We were once happy, sharing in each other’s joys and sharing in each other’s pain and then Turkey came.
We’ve all heard this story time and time again, and I have to admit for a long time, I bought into this cheap and simplified version of our island’s history.
It’s certainly easier to believe in this oversimplified version of history but along this journey that I began some years ago now of educating myself on our island’s history, I realised that I had to just bite the bullet and face the complicated, more painful version of it.
Perhaps, we were once great together but the demise of a relationship never comes without warning; there are always signs along the way. Whether we choose to take heed though, is another matter.
You’re probably wondering about my rather cynical title?
Although I’m always surprised by the similarities between the two communities despite having lived separately for the better part of 50 years, there are tell-tale signs hinting that we may not be as comfortable with ‘the other’ as we would like to believe.
Having grown up in the south, I can only express my own experiences as a Turkish Cypriot living in the south and most importantly as a Greek speaker.
I have expressed in other blog posts here and here that being a Greek speaker changes everything in terms of someone’s perception of me as a Turkish Cypriot. Perhaps being a Greek speaker takes the ‘Turk’ out of my identity that little bit more than if I didn’t speak Greek? Perhaps this allows people that may not otherwise be comfortable, that little bit more comfortable with the ‘unknown’.
It’s very simple: we equate the Turkish language with Turkey, the enemy, the occupier, the rapist and generally all things bad and threatening. Do Turkish Cypriots feel this way about the Greek language (I’d like to know)? Do they equate it with a people that once held unification with Greece as the ultimate dream and the only way forward as a nation?
But back to my title: Why can we not be as we once were?
For a number of years – yes years – I went back and forth wondering whether I should write about this next part, fearing it may be counter-productive to fostering a positive environment between the two communities. Until I realised that I couldn’t write another post until I’d written this one.
Five years ago when I was part of a project in my village of Potamia, a young teacher working at the Potamia primary school, uttered the term Tourkalla/Τουρκάλλα (feminine version of the noun meaning Turkish woman), during our May fair (panayır/πανηγύρι), in reference to a Turkish Cypriot from the north, who has helping with the project.
I personally have never been called this, probably as I am in the very privileged position of also being a Greek-speaker, but I imagine that it is the ultimate insult – probably tantamount to calling a Greek Cypriot a Greek/Hellene/kalamara (squid), as in using this term, you appear to refute the person’s identity as a Cypriot.
I can count three times that I’ve heard a Turkish Cypriot being referred to as this, in my presence at least. I doubt it will be the last time.
We can never be as we once were if we use derogatory terms to refer to each other and if we believe that anyone is less Cypriot because they are a Turkish-speaker, and only a Turkish-speaker.
If we continue to oversimplify our history we run the risk of not standing up to its full force and thus never fully overcoming our feelings of pain, hatred and mistrust. We run the risk of falling into these stereotypical and racist linguistic traps, which ultimately betray our true feelings towards ‘the other’.
We cannot be as we once were because too much time has gone by, too much blood has been shed and too many harsh words have poured out of our mouths at each other and continue to do so.
We cannot be as we once were because many of us do not take on the Cyprus problem as our own personal crusade. It belongs to each and every one of us that lives on this island and it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to build a true future, in a very real Cyprus, based on a Cypriot identity, inclusive to all.
We cannot be as we once were because we cannot erase the past, but we can start anew, side by side as equals – on an emotional and intellectual level – Greek and Turkish-speaking Cypriots.