As most readers of this blog know identity and ethnicity are two particular topics that have occupied space in my mind for a long time now, and are central to the blog’s theme. I’ve turned over in my mind time and time again what it means for me to be a Greek-speaking Turkish Cypriot who grew up in the south and what it means generally to be a Cypriot, taking into consideration Cyprus’ current political status.
For the ultimate physical test at least, a dear friend of mine bought me a DNA Ancestry Kit. So I did it, sent off my samples, waited about six weeks then went online to check my results. Bear in mind I had perhaps some idea of what I imagined the results would be as a half Irish, half Turkish Cypriot person.
Based on my DNA sample a comprehensive analysis is carried out to identify thousands of genetic markers in my DNA, which are passed down from generation to generation. By examining the order in which these markers occurred over time, the genetic markers can be followed and subsequently the journey of my ancestors across the globe.
The results were so in depth for some aspects going back thousands of years, that months later I’m still going through them. However, to give you a very basic overview in terms of modern day geographic areas and percentages, the test revealed the following about me: 34 per cent Western and Central Europe, 24 per cent Great Britain and Ireland, and 23 per cent Asia Minor with minor percentages from Southern Europe, Arabia and a few other areas.
Interestingly, the percentage of our DNA that comes from each of our ancestors drops by half as we go back through the generations, so perhaps my eight per cent from Southern Europe goes back four to five generations. The example used to explain how the percentage drops, claims that if my great grandmother (three generations removed) was 100 per cent Native American, that would show up as around 12 per cent of my DNA.
These percentages alone give a whole new meaning to the question ‘where are you from’? Do I answer Potamia? Or do I reel off some statistics about my ancestry?
They also render meaningless the calls by nationalists for any community of Cyprus to go back to their roots or ‘country of origin’ (they usually mean Turkey or Greece) if they do not like the way in which the majority rule the island.
According to the Republic of Cyprus, my community is Turkish Cypriot, or going by some recent comments at the District Office (Επαρχο) my ethnicity is Turkish. For anyone not following me on Facebook, I recently went to apply for a Cypriot passport and was subjected for the third time – since age 18 when I applied for an ID for the first time – to the apparently usual policy of the passport (or ID) taking a month to be ready, as it has to be checked by the police and/or Ministry of Interior (due to my Turkish ethnicity).
First of all, the fact that someone in a government office said the words ‘Turkish ethnicity’ to me is beyond inappropriate within any context. The definition of ethnic group is a social group that shares a common and distinctive culture, religion and language. However this term alone is riddled with complications in a place like Cyprus and bound to cause offence.
I can pull apart the above definition of my so-called Turkish ethnicity by saying that I have a Cypriot culture, I am a Catholic and Turkish is my third language (as opposed to being my mother tongue). And once upon a time I couldn’t even claim to speak the language.
Undoubtedly, this is not the case for everyone but there are others who simply cannot fit into these carefully constructed boxes or terms. Perhaps in a new unified Cyprus we can re-examine what it means to be Cypriot without referring to people’s so-called roots in such an official manner?
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