into two States despite decades of diplomatic efforts to solve the "Cypriot issue". The Republic of Cyprus - in the South - is a member of the European Union. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is only recognized by Turkey and basically it's an extension of it. Until 2003 it was not possible for inhabitants to cross the demarcation line that cuts the island. Many people lost houses, friends and their everyday lives and were forced to move to the "right" part of the Country on the basis of their language and religion, Lefkosia is the only capital city split into two areas by a check point nowadays.
But what does it mean to live in a divided Country? Every Cypriot has its own answer to tell you. You might hear the story of an old man - like Takis, a greek speaker- who used to live in the Northern part and had to live his house and job in 1974. "My wife and myself restarted from scratch, betting on the tourism sector. We now own a hostel in Lemesol,but we lost all our properties and cannot have them back". Or you can hear the opinions of the young who grew up in the global economy era but couldn't cross their island until 2003. Alexis, a 33-year old public employee in Larnaca , is skeptical about the solving the Cypriot issue: "There is no solution to it, at least until Turkey sends people from mainland to Cyprus" he states, convinced that the reunification is utopia. Indeed, the Northern republic is living a strong wave of immigration which is increasing the Turkish-speaking population, seen as increasingly worrying in terms of cultural and religious clashes. "Turk Cypriot have never been fanatic" declares Yusuf, in his small shop in North Lefkosia "we fasten during Ramadan and pray at the mosque but we have never discriminating anyone. Those who are arriving nowadays, well, maybe it's different".
I looked for a convincing answer to the Cyprus puzzle during all my journey: visiting the amazing archaeological sites of Paphos and Kurion, wandering through the streets inside the Venitian walls of old Lefkosia, enjoying a swim at the sunset in Larnaca bay, relaxing in the Trodos villages, dreaming the East in Gyrenia, having a chat with locals in front of a delicious pita me halloumi. I found "my" answer in Lemesol, by chance, on a Friday morning as the town imam was opening the mosque for the prayer. "Would you like to visit our mosque?" he asked me politely, making sure I would take off my shoes. "I have been the imam here for years. Things have changed in the Country but have a look at the opposite side of the street" he told me "there is a Greek orthodox church in front of our mosque. The pope and myself we often play tavli in the afternoon: this is Cyprus". He is right: this is the essence of this enchanted island: its contradictions and differences, its cultures to discover and especially, its people. Greek, Turks, Christian, Muslims: all of them are different but all of them are able to make you feel home. Because after all, as the old imam in Lemesol told me "we are the same: we have something good and something bad".

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