my Cyprus, my Κύπρος, my Kıbrıs

Coming face to face with identity

IMG_20160407_090623For most of us, our day to day lives don’t consist of going around thinking constantly, ‘Oh I’m Turkish Cypriot, I’m Greek Cypriot, oh I’m Maronite,’ or at least we shouldn’t be. Identity and the Cyprus problem may be consuming and affecting our lives in other ways, but most of us do not feel the need to talk about it every day, or mention anything about our ethnicity.

That’s why I wanted to talk about the times when we do actually come face to face with our identity and what that may mean to us and everyone else, whatever side of the dividing line they may be from.

Once upon a time we were simply Muslim or Christian. Were those the simpler days? Or were we once again being ‘put in a box’.

Coming face to face with our identity for many of the new generation is something quite new. We encounter it when we cross the borders and when we need to fill out official documentation, or visit a government office.  And for anyone who doesn’t cross very often having someone jump out at you to eagerly ask whether you’re Greek Cypriot (or Cypriot which actually implies Greek Cypriot) is startling, confusing and unnecessary.

In this light I want to mention one particular incident that took place at the Eparho (District Office) recently. I paid a visit to the Eparho to register on the electoral list – in order to vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections. I was subjected to a 10-minute interview, my form was signed and then the form went off to the ‘mukhtar’ to be certified (for non-Greek and non-Turkish speakers this is the head of local government of a town or village). The following morning my mother went back to the Eparho to submit the form to the ladies downstairs, one of whom proceeded to mutter to herself as to whether minorities could vote and that she had to check with her superior. If minorities on this island couldn’t vote we would have a very big problem, and it wouldn’t be just the fact that this government employee knew nothing about voting rights. Besides, the form was ready and certified by the mukhtar, all she had to do was process it.

Other places where we are all subject to face control, facial/racial profiling – whatever you might like to call it – are the border crossings, or to be exact the Greek Cypriot police. Once upon a time there was a small language test that they would implement for those crossing back into the south. So instead of asking to see every single person’s ID they would say ‘yeia sou’ and if you answered the same it meant you were Greek Cypriot and could therefore cross, no questions asked. I have to admit that I have answered ‘yeia sou’ many times. Someone that I was with once answered ‘hello’ and was subsequently questioned as to why he hadn’t answered in Greek since he was Greek Cypriot! Unfortunately there have been too many of these types of stories since the borders opened.

Identity is not only a social construct but it is also something very fluid. It is up to each and every one of us to decide how we feel about our ethnicity and the community to which we belong. And now it is also up to us to get that message across.

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