News of the coronavirus pandemic has dominated our lives and our news feeds for many months now. However, a very close second has been the unfolding of the Black Lives Matter protests not just in the US, but globally.
I would never presume to know enough about the global movement of Black Lives Matter, and most importantly its roots, to even attempt any analysis of that. However, it did get me thinking about our own situation here, and how day by day division and separateness is being exacerbated on this island.
This brings me to our homegrown situation: the Cyprus problem and Turkish Cypriots. At times, I still cannot comprehend the depth of separateness between our two main communities, as well as the ignorance between those two communities when it comes to knowing each other’s culture.
The crossing points dispersed across the island, allowing all Cypriots to cross from north to south and vice versa, have been open for 17 years. Perhaps, if you’re a dreamer you might imagine that by now every second person in the street would be able to tell you about a Turkish Cypriot friend of theirs. Perhaps we all thought the opening of the crossing points would lead to just that.
Anyone desiring a unified Cyprus has had expectations either since 1974, the Annan Plan or the most recent attempt in Crans Montana three years ago, which for many seemed like the last real attempt and opportunity at reunification.
The opening of the crossing points, one by one, was a step in the right direction, empowering us to take responsibility; both individual and collective. Yet still, some people have never even seen a Turkish Cypriot, let alone become friends with one.
It’s interesting that Turkish Cypriots are still seen as something exotic.
I came across an article recently titled, ‘Why stories with black protagonists are key to a child’s anti-racist education?’ The writer puts forward the notion that ‘the starting point for change is to focus on your sphere of influence’. She goes on to explain that for her this includes her friends, family and work, highlighting the significance of using her voice. Most importantly, it is simply not enough to mean well, we must also take action.
I will readily admit that I haven’t taken any action recently. And I still find it difficult opening conversations on the topic with people who may not have had any involvement in bi-communal activities. The subject still feels taboo; but shouldn’t.
It doesn’t matter that I can talk about it, it matters whether people of influence and people within their own communities and professions, can talk about their friendships with Turkish Cypriots. At this point, the many sentimental stories between the two communities cannot do anything more to make certain sections of society more accepting of ‘the other’. Wouldn’t there be more of an impact if people such as the president’s daughters came out and spoke about friendship with a Turkish Cypriot? It would certainly make a splash! (we all know this would never happen by the way)
I want to hear young entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, teachers, students and so forth speak about their experiences with Turkish Cypriots.
As the years march on, the island’s division deepens and evolves, so we must find better and more interesting ways to promote solidarity among its communities. It is no longer enough to spout that old adage that once upon a time Greek and Turkish Cypriots lived together in harmony. We need fresh stories and we need them now, especially as the corona virus provides our politicians with the perfect excuse to make crossing that little bit harder.
We need them, so that both communities can finally stand by and support each other regardless of a solution.
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