Far from Nicosia’s sandbagged dead ends, a recent trip to Rizokarpaso/Dipkarpaz opened my eyes to another way that the Cyprus problem is being experienced.
Undoubtedly, we all have differing opinions on the Cyprus problem, the current status quo and how to reach a solution. However, I would go so far as to say that many of us who grew up in the south tend to view the divide through a set of popular slogans/propaganda. Whether we choose to buy into those slogans and propaganda is another matter though.
We were taught the following: Rizokarpaso is where a couple of hundred Greek Cypriots refused to leave after 1974 and then continued to live with the influx of Turks from mainland Turkey. These Greek Cypriots are known as the ‘enclaved’ (οι εγκλωβισμενοι) and they regularly receive aid, in the form of food packages, from the UN (as they are considered enclaved).
However, the story of Rizokarpaso is also one of integration and determination. And at least two generations later, the Rizokarpaso that exists in all our minds and perhaps even our imagination, is long gone.
I had no choice but to let my own misconceptions fall away as I heard Turks speaking Greek outside Apostolos Andreas and conversations started in Greek and finished in Turkish.
On our first day in the village, we gravitated towards a small café in the village square owned by an ‘enclaved’ person. While we drank our Cypriot coffee outside (Charalambous coffee in fact), inside the café, the owner and her daughter moved between Greek and Turkish. When she spoke Greek, her Cypriot accent was different, it was reflective of a person that spoke another language and that language was not English, it was Turkish. Outside, her brother was playing pool with some fellow villagers – I strained to hear his Turkish, to hear him faulter, maybe mispronounce something – he did not.
Naturally, I had to ask her what it was like living there. What I really meant to ask though (but didn’t say), given everything that we’ve heard over the years about the ‘enclaved’ in Rizokarpaso, was what was it like living amongst Turks? She answered simply that she loved her village and could not imagine living anywhere else.
Let me note that this was not my first visit to the village, but my second. However, this was the first time I had allowed myself the freedom of just chatting to people; letting my curiosity get the better of me.
Even though everything felt contrary to what I knew and expected, nothing felt amiss. It was a comfort to know that this place exists; quietly defying what we thought they were.
By the end of my trip I felt a disconnect in using the word ‘enclaved’ to describe them. Would they even use it to describe themselves, I wonder.
*Enclaved: Any small, distinct area or group enclosed or isolated within a larger one.
*Post-1974, Greek Cypriots and also Maronites remained in other villages of north Cyprus – Rizokarpaso was not the only village.