Well, I'm one of those weird people who like certain numbers. And 44 is one of those. Even and symmetrical! Today in Cyprus though, it's a sad number. An even and symmetrical sad number.
What I am writing here is definitely not the whole picture. There is rarely a whole picture. But I felt the need to write a few words for my "circle" out there who might be wondering what's the problem with Cyprus, at least from my perspective.
If you know a bit of history of the 2 communities, skip the next 3 paragraphs.
What is the context
1. In Cyprus, for more than 5 centuries, there are both a Greek Cypriot community and a Turkish Cypriot one. That means that there are people here who speak Greek (mainly the Greek Cypriot dialect) and are traditionally mostly Christians - they also usually consider themselves Greek descendants (from the times before year 0 and on); and there are people who speak Turkish (a dialect as well) and are traditionally Muslim and also usually consider themselves descendants of Turks (mainly since the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus in the 16th century).
2. Both communities lived more or less harmoniously and both religions and languages were respected. The two communities were not living separately. After the Ottoman Empire comes the British rule. The smart British decide to divide the two communities: schools for GC in one village and for TC in another etc (you know how it goes). The island of Cyprus soon became an incubator of nationalistic passions ready to explode.
3. In the 50's, GCs started the fight against the British rule, aiming unification with Greece. After the fighting ended, the British gave us instead "independence." (I won't really explain the quotation marks here, but in short it's funny to be independent but then have 3 "guarantors" in the Constitution:UK, Greece & Turkey).
"Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots"
If you are a Cypriot, according to our marvelous Constitution, you need to be either Greek-Cypriot or Turkish-Cypriot. You can't just be CYPRIOT! (You can sense the British authorship there...) So, after the signing of the agreement for "independence" and the adoption of our Constitution, to put it bluntly, nothing went well: loads of inter-communal violence, political crises etc. The UN had to come over in the 60's with a peacekeeping mission (they are still here today, more than 50 years later). Things were not very much better really, and in the 70's, more violence erupted.
And here is when number 44 comes in. In 1974, 44 years ago, on the 15th of July there was a coup organised by a right-wing nationalistic paramilitary group against the President of Cyprus at the time (who was funny enough the Archbishop as well...). Five days later and exactly 44 years ago Turkey, under its "guarantor" hat, decides to intervene in order to "re-establish the Constitutional order." This intervention was considered by the UN an "invasion" and the territories under the Turkish rule an "occupied territory."
Today, the situation has not changed in terms of occupation, but the language has soften. No one talks in Europe about a part of EU territory under occupation (Turkish occupation), even though the whole island is part of the EU (with a special agreement concerning the occupied part). No one talks about occupation anymore. No one talks about the rights of the TC violated that are being violated and their isolation from the "outside world" as a community. Both GC and TC communities have suffered and still suffer from the war and its consequences. We forget too quickly and we only focus on our little bubble.
We know that GC and TC can harmoniously live together; it's happened before and it's happening now (in a smaller scale). With so much happening around us (wars and instability) we should build on the strong cards we have and build viable peace.
I don't know why I wrote this. I guess I needed to say something and express the sadness of the situation. But then also to reflect on the nice initiatives that are taking place to bring the 2 communities together and build a CYPRIOT identity instead of a "Greek Cypriot" and "Turkish Cypriot." And arts is always a good start to bring people together!