In its earnest efforts to resolve the Cyprus question, the UK has for decades done everything to comprehend the concerns of both the ‘Greek’ and ‘Turkish’ Cypriot communities in Cyprus. In its foreign policy and international peace plans the UK’s approach for the war-torn island nation has always centred on the hypothesis that the Cyprus problem is an ethnic issue.
This notion that people residing on the island are either the conflicting ‘Greeks’ or ‘Turks’ has, in more recent times, led the UK 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’. Was this just ignorance of the Cypriot identity and culture? Not at all! According to a great many academics, the origins of the UK’s characterisation policy stems from the colonial politics of divide and rule, when these perceived divisions would have acted as a useful control tool for administering the island. The principle of ‘divide et impera’ has always been a common feature to enable colonial powers to control their subjects. It has been a policy of imperial nations worldwide. According to Machiavelli, good leadership requires a leader to forcefully divide and separate opponents in order to weaken them.
In the case of Cyprus, this 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 the new republic was categorised as being either ‘Greek’ or ‘Turkish’ – 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 Maronites, Latins and Armenians, who had been established on the island for centuries, were put in the awkward position of having to choose which community they would ‘belong’ to.
Not to be too harsh, perhaps a mention that, in Cyprus, there do indeed live Cypriots was to be added later. But undoubtedly, this chain of historical errors hindered the development of an island-wide identity in the republic’s early days. In fact some may argue that it was this very policy that helped lay the foundations of division.
Predictably, with the denial of the existence of Cypriots coupled with outside influence by Ankara and Athens, Cypriotness 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 to most elderly ‘Greek’ and ‘Turkish’ Cypriots is still unimaginable. This low esteem in which Cypriotness was held by Cypriots was not the result of informed free choice but due to the fact that a sense of Cypriotness was never allowed to develop in modern Cypriot history since the island had until recently always been ruled by outsiders.
Importantly, neither of the externally-backed ‘nationalist’ organisations, EOKA or TMT, would have tolerated talk of such ‘nonsense’ in the zenith of their terror campaigns.
Cypriotness existed in pre-nationalist times
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, rising from the rubble and graves of the dead, Cypriotness has resurfaced, as if unconquerable.
In his article ‘Cypriotness in a historical perspective’, historian Dr Hubert Faustmann says, ‘Cypriots have always had a Cypriot identity, even in pre-nationalist times.’
Indicating deep origins, Dr 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.’
Change in the paradigm
Dr Faustmann is right to cite the importance of geography to Cypriotness, but philosophy too plays a role. To understand the change in the paradigm, 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. Aside 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 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, such as poet Neshe Yashin, journalist Sevgul Uludag and Academic Alev Adil, as well as film-director Panicos Chrysanthou, writer Tony Angastiniotis and novelist Andreas Koumi, are increasingly challenging the narrow communal perspective of the Cyprus problem. Are they all traitors? Not so unusual or marginalised perhaps, what they are doing is being and thinking as a Cypriot.
A class of Cypriots has been born. Yet in the Annan Plan there was no mention of Cypriots again! Another mistake.
Cypriot is a state of mind
Overshadowed by the political dimensions of the unresolved Cyprus question, Cypriots nevertheless exist. The Cypriot is not just a ‘Greek’ Cypriot or 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 and embracing Cyprus’s true multi-cultural heritage and identity. This is what being Cypriot really denotes. Whereas some ‘Turkish’ Cypriots 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 by ethnicity or religion, and therefore can grow faster than any of the other groups. From my own experience, Cypriots tend to be young, university educated and many will have had a philosophical change in thinking 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 to being ‘Greeks’ or ‘Turks’ of Cyprus.
Cypriots – a new voice
If the UK is serious about resolving the Cyprus problem and if its policy towards Cypriots is sincere, then it must update its perception of the Cyprus problem by no longer looking at it 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, the UK will only alienate chunks of both communities who view themselves as Cypriots.
What one ‘Greek’ Cypriot or ‘Turkish’ Cypriot says is not necessarily what a Cypriot who may also be a member of either community will endorse. Equally, the UK must not fall into the trap of dismissing progressive Cypriots today as simply ‘free thinkers’ or ‘peace activists’.
While it is true that they stand for peace, they are more importantly the voice of true Cypriots. It is time for the UK, as a guarantor power and active player in the resolving of the Cyprus question, to recognise and support this resurgent voice.
Alkan Chaglar, January 2008
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