The last waltz
“Always we think we are utterly ready,
and always, when the curtain rises and it’s too late by then,
we see that something was left behind.”
The words of the late Cypriot poet Costas Montis were a premonitory vision to this summer’s last delusion. Will it be forever “too late” for the reunification of Cyprus?
The three-day Crans-Montana Conference, in Switzerland that ended on Friday July 7, 2017 “without an agreement being reached” failed to reach any form of agreement. After a session marred by yelling and drama, participants and the representatives of the Cyprus Guarantor powers: Greece, Turkey and UK all left with a bitter after taste, as this time, the odds were all in favour of an agreement, and it may be a while when such favourable circumstances come forth again. Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General had urged the parties to “seize this historic opportunity” but it didn’t happen. So what has caused the talks to collapse another time?
At this time more than 35 000 Turkish soldiers are still stationed in the northern part of the Mediterranean island, and that presence, is the major stumbling block of the talks. Forty-three years since July 1974, and the withdrawal of the Turkish troops is still the cornerstone of the stalemate. Ankara refuses to withdraw their battalions justifying their presence as necessary to ensure the security of the Turkish Cypriot minority.
At the LEDRA checkpoint there is a huge billboard jeering a “FOREVER” Turkish occupation, when Greek Cypriots want a complete withdrawal of the troops and their substitution by the UN peacekeeping force.
“There will be no sunset clause … and Turkish troops will be staying on the island because this is the demand of the Turkish Cypriots,” hammers the Turkish Government, in the mouth of Cavusoglu. Furthermore Turkey is adamant that it will not cede its role as Guarantor along Greece and the UK, even in the event of a reunification process, to the dismay of UN envoy Espen Barth Eide who has been working tirelessly to craft a solution. To further taunt the Greek Cypriots, the Turkish army has shaped two monumental flags with coloured stones on the southern slope of the Kyrenia mountains, that can be seen from afar, arriving by plane and from everywhere in the capital Nicosia……
On the Green line, in the NO Man’s Land where the UN soldiers have been housed in the old Ledra Palace hotel, exits an Indian police officer, Siraj, from a unit of three, part of a total of 69 who are there to assist the UNFICYP UN peace-keeping mission. He said he was “tired of being here” and aspired to go back to India as the division seemed impossible to mend. Nevertheless, at the ‘Ledra crossing,’ a lot is done to unite young people from both communities. The yearly chess tournament is a success, and now ‘The Home of Cooperation,’ -opened in 2011- is the vibrant location for new ideas: “equality without segregation” for Turk Cypriots with Greek Cypriots. This summer ‘The Buffer Fringe Performing Arts Festival’ celebrates fluidity with a blend of artistic forms for innovative artwork. Some of the events are scheduled in Paphos, the European Capital for Culture of 2017. On the Ledra passageway between resentments and provocation, on a daily basis mix musical bands compose and jam, and perform on Thursday nights!
Inside the island, in spite of their desire to unite, people are less creative about the resolution of the situation and remain mitigated; they have unresolved issues that would possibly even sway their vote against reunification in a referendum, like the one they voted against in 2004. In his novel, ‘The Land That Gave Us Birth’ published in 1999, Andreas Onoufriou sheds light on “the enclaved,” meaning the Greek Cypriots who have chosen to remain in the north after the invasion.
Most of them are now elderly and poor farmers, less than a thousand in all, but Onoufriou’s story is moving, it is that of a girl who was an artist and chose to stay in 74, and all the sufferings she had to go through because of that decision. The “enclaved” are the exceptions, the actual scar still oozing bitterness comes from the Greek Cypriots displaced from the north, who were evicted from their homes overnight and lost everything. Onoufriou was amongst the lot, originally from the town of Famagousta he lost all his first writings, along with everything else. Georgia was going to get married in Limassol that day, instead she fled Famagousta for Patras, Greece where eventually, she married the man she had chosen, but has never seen her Famagousta home ever since. She wonders about what has happened to all her clothes and objects she had left behind. She had left in a simple dress, with her negligé and her wedding gown in a small suitcase. Georgia is psychologically ready to go back, but as of today, she can only see her home from the sea.
As usual in these ‘ethnic rearranging’ situations, Greek Cypriots from the north fled to the protected area of the south and were welcomed by the likes of Onoufriou, who worked for one of the Cypriot government agency to host the “Refugees in their own country.” That’s how he collected the information to write his first book in 1978, on the ‘inside’ refugees. The US alongside their proxys in Athens, still sent some money and donations to help the Cypriot refugees from the north. Nixon’s real politics led by Kissinger, had no qualms supporting the Greek Junta to overthrow Msgr Makarios, (the coup failed, downing the Greek colonels in the process) and later supporting the socialist Pasok that had taken over after the fall of the junta and who supported Makarios. Declassified CIA papers attest that when Turkey invaded Cyprus in July 1974, “Kissinger was only concerned about the continued operation of U.S. intelligence bases in Turkey and three in the presently under Turkish military control and occupied north zone of Cyprus: Yerolakkos, Mia Milia, and Karavas. Eventually, these listening stations were evacuated in 1975 by CIA agents and U.S. Marines.” The ex-colonial power, Britain, with its newly elected Labour PM, Harold Wilson, were not in a position to alter the traditional alliance with Turkey “There should also be sanctions: a more effective Turkish presence on the island was essential, and Turkey wished to bring this about in co-operation with the British Government as the other guarantor, in order to safeguard both communities.” account declassified papers from the Public Records Office. Still today, with 3% of Cyprus being British territory (with 3 military bases and multiple listening facilities), many in Cyprus see the Turkish 1974 offensive as yet another, a post colonial, betrayal from the British.
In Larnaca alone, two hundred thousand refugees had come overnight from the north, explained Louis Perentas, a poet and an activist on the Larnaca Literary scene. Writers’ associations active today function in the tradition of the old days, elucidates Perentas, when Greek activists like Melina Mercouri and Mikis Theodorakis met in Cyprus because they were exiled from Greece by the military Junta. During the dark years of oppression in Athens, from 67 to 74, Cyprus had become the rally point of the Greek intelligentsia.
Today activists still collect stories of people who were dispossessed of all their family belongings and ancestral lands, but they don’t just stop there: ‘Myths and Tales from/across the Divide’ is a performance based on a cross communal dialogue stemming from thematic research, intimate sharing and practical theatre work. The result is a set of moving exchanges on a basketball court (as a stage) that reaches beyond the established narratives on both sides. On the other hand Greek and Cypriot soldiers are shown the ‘Imprisoned Graves’ museum where the British Gallows and prison have been preserved as a testimony of the brutality of their repression against the Independence of Cyprus before the 1960s. The rhetoric of injustice and resentment against the Turks is ever present, though admittedly, Perentas insists on saying that before the independence the island was a model of integration between Christians and Muslims, people lived together with no religious discrimination or divide between neighbourhoods. Before leaving the island in 1956 Lawrence Durrell, in his novel “Bitter Lemons of Cyprus” describes a complex mix of Love-Hate sentiments for the British, that could be translated to the attitudes towards the Turkish Cypriots today and that renders any kind of peaceful solution postponed indefinitely.
As Montis, the poet, put it “when the curtain rises and it’s too late by then,” a mental procrastination deadlock is preventing Cypriots from that essential trust to line the negotiations, and, the context of tensions in Turkey, the authoritarian regime in Ankara foreshadow no possible improvement, anytime soon… again, it’s too late.