my Cyprus, my Κύπρος, my Kıbrıs

Who am I? (according to science)

As most readers of this blog know identity and ethnicity are two particular topics that have occupied space in my mind for a long time now, and are central to the blog’s theme. I’ve turned over in my mind time and time again what it means for me to be a Greek-speaking Turkish Cypriot who grew up in the south and what it means generally to be a Cypriot, taking into consideration Cyprus’ current political status.

For the ultimate physical test at least, a dear friend of mine bought me a DNA Ancestry Kit. So I did it, sent off my samples, waited about six weeks then went online to check my results. Bear in mind I had perhaps some idea of what I imagined the results would be as a half Irish, half Turkish Cypriot person.

Based on my DNA sample a comprehensive analysis is carried out to identify thousands of genetic markers in my DNA, which are passed down from generation to generation. By examining the order in which these markers occurred over time, the genetic markers can be followed and subsequently the journey of my ancestors across the globe.

The results were so in depth for some aspects going back thousands of years, that months later I’m still going through them. However, to give you a very basic overview in terms of modern day geographic areas and percentages, the test revealed the following about me: 34 per cent Western and Central Europe, 24 per cent Great Britain and Ireland, and 23 per cent Asia Minor with minor percentages from Southern Europe, Arabia and a few other areas.

Interestingly, the percentage of our DNA that comes from each of our ancestors drops by half as we go back through the generations, so perhaps my eight per cent from Southern Europe goes back four to five generations. The example used to explain how the percentage drops, claims that if my great grandmother (three generations removed) was 100 per cent Native American, that would show up as around 12 per cent of my DNA.

These percentages alone give a whole new meaning to the question ‘where are you from’? Do I answer Potamia? Or do I reel off some statistics about my ancestry?

They also render meaningless the calls by nationalists for any community of Cyprus to go back to their roots or ‘country of origin’ (they usually mean Turkey or Greece) if they do not like the way in which the majority rule the island.

According to the Republic of Cyprus, my community is Turkish Cypriot, or going by some recent comments at the District Office (Επαρχο) my ethnicity is Turkish. For anyone not following me on Facebook, I recently went to apply for a Cypriot passport and was subjected for the third time – since age 18 when I applied for an ID for the first time – to the apparently usual policy of the passport (or ID) taking a month to be ready, as it has to be checked by the police and/or Ministry of Interior (due to my Turkish ethnicity).

First of all, the fact that someone in a government office said the words ‘Turkish ethnicity’ to me is beyond inappropriate within any context. The definition of ethnic group is a social group that shares a common and distinctive culture, religion and language. However this term alone is riddled with complications in a place like Cyprus and bound to cause offence.

I can pull apart the above definition of my so-called Turkish ethnicity by saying that I have a Cypriot culture, I am a Catholic and Turkish is my third language (as opposed to being my mother tongue). And once upon a time I couldn’t even claim to speak the language.

Undoubtedly, this is not the case for everyone but there are others who simply cannot fit into these carefully constructed boxes or terms. Perhaps in a new unified Cyprus we can re-examine what it means to be Cypriot without referring to people’s so-called roots in such an official manner?

8 thoughts on “Who am I? (according to science)

  1. Anna

    On a slightly comical tone to this real problem; maybe the republic should buy all fanatics a genetic test kit, with the condition that all return back to their ‘respective areas’ which in this case would be the max % DNA-region allocation!

  2. Susan.

    A paper published in the British Medical Journal in 1958 (well before DNA) clearly showed that ‘Greek’ Cypriots and ‘Turkish’ Cypriots were genetically the same, as evidenced by blood groups and markers. Cypriots were very similar to European Turks, Anatolians and Lebanese but not at all similar to Greeks.

    Of course, this finding was not politically expedient so was vehemently rejected by the larger group on the island. Even now, the academic article has only been cited by 5 other authors. It’s a hot potato. But today, when many Cypriots are working hard for reunification, perhaps it should be widely disseminated. Cypriots are not Turks or Greeks, but Cypriots.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2026578/

    1. mycyprus Post author

      Hi Susan,

      Thank you for sharing that link 🙂 It looks fascinating! Yes a study was carried out by a specialist doctor (on a particular disease) a couple of years ago too and there were similar findings: that Greek and Turkish Cypriots are closer genetically than they are to their supposed motherlands. Unfortunately, I doubt even this will convince fanatics…..

  3. toullabowman

    For a number of years I wonder where I decented. I am greek Cypriot and lived in a mixed village till the age of 18 when I went to the Uk.
    I have dark skin and straight hair but 2 of my siblings have very curly hair especially my youngest brother and all his children have curly hair but his son has almost Afro hair
    Since we were under the Ottoman Empire for 400 year and my village was occupied by Turks and had a harem as far as the eldest are telling us. My great grand father was working for the Turks in the village looking after the horses and as far as I know they changed his name and called him Castellanos meaning in charge of the horses.
    My grand father and father were very dark skin and we all came out darkish skin.
    How do I find out where we decent. I feel we have Anatolia blood in us.
    I would be very interested to know
    Thank you

    1. mycyprus Post author

      Hi Toulla 🙂 Thank you for your comment. We are what we feel after all. In any case we all have such a mixed ancestry, it’s hard to know where to start. Which village are you from? Your story sounds fascinating!

      1. toullabowman

        I come from Palekythro near Nocosiz which was a mixed village until 1963 when the Turkish people were forced by Dectash to move out and gone to the nearby Turkish villages but kept coming back quietly to see their Greek Friends.
        We got on very well and had lots of Turkish friends and as children we played together.
        My father was a farmer and had lots of Turkish people working for us and coming to our house for a meal.I remember one guy used to call my mother sister in Law and I always wonder why but unfortunately I never asked why.
        I still have lots of Turkish friends in England but not from my village.
        My village now is on the Turkish occupied zone. I went to see my house and I was broken hearted to see the changes been made. It has became unrecognized.
        All the memories came back but with a lot of sadness.
        My children are half Greek and half English so I transferred (my parents house which its now mine) to my children and grandchildren hoping one day they will go back to my roots. x

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