“I am just Cypriot,” I find myself saying in an interview recently having already declared that I was half Irish, half Cypriot.*
For some Cypriots the question of identity is very simple: they may simply be Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot, for others identity tends to be more complex, requiring some kind of explanation.
I guarantee when you don’t look Cypriot, it requires even more of an explanation!
I have had my own thoughts on identity that I’ve spoken about on lots of occasions (here, here and here), mostly based on my unique experience of growing up as a Turkish Cypriot in the mixed village of Potamia in the south (of Cyprus).
Despite being able to have whatever opinions we like on identity though, the fact of that matter is that our identity is already defined for us in the constitution of the Republic of Cyprus.
The 1961 constitution outlines the five communities of the island and the criteria of belonging to that community. For example, Cypriots belonging to the Latin community are defined solely on the basis of religion; that religion is Catholicism. Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, are defined as Turkish-speaking and Muslim. Herein lies the problem. What if you happen to be a Turkish Cypriot who is not Muslim or Turkish-speaking? What if you’re a Greek Cypriot who is not Greek Orthodox?
Despite the constitution being quite clear, you’d be surprised how many Cypriots do not realise that the island is made up of five communities (Turkish and Greek Cypriot, Armenian, Latin and Maronite).
Having a more complex relationship with identity myself I tend to notice a glaring identity gaffe here and there.
Not long ago I came across a story in a well-known Cyprus-based newspaper on Afrika editor Şener Levent, noting how he had both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot citizenships. Dear friends, as I am sure you know, there is no Greek Cypriot identity card/passport or citizenship. In the eyes of our flawed yet existent constitution, we are all Cypriot. I was so distraught by what I’d read that I wrote to the editor to have it amended and I’m pleased to say that it was amended at least in the online version.
Last week, I happened to be crossing at Ledra Palace and the Greek Cypriot police officer, after doing a double take at my ID card, declared that it’s ‘Turkish’ and I have to present it at a different window. A caveat here; I only have a Cypriot ID card, what he meant was that since my ethnicity is Turkish Cypriot I had to have my details punched into the computer going and coming.
By the way, for anyone who has not crossed to the north in a while (a few years actually), there is a new policy whereby all ethnicities, whether you’re going or coming, have to be checked-in by the Greek Cypriot police too.
Meanwhile, I make my way to the window for Turkish Cypriots only to be met by a lady speaking passionately on the phone about someone’s documents. As she wanted to at least demonstrate some interest in checking my ID, she then slid the window open using a piece of wood and took my ID. When she eventually got off the phone, she asked me – I believe – in broken English whether I was coming from the other side or going. I tilted my head to one side, furrowed my brow and said ‘Sugnomi?’ (excuse me in Greek). She then proceeded to return my ID. As we were on our way across the buffer zone to the next crossing point, my mother points out to me, “You know she didn’t punch anything into her computer?”
She had presumed I was Greek Cypriot.
Identity can sometimes be very personal and complex. Each and every one of us can have whatever opinion we like on the subject, as long as we respect each other.
You can feel Greek, Turkish, Cypriot, Greek Cypriot, Anglo-Cypriot, Latin, Maronite and it’s fine.
Most importantly though, in order to respect each other we owe it to ourselves, and each of the five communities of the island, to take the time to educate ourselves about the communities to which we do not belong.
*Hoping to share the interview with you soon on my Facebook page. Without saying who is the organiser, it’s a project with interviews of various multi-lingual Cypriots of varying backgrounds and ages. I’m really looking forward to seeing some of the interviews, especially those of Greek-speaking Turkish Cypriots.
Wishing you all a very Happy New Year! And thank you for reading and inspiring me to keep writing, as hard as it is sometimes.