Every time I mention my somewhat recent trip to Karpasia/Karpaz, I almost stutter as my brain experiences a moment – just for a split second – where I can’t decide whether to use the Greek or Turkish name. I usually choose the former: Karpasia. And then as the words leave my mouth, I regret it.
For anyone living in the south during the 80s and 90s and watching the state broadcaster (CyBC) – which of course everyone did as there were very few channels – it’s hard to forget the five-minute videos screened in a slot before the eight o’clock news of ‘occupied Kyrenia’ (κατεχόμενη Κερύνεια), ‘occupied Kythrea’ (κατεχόμενη Κυθρέα), ‘occupied Morphou’ (κατεχόμενη Μόρφου) and ‘occupied Famagusta’ (κατεχόμενη Αμμόχωστος). In fact, they were creepy black and white stills of far away places that we didn’t know and would probably never know. Making these black and white stills even creepier was the eerie high-pitched music that accompanied them.
Referring to place names in the north by their Greek names seems to make them heavy with emotion and nostalgia, even for a new generation of Cypriot, who’s only getting to know their country as a whole now. I might be saying Kyrenia/Κερύνεια but what I really mean is αδούλωτη Κερύνεια (unconquered Kyrenia). Perhaps I’ve just seen too many stickers on car windows and walls over the years driving the message home of αδούλωτη Κερύνεια (unconquered Kyrenia) to know any better.
Yet, referring to them by their Turkish name, seems to evoke feelings of a somewhat unknown place; something that’s still very new. It doesn’t matter if the Turkish name of a village or town always existed, this generation may not know those names.
However, systematic name changing is not just a policy implemented solely in the north but also in the south, when in 1994 the south replaced place names, considered to have been imposed by imperialist rulers, with a more Greek version. For example, on some road signs Nicosia was changed to Lefkosia and the ‘c’ in Larnaca was changed to a ‘k’ (Larnaka).
The utilisation of a town’s Turkish name or changing the names of towns in the north to accommodate its changing demographic has long been a bone of contention for Greek Cypriots, even though the changing of names by both communities began long before the division of the island (it was started by various municipalities in the 1950s).
In 2008, Turkish Cypriot academic Mehmet Hasgüler proposed what could be considered today as a great idea for a confidence building measure. He proposed that Greek village and town names could stand alongside their Turkish equivalents on road signs in the north.* Hasgüler argued that accepting the old names alongside the new Turkish ones on road signs would not negate the existence of a centuries-old Turkish culture on the island, but would in fact make people realise that Turks had been on the island for centuries.
*Article originally appeared in the Cyprus Mail in 2008
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