Being the other, or at least feeling like the other, can come in many forms. It is a topic I keep returning to (including here in a very early blog post in 2015).
In Cyprus, where the dominant community is Greek Cypriot and also Greek Orthodox, belonging to another community or religion can sometimes feel somewhat isolating.
I was recently tasked with the role of maid of honour (koumera/κουμέρα) for a friend of mine. For months now the only thought on my mind was the church. What would I need to do during the ceremony? Anything? Everything?
I once attended a christening where I was asked to uncross my legs (by a priest or a priest’s assistant). Is it not unfair to imagine that every citizen of this island is either Greek Orthodox or perfectly familiar with the traditions of a particular denomination of Christianity? Are all Greek Cypriots familiar with the traditions and practices of all the other religions/denominations on the island?
The younger generation may not actually take heed of what the archbishop says or even go to church, but tradition and social pressures mean that most people do not dare speak out against the church; a stark reminder of the church’s long-standing influence.
Feeling like the other or indeed being the other can feel all the more entrenched in daily life when certain traditions and/or institutions reinforce that sentiment. Where ‘Cypriot’ oftentimes refers to being a member of the Greek Cypriot community, with all other communities falling by the wayside.
Our beautiful culturally diverse island consists of five communities, Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Latins, Maronites and Armenians. And as a result, it also consists of a number of different religions, various denominations of Christianity including Greek Orthodoxy and Catholicism, as well as Islam*.
I am embarrassed to say that the first time I attended a Maronite church service was a year and a half ago, and only as I happened to be in Kormakitis for a choir concert with Kibris Havalari/Cyprus Songs Association.
Part of living on this diverse island and calling yourself a Cypriot means being responsible for getting to know the other communities and their traditions, be they Greek Cypriot, Turkish Cypriot, Latin, Maronite or Armenian. Doesn’t it?
Many Turkish Cypriots – especially the younger generation –are not practicing Muslims, being considered Muslim only nominally.