Cyprus protests: Storm in a teacup

Cyprus protests: Storm in a teacup

It is sometimes difficult to understand why people living in the same time frame and going through the same events remember them so differently. Cyprus is one of those cases. Listening to accounts of the same events on the island from Greeks and Turks, one would easily believe that there were two Cyprus islands, where one bad group of people is constantly trying to exterminate another group of people. Only under such a perceptional fiction can one understand why the Greek Cypriots behave as if they have so easily washed the blood from their hands and forgot about it.

Each time I talk with Archbishop Hrisostomos at his beautiful archiepiscopate office in the heart of the old quarter of Nicosia I feel as if he was just beamed down from outer space, with no idea about the great sufferings that the Turkish Cypriot people were compelled to go through by the Greek majority of the island. I could not stop myself and asked during my last interview with him how, as a man of religion, he could close his eyes to the inhumane isolation imposed on the Turkish Cypriot people by the Greek Cypriot government. Archbishop Hrisostomos is not just a man of religion; he is also a skilled politician capable of not hearing questions he dislikes. He simply pretended to not hear my question and continued telling me about how great it was when Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots lived together peacefully, celebrating each other’s religious holidays. He thus made me believe once again that he must have come from moon.
But I still have high respect for the archbishop. He has been persistent throughout all the past decades, and in none of our encounters has he told me a different story - even if it was difficult to understand how a man of religion could be so committed to such fiction. For him, Greek Cypriots have always been very good friends of Turkish Cypriots. They danced at each other’s weddings. They both enjoyed coffee and tea, celebrating each other’s religious days in an atmosphere of brotherhood. But did he not come from the mixed Turkish and Greek village of Paphos, where scores of Turkish Cypriots were killed and the entire Turkish population was compelled to seek refuge in securer Turkish helmets? His perception must have been different to that of Turkish Cypriots.

In a 2009 interview, for example, he had described Turkish mainland settlers on Cyprus as “parasites” who ought to be “washed off Cyprus” if a lasting and sustainable settlement is to be achieved. I could not believe my ears so asked him to clarify. He said it again. Years have passed since then so recently I asked him whether he still shared that view. He objected. “Not parasites. I didn’t say they are parasites. They are illegally on Cyprus and must go back Turkey,” he said.

On his part that was a great advancement: He no longer saw Turkish mainland people on Cyprus as “parasites.” But he was still clear: “Two leaders having coffee or going to the theater together cannot be sufficient for a resolution. For a settlement, the island must be left to Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Those [mainland Turks] who came illegally or were settled on Cyprus illegally to change the demography must go back.”

I asked him: As a man of religion, would he not consider those who settled on Cyprus after the intervention in 1974 to build a life on the island have a right to stay on after a resolution? He was clear again. He said that only those married to Turkish Cypriots or those who were born on Cyprus could stay. All the rest pack and go “to their homes in Turkey” after a settlement.

I did not consider the remarks of the archbishop to be newsworthy in our most recent interview. He said practically nothing new, apart from a remark that he heard a lot positive remarks about new Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı, but he was still maintaining his skepticism as he did not yet know the details of Akıncı’s views. I left the video recording of the interview with some Turkish Cypriot friends and told them that they may use it if they wanted to. One section of the interview, including the “for a settlement all settlers apart from those born on Cyprus or married to Turkish Cypriots must go back” remark, was aired by Ada TV. Since then there have been protests against the archbishop in northern Cyprus and a protest letter was presented in the buffer zone to a representative of the archiepiscopate.

Of course, it is normal for people to show sensitivity on remarks about themselves. But the archbishop said nothing new; if anything, he even toned down his remarks on settlers. So why this storm now?

I believe leaders are applying a strict news blackout regarding the latest round of talks, while an atmosphere of optimism about a possible resolution within months is being continuously pumped. Anxiety is therefore growing among mainland settlers that they might be sacrificed for a deal. No way. They have become more Cypriot than this writer, who has lived abroad since 1977. The protests, marches, and all the noise over my interview with the archbishop appear to me to be nothing more than a storm in a teacup.