I am the daughter of a refugee family from Limassol. I was born five years after my parents fled to the north in the summer of 1974. Nevertheless, my heart bleeds every time I go to Limassol, exactly the same way a refugee from Kyrenia hurts when visiting Kyrenia. And how can one feel so in-place and so foreign at the same time? How can one feel so much pity, and at the same time, anger towards her parents for leaving their hometown?
My first memories of Kyrenia have an armed Turkish soldier at the corner of our street, who used to stick his tongue out every time I passed by. It wasn’t until years later that it occurred to me to ask my father what an armed Turkish soldier was doing on our street. Apparently, that was one of the many checkpoints the Turkish army had within cities, where they randomly stopped and interrogated people.
My family never felt more Turkish than they felt Cypriot, and resented everyone and everything that caused Cyprus to be torn apart. Sampson and Denktash the same… Turkey and Greece the same… EOKA and TMT the same….
While my brother dropped out of university because he was sick and tired of the Turkish soldier pointing his gun at him every single morning as he was walking down the street to catch a bus – and one morning the soldier actually pulled the trigger, which was the final straw for my brother - I had to recite the Turkish national oath at school every Monday and Friday and learn Turkish history and geography. I was not taught about the Troodos mountains, but knew the name of every single river in Turkey. I was not taught about the shared history of Cyprus but the Turkish revolution.
And I guess it was around then when I started having my share of the identity crisis that is so common to all Turkish Cypriots …
“What do Greek Cypriots look like?” I remember asking my mother; not being able to conceive as a little girl, that those, who had 'committed so many evils' - as I was taught at school - could look like human beings.
As I grew older, I found out that Turkish Cypriots committed many evils too and that Greek Cypriots also suffered indescribable pain. I found out that there were many more Greek Cypriots, who helped Turkish Cypriots during the troublesome times of 1963 and 1974, than who hurt them, and vice versa. I found out that Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots together, are the real victims of a very sad history. And I realised in terror, the grave lack of understanding of and empathy about the other side’s pain and suffering.
Going back to being a Turkish Cypriot… For the majority of Turks from Turkey, Turkish Cypriots are simply Turks. “I am from Cyprus. – Oh, so you are a Turk! – No, I am a Turkish Cypriot. – Ok, so you are a Turk then, no?” the conversation goes. They don’t understand why you would make a distinction or insist that you are a Cypriot. And this reaction is rarely ill-intentioned or deliberate, but simply because of a lack of knowledge and interest.
The conversation with most Greek Cypriots is not necessarily uncomplicated either. “Where are you from? - I am from Cyprus. Ah milas ellinika! - No I don’t speak Greek – But why? You are from Cyprus!” And they don’t do this deliberately either. The intention is not to discriminate or humiliate. It is a natural reaction often displayed with honest astonishment and without much thought.
So, I don’t feel like a Turk and I am not a ‘proper’ Cypriot since I don’t speak Greek… Then, who am I?
Well, I know this much: I am a Turkish Cypriot, who believes that Cyprus should be one; who realises that we all had enough suffering, and that the status-quo is shameful, unacceptable and a utter humiliation to each and every one of us. I am a human being, who believes that all human beings are equal and therefore, Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriots are equal too. I am a pacifist, who believes that we can do much better than bickering over who is to blame and who suffered more. I am a mother, who believes that Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot children are beautiful all the same, and that they deserve much better than this...
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