Last weekend, here in North Cyprus we had a Beyram on the Saturday, which is a national holiday. On the night before, 39 years after the Turkish intervention, people gathered at Altinkya, on the north coast just down the road from where we live to keep a vigil. It’s where the Turkish troops landed in 1974 at 4.30am to liberate Turkish Cypriots from genocide by Greek and Greek-Cypriot forces, to remember the landings. People here see this as a hugely beneficial action by Turkey and remember those brave Turkish troops who died during the lands and subsequent fighting.
Saturday was Peace and Freedom Day with big celebrations, gatherings in the main cities of Famagusta, Lefkosia (Nicosia) and Girne (Kyrenia), and an astonishing aerobatics display off the Girne coast by the Turkish White Stars Air Display team. We had enjoyed watching them arrive from Turkey the previous day and carrying out some practice runs which took them past our apartment.
As I mentioned in my previous post on this subject, the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus as a formal entity was established on 15th November 1983 after intransigence by Greek-Cypriot leaders in making any serious steps to resolve the north-south conflict.
Greek-Cypriot and Greek governments went bonkers but the TRNC formalised a situation which had dragged on since the Turkish intervention of 1974. It gave recognition to the fact that Turkish-Cypriots were building their own economic and political structures in the 40% liberated from Greek-Cypriot genocide by the 1974 intervention, in the face of intransigence on the part of South Cyprus in reaching a resolution of the division of Cyprus.
The reality is that Greek-Cypriots aren’t interested in recognising that they lost the war, that they were the aggressors in the conflict, and that they need to compromise to reach a solution. Take the Annan Plan which was a United Nations proposal to resolve the partition of Cyprus. After various revisions and negotiations it was put to the Cypriot people as a referendum on 24th April 2004 with the following result: supported by 65% of Turkish Cypriots, but only 24% of Greek Cypriots.
Greek and Greek-Cypriot governments have acted shamefully and vindictively in villifying Turkey for its actions in protecting Turkish-Cypriots, trying to undermine any international links between the TRNC and overseas interests to the extent of even trying to intimidate international acts into not performing here. Students who came here on holiday last year as part of their school-leaving celebrations were told it was too dangerous, and they’d be raped by rampaging Turkish soldiers. In the event, the young people had a wonderful time and returned home with good stories about the real situation in North Cyprus.
For Turkish-Cypriots, the constant years of anti-North Cyprus propaganda have meant times of hardship, trying to build a society where they can be safe and build a future for themselves, their children and future generations. Many had moved from Greek-Cyprus to the north (as Greek-Cypriots moved from the north to the south) and had to re-establish themselves in different towns and villages. In the early years it was very tough, but things have been improving in recent years.
With the advent of the internet and social media, the isolation that Greek-Cypriot and Greek leaders have tried to maintain has gradually broken down. The truth about the history of Cyprus and the need for the Turkish intervention is getting more widely known. There is increasing support for the TRNC as people visit here and realise it’s not run as a police state, Turkish troops are not running amok, and Turkish-Cypriots are friendly, helpful, courteous, kind and have a wonderful sense of humour.
Yes, you do drive past barracks with Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot troops and you’re not allowed to take photographs. But the troop presence is hardly noticeable, and the only reminder of past conflicts are the occasional fly pasts of the odd army helicopters and occasionally a fighter je
t. Troops maintain an almost invisible presence in public.
Although talks continue, presently chaired by UN representative, Alexander Downers, a former Foreign Minister of Australia, Greek-Cypriots continue to present stumbling blocks:
*talking of unconditional talks but demanding the return of Maras, a no-man’s land south of Famagusta, before talks can continue;
* just recently passing a law making it illegal to use Turkish names so you can’t mention Girne (Kyrenia) or Ercan Airport in the south any more, which is absolutely pathetic and petty.
*in the case of the article I mentioned in my previous blog about the histor
y of North Cyprus, swamping any media reports favourable to North Cyprus with indignant, self-pitying comments
* downgrading the representative responsible for talks on the Cyprus situation
* going bananas when Mr Downer spoke of “Greek-Cypriots”.
The irony for those in South Cyprus is that, after years of gloating about economic security and well-being, while Turkish-Cypriots have to had to struggle painfully to build their economic and social and political structures, South Cyprus courtesy of its exposure to the Euro, its membership of the European Community and its out-of-control banking sector, has now ended up in dire financial strife. You could say it’s karma come back to bite them on the backside.
What’s it like living in the North Cyprus of today? Well, we think it’s a piece of paradise. For my husband and me it’s rather nice living in a country where the big multinationals don’t have a presence. There are no KFC or MacDonalds outlets. There are no big shopping malls, although it can be challenging to track down the small shop which has the particular goods you’re looking for. There are very few hoardings cluttering up the sides of the roads.
If you park your car, you can leave the windows open and the car unlocked because there is little or no car theft in North Cyprus. Why not? Think about it. Where do you go on a small island with a stolen car???? Yes, there is some crime but it is nothing like the levels of Western nations like the US, Britain or Australia. Prices here are pretty reasonable, particularly food and especially if you eat the local produce and don’t waste your money on imported, expensive food.
Yes, electricity is expensive, but where exactly is electricity cheap these days? The bureaucracy can be quite nutty and drive you barmy but if you smile, take a deep breath, keep a sense of humour and refuse to get uptight, it’s easy to manage the various ins and outs of car registration; residency permits and so on. Although yes, we do find it strange that you have to go to the local cop shop to find out if you have any parking fines because they aren’t posted out to you. The driving is quite insane – the only rule seems to be that there are no rules. Yet people are quite laid-back about the mad behaviour on the road, there is very little sounding of horns, no road rage, cars will let you in or cross over to get down a side road. And if you’re waiting to cross the road, most often cars will stop to allow you to cross. The down side though is that there is a high accident rate and a lot of road deaths because the driving really is quite manic and dangerous at time.
Above all, we love the laid-back pace of life here. People are valued, kids are loved and adored and considered the gift of God. When I had a minor car accident, all Turkish-Cypriot onlookers were concerned about was if I was okay. They pointed out that people were important and cars could be repaired. Yes, this is an Islamic nation but it is incredibly tolerant. I realised it was different the firs time I lined up at a supermarket check-out to see a big display of Durex condoms beside the counter!
You can wear what you like, whether traditional or up-to-date modern clothing and that’s fine. The sense of humour is great. People are tremendously helpful. When we had car trouble on first arriving in Girne, people poured out of restaurants to stand around, swap advice, offer help and take us under their wing until someone arrived to get our car started. We met lovely people in the first village we stayed at when we arrived who were incredibly helpful, warm and welcoming.
I love the fact that, if there are no customers in the store, owners will sit outside and swap stories or gossip with other shop-owners. We in the West have forgotten how to take time for people in our obsession with things, iPads, hurry, haste, long working hours and the importance of time for family, kids and friends. I know the slow pace of life here can drive some English ex-pats barking mad.
I am, of course, writing as an ex-pat. What Turkish-Cypriot people want for the future of their nation is a matter for them. There is some tension because the nation is reliant on Turkish funding, so there’s some conflict between wanting Cypriot independence balanced with the reality that Turkey is the paymaster. Having been to south Cyprus and lived here in North Cyprus, it’s hard to see how the island could be unified, given there are now distinct Greek and Turkish features in each section of the island.
But don’t forget people. Government leaders may stick their heads in the sand about cooperation with North Cyprus, but there are plenty of grassroots organisations where people are getting together to talk peace and build friendly relations between both Greek and Turkish peoples. Get-togethers take place in Lefkosia (Nicosia) and we saw the presence of Peace Dancers with people from both north and south when we visited the Buyukkonuk Eco-Festival, close to the Karpaz Peninsula.
What the future holds for Cyprus I have no idea. But what I do know is that North Cyprus is a warm, friendly and hospitable community who will choose their own future and who hold dear a future living in peace free from the conflict of the past.