Cyprus: where worlds converge

by Sanjena Sathian

Cyprus is a strange place. It’s small: 60% the size of Connecticut – and yet it’s like the whole world is here in some ways. We’ve wandered our way through circles of diplomats, who seem wholly unconcerned about tensions exploding on the island; we’ve been inside the United Nations Protected Area and visited the peacekeeping forces (UNFICYP) and the UNDP and everywhere we go we seem to encounter expats and we’re always hearing at least five languages at once. This is a place burdened with fundamental problems of what nationhood means, and yet surrounding its very local problems is a web of transnational and international interest. Cyprus seems to be where worlds are converging.

The Greek Embassy, though probably the most important in the south, is just one of many embassies and transnational representatives in Cyprus. (Sathian/TYG)

As if political divides between the northern (“Turkish”) Cypriots and the southern (“Greek”) Cypriots weren’t enough, Cyprus has a whole new set of issues of multiculturalism to deal with on top of trying to reconcile this ethnic conflict dividing the island since the 60s. Everywhere we go in southern Cyprus, we see ads proclaiming the cheapest prices for wiring money home – home being Sri Lanka, Nigeria, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Russia … it seems like there are more non-Cypriots here than Cypriots. I’ve used my limited Hindi and Nepali skills here already more than I’ve even attempted to communicate in Greek. And the north, too, has its fair share of separate immigration issues as it’s flooded by rural Turks coming to settle.

Centers offering the cheapest rates to wire money home are a common sight across southern Cyprus. (Sathian/TYG)

The “Cyprus problem” keeps being identified to us differently: some have called it a civil war, others an ethnic conflict, and others a totally non-ethnic and purely political situation. Whatever it is, the state of multiculturalism and immigration will affect the way the two sides interact with one another. In the south, the sentiment we’ve gotten is that the increasing numbers of immigrants are turning this into a more xenophobic place – and if you can’t tolerate immigrants in your society, how can you ever tolerate uniting with people who’ve been your enemies for thirty years?

A Hindi Bollywood movie playing in a Lebanese restaurant, where we ate falafel and drank Coke Zero with its labels in Arabic. Whew! (Sathian/TYG)

I can’t help but feel that Cyprus exemplifies a lot of what our generation has grown up understanding intiutively: the complexities that globalization bring to problems of nationalism. This is a conflict that’s been founded on fictions of the nation, on the imaginaries of national identities – but these identities are not essential or inherent: they are in constant flux, and that mercurical nature comes from an integrating and globalizing world. As Cypriot nationhood begins to change, and as more and more elements of other nations and cultures penetrate the two sides, the fundamental building blocks of this conflict, a national identity, will have to change. I wonder if that’s the only thing that will force this island into action. Finally.


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AKP Political Rally

by Raphaella Friedman

The elections are everywhere. You can’t walk the streets of Urfa or Istanbul without hearing the songs and slogans of Turkey’s many political parties. Minibuses with candidates’ faces plastered on them bump around city streets, the BOOM BOOM BOOM of the loud speakers breaking even the quiet of Friday prayers. Confident, stoic looking men gaze out from billboards at voters stuck traffic while pedestrians walk beneath colorful banners criss-crossing between buildings.  ‘Tis the season indeed.

Yesterday, the Globalist’s Urfa contingency decided to actively participate in the Turkish election experience, attending a political rally for Prime Minister Erdogan and the AKP, the current ruling party. Despite the characterization of AKP as pursuing a more conservative agenda, Erdogan’s posters depict him as a man of the people – all people. Businessmen, conservative women wearing hijabs, university students, secular women with uncovered hair, families, farmers, the list goes on. The Turkish population, especially in the East, overwhelmingly supports the AKP.

While I plan to take on the daunting task of outlining Turkish political parties in a later post, I thought I would focus on a different topic for now. Several of the Globalist’s female members had a particularly interesting experience at this rally, prompting me to consider the relationship between gender and public space.

These political flags can be seen advertising particular parties all over Turkey. (Friedman/TYG)

We walked to the rally in a group comprised of both males and females, and heard the reverberations of the AK Parti song long before we saw the thousands of people gathered beneath blue, orange and red flags and banners. It felt more like a rock concert than an election rally. The atmosphere was electric and contagious – I tingled with excitement, and many of us began singing and dancing along with the crowd, the reality of our political ambivalence forgotten. But as we made our way toward the throng of people, I felt the questioning eyes of men upon me. Other female Glo-members approached me, observing similar things. We were all asking the same question: where are all of the women?

Tensions and excitement ran high at the AKP rally. (Friedman/TYG)

A few of us enthusiastically pressed forward toward the stage, holding hands lest we lose each other, yet it soon proved impossible to break through the dense wall of bodies. We were caught in an increasingly unyielding sandwich of limbs and torsos, our faces smooshed against sweaty AK Parti tshirts. The men that had been staring at us began emphatically motioning for us to change course, to move to the side of the crowd. We were confused – did they want us to leave? We noticed a trail of colorful headscarves bobbing along the side of the increasingly boisterous crowd, and instinctively followed the line of women. As we wound our way through the crowd, men miraculously parted, politely, without any prompting. When we neared a wall, a few men formed a bridge with their hands pressing against the concrete, creating an opening and restraining the swelling crowd lest it crush us. Finally, we emerged at the very front of the stage. It was as though we had climbed through the wardrobe to emerge in Narnia: all around us were women!

Finally: women at the rally! (Friedman/TYG)

It was incredible – a far cry from the sweaty madhouse of the men’s section, but equally exuberant. I couldn’t see more than a foot in front of me, the sea of waving orange blue, and red flags dense enough to render the stage invisible. The women all wore headscarves, but of such variety. Some wore shiny and floral hijabs, while others were shrouded in black. There were also a large number of Arab-Kurdish tribal women, identified by their trademark lavender head scarves and black facial markings. We sang and danced together. The women were incredibly friendly, far more so than in any other setting in which I had been with them. We all smiled at one another, light danced in our eyes. One young girl handed me her flag.

The women at the rally were all congregated at the front of the group. (Friedman/TYG)

As I mentioned before, we were not on the side of the stage, or behind the men, but rather somewhat unexpectedly at the very front. Behind us, the men were straining to get a glimpse of Erdogan, pushing forward but blocked by waist level barricades. Perhaps an even greater buffer, however, was the presence of the women in front of them. It was a sacred space, an untouchable island. Still, this was not an island behind closed doors – it was public space for women.

I wondered then, as I do now, what exactly did this placement and separation mean? Even if the separation of women from men was implemented to protect the perceived weaker sex, could the placement of the women in the front be a sign of respect or perceived superiority as well?

In most mosques and Orthodox synagogues, among other faiths that separate the sexes, women pray in separate sections that are either next to or behind the men’s sections, but rarely if ever in front. Here, women were given the best seat in the house, the one closest to Turkey’s premier political power.

I’m certainly not in a position to make any sweeping statements, but the role of female voters in East Turkey has certainly piqued my interest.

Visiting the United Nations Protected Area

by Eli Markham

On Thursday, our first full day in Cyprus, we traveled to the United Nations Protected Area to meet with Rolando Gomez, press secretary for UNFICYP (“un-fi-sip” in the local lingo). Over the next few hours we were charmed and impressed by the United Nations effort in Cyprus.

First we received an impromptu tour of the old Nicosia airport, which was originally built to serve the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. The main terminal was world class when it was built in 1968. It had air conditioning, exterior fountains, a five-star restaurant, and automatic doors, all unprecedented for the island. Now it also has bullet holes in the windows and an abandoned plane a hundred meters away, grounded in the 1974 fighting, just six years after the terminal’s completion. Because the UN mandate is to preserve the area, they can’t even move a brick without permission. As a result the airport has been preserved and allows a glimpse to the world of 1970s air travel, when jet planes were such a novelty that tourists came to the airport just to watch them take off.

During the subsequent meeting with Gomez we discussed the current state of affairs in Cyprus, the role of the United Nations in the negotiations, and the prospects for peace, among other issues. He was optimistic, predicting that significant progress would be made between July 2011 (after the Turkish mainland elections) and 2013 (next election for President of the Republic of Cyprus).

We were struck by the sense that the UN mission on Cyprus is not a permanent one. Every six months the mandate comes up for renewal, and it is renewed, but eventually it won’t be. Parts of the operation are already departing. The head of the Mine Action Centre (responsible for clearing the buffer zone of mines) is in Benghazi, and the entire Mine Action Centre is packing up this month. The main peacekeeping force is down to around 800 soldiers from a peak of 5,000, and the UNDP program is also downsizing. Right now UNFICYP’s main purpose might be facilitating communication between the military on each side.

The UN won’t be going anywhere for another couple of years. But it’s not hard to imagine that UN resources might be better spent in Congo or Cote D’Ivoire. The divided island feels surprisingly at peace about the situation. If the current round of peace talks, begun in Sept 2008, fails to produce peace, the Cypriots might be left on their own.

Southern Hospitality

by Ali Friedman

Where I’m from there’s a well-known custom we like to call ‘Southern hospitality.’ Much to my and my fellow Southerners’ delight (I’m talking about Nathan, Rae, and Raffi), Southern hospitality extends to our current location in the southeast of Turkey.

Upon the group’s arrival to Şanlıurfa, we piled into a mysterious, low-lit cellar with tables elevated just above the ground surrounded by cushions and stacked with a breakfast that included multiple plates of cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, pide (flatbread), olives, nuts, pastries, etc. After five days in Urfa, I almost find it unnecessary to mention the endless curved glass cups of çay (tea) that followed our first feast and that would also accompany every single meal and meeting here. At this time however, we were unaccustomed to such practices and our hosts’ laughter at our Western astonishment intermingled with the twang of a sitar-like instrument playing in the background.

A meal with families. (Courtesy Nebi Demirsoy)

We weren’t in Istanbul anymore.

My suspicions of this unusually high level of Turkish-style Southern hospitality were soon confirmed. During our four nights here, we have subsequently been welcomed into the homes of four amazing families.

On our first night the group split in two, separately making our way to the homes of two Urfan families, unaware of the warm welcome to come. Turning the corner into the dining room post-removal of shoes, my heartbeat quickened and my eyes widened as a literal banquet of traditional Urfa kebap, chicken şis, roasted eggplants, onions, tomatoes, hot peppers, salad, çorba (lentil soup),ayran (yogurt drink), spices, cilantro, parsley and even more bread radiated deliciousness before my humbled being.

A man grills traditional Turkish kebap meat. (Friedman/TYG)

We sat down to eat Urfa-style, cross-legged on a carpet on the floor, throwing a mix of kebap, spices, peppers, and a variety of other foods into a wrap-style bread and then rolling it all together burrito-style. Unimpressed with our skills, our hosts generously made döner rolls for us and assured us that this lavish welcome exemplified standard Urfa tradition.

We laughed and ate heartily, unaware that our hosts would soon goad us into eating as much as possible. Now a daily occurrence, we found ourselves food-comatose, yet again ignorant to the many cups of çay and plates of şillik (a crepe-like dessert filled with walnuts and drenched in syrup) to follow. At this point a commendation of our courageous translator Mustafa is necessary, who, as one of two Turkish guests, received the brunt of the Urfa force-feeding and managed to translate for 3 hours straight.

Globalistas smile, though in a food coma. (Friedman/TYG)

This behavior continued each time we entered a southeastern household, with variations of baklava, lahmacun (Turkish “pizza”), yogurt salads, rice dishes, and a lamb roasting on a spit making various appearances in a village leader’s home, an imam’s office, and an eye surgeon’s country house, respectively. The conversation matched the food, as Turkish and American politics and culture were discussed with questions from both parties. An invitation to return (and to visit our homes) accompanied every single goodbye.

But Urfa hospitality in no way is contained to the home. Everywhere we go people smile, attempt to exchange a few mutual Turkish and/or English words, and even sometimes give us free goods (like marbled paper)! The tangible friendliness in the Urfan air has not escaped us, so much so that we have now added a çok to our most frequent Turkish saying of teşekkür, changing “thank you” to “thank you very much!”

Another beautiful lunch. (Friedman/TYG)

Çok teşekkür, Urfa! You have outdone even the most hospitable displays of Southern hospitality as we once knew it, and I for one do not know what I will do without the warmth of the people or the endless trays of kebap, baskets of pideand cups of çay.

I am proud to report that just as in the U.S., the South is the place to be in Turkey.

Coloring Turkey, Naturally

by Diana Saverin

If carpet were a language, I think I would dream in it. They are everywhere—lining the floors of mosques and palaces and hanging down on the streets of markets.

As an American, I am used to interior design characterized by beige. Even the vendors here tease me—they coat rugs in acid and put them in the sun for a “sun bath” to create the muted colors so many Americans crave. A lot of what has made Turkish carpets so famous, though, is the richness of the colors, the deep colors that refuse to fade. Turkish carpet traditions around wool, dying, and weaving date back to the 6th century.

Despite this, over the years, methods of creating dyes have shifted. The 19th century meant change for many industries around the world, and one of the most traditional was not immune to such sweeping change. Starting around 1850, chemical dyes became widespread, and soon weavers stopped passing down the methods of natural dyes, until eventually, they were forgotten.
Thirty years ago, though, some sought to reverse this modernizing step. A German science teacher, Dr. Bohmer, was living in Istanbul in the 1970s when he discovered a passion for collecting carpets. He found the colors in the ancient ones much brighter and more resilient. Being a chemist, he decided to find out way. He started to take threads from ancient rugs and distill them, separating the material from the dye before tracing the ingredients in the dye. He soon found the sources, ranging from daisies to cochineal.

Now almost every vendor in the Grand Bazaar yells out at passersby: “Natural dyes! Hand-made! Made in Turkey!” As tourists, we romanticize handicrafts—imagining the traditional methods, craving authenticity. Natural dyes are a part of the formula for an “authentic” rug here. Even though many vendors promise such dyes—along with a “very good price, just for you”—few still make them in Turkey.

Dr. Bohmer started the DOBAG project in 1981 by creating women’s cooperatives in villages and teaching them the methods of their ancestors. Since then, other companies have competed with this natural edge, as well. A killim artisan in Istanbul, Musa Kazim Basaran, assured me, though, that he was one of only 5-6 people who still use this method.

“It is inefficient,” he said, explaining that the same dye that took him several hours took chemical dyers a few minutes. He showed Rae, Charlotte, and me the other day how to make such dyes:

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Days later, Raffi and I visited the production site for Woven Legends, a company that makes and sells naturally dyed carpets on a large scale in Malatya.

Woven Legends' 150 colors (Saverin/TYG)

Materials for wool and dyeing at Woven Legends (Saverin/TYG)

The results are spectacular—and I can testify that the product withstands age. I attended a gallery opening of killims the other day, and some with the most vibrant colors dated back to the 13th century.

They are works of art. As such, it could be argued that they are priceless. In a stalling global economy, the “priceless” argument can only go so far in a whole marketplace of quite heavily priced carpets.

Understanding Cyprus

by Catherine Osborn

Cyprus is an island of 3,571 square miles: it less than two-thirds the size of Connecticut and includes fewer people than live in my hometown of Austin. The population is around 1,088,000, but no one knows for sure because political controversy has prevented an official census for decades.

On an island where news is slow, history is very much alive. In fact, sometimes it seems like the only news is rehashing the history. Any discussion of the current political situation begins with the speaker’s version of a centuries-long saga over the rights to a piece of the island. By 1500 it had been ruled by the Greeks, the Byzantines (Eastern Romans), England, the Knights Templar, the Lusignans, the Republic of Venice. Genetic testing shows native Cypriots today have more in common with Italians than they do with people from Greece or Turkey, two major players in the current division.

In 1570 the Ottoman Turks took over the island, and in 1878 it was leased to the British Empire, who took over full colonial control in 1923. Britain had two military bases on the island, which it maintains to this day–one is also used by the United States–because of their strategic location from the time of the World Wars to now. During the Cold War, Britain sent U2 spy planes from these bases to monitor the southern Soviet Union, and in the past few decades they have become strategic monitoring centers for the Middle East and North Africa. Britain still owns 3% of the land on the island for military purposes.

Local histories of the island include varying amounts of the above information. They all include the following: beginning in the 1950s, a movement among southern Cypriots resentful of British rule called for enosis, or union with Greece. At this point Cypriots of Greek and Turkish origin lived in mixed communities throughout the island, although there were a majority of Greek Cypriots in the south and Turkish Cypriots in the North. The enosis proponents founded a military group called the EOKA (Greek for National Organization of Cypriot Fighters); in concern of losing its stake in the island Turkey sponsored the formation of the pro-partition TMT, or Turkish Resistance Organization.

A monument to human rights featuring large Greek movable type marks a border crossing in the capital of Cyprus. (Osborn/TYG)

In 1960 fighting led by the EOKA gained independence for the Republic of Cyprus, with Turkey, Greece, and the U.K. signing on as “guarantor powers,” agreeing to protect Cyprus from union “with any other State, or the partition of the Island.” If either of these threatened to happen, they were allowed to intervene to restore the status quo. According to Turkey, this treaty obligated it to act fourteen years later when a pro-enosis military coup overthrew the president of Cyprus. In 1974 Turkey invaded from the north, and the United Nations halted fighting along a “Green Line” that still divides the country–and its capital in the middle of the island–today. North of the Green Line is an area recognized only by Turkey as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) with its half-city capital of Lefkoşa; south of it, the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus and its half of the same city, called Nicosia. The Republic of Cyprus was admitted to the European Union in 2003, a year before the failure of a UN-designed plan to unify the island as a federation of two states. Since then there have been four failed rounds of unification talks and no internationally approved census on the area that appears on all Greek maps void of cities and roads, with only the words “Territory Occupied by the Turkish Army.” Passage between the north and south requires getting a visa stamped at the UN Buffer Zone, which is as narrow as an alleyway in the heart of the city and as wide as a village outside.

The Old City of Lefkoşa/Nicosa is surrounded by stone walls built by the Venetians. This gate to the city runs perpendicular to the Green Line, therefore the left of this photo is in the TRNC and the right is in the Republic of Cyprus. Flags from left to right are the TRNC, Turkey, Greece, and the Republic of Cyprus. (Osborn/TYG)

One thing northern and southern Cypriots can agree on is that Britain has a heavy hand in this mess. In the early 1950s the British sensed dissatisfaction with their rule and enlisted Turkish Cypriots to serve as police at EOKA demonstrations, creating previously unexisting tensions. When the EOKA rioted against the British and Turkish police, violent struggles broke out between Turkish and Greek populations on the island.  Amongst this, independence from Britain was negotiated, Turkish Cypriots began to leave their homes in the south, and Greek Cypriots began to leave their homes in the north. Paramilitary attacks and migration–forced or voluntary, depending on who you ask–continued until the 1974 ceasefire. Around sixty thousand Turkish Cypriots fled from the south to the north, where Greek Cypriots went from being 80% of the population to zero.

Northern Cyprus, or "the occupied territories." Painted into the mountainside is the flag of Turkey to the left and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to the right. Once home of mixed communities, it now contains Turkish Cypriots, vacated houses, and settlers from Anatolia in Eastern Turkey. (Osborn/TYG)

Southern Cypriots we’ve talked to about this story emphasize the fact that in 1974, Turkey invaded two times to secure the north when one, less deadly invasion would have accomplished the political goal. Northern Cypriots focus on the British taking advantage of them in the early 1950s when they were pitted against their neighbors. Above the Green Line people would have you call them Turkish Cypriots; across the border a preferred name for that population is “northern Cypriots” because calling them Turkish legitimizes their “pseudo-government.”  Northerers and southerners emphasize different events during the 1950s – 1974 period of bombings, relocation, and “missing persons.”

Within our current city, the famously Last Divided Capital, on one side the language is Greek, the currency is the Euro, and the official faith is Orthodox Christianity. On the other side you speak Turkish, pay with Turkish lira, and pass by mosques. We’ve been told that the TRNC is more secular “even” than mainland Turkey, a stark contrast to the powerful and state-supported Greek Orthodox Church in the south.

Nicosians tell us the difference between the south and the north isn't so much Christianity versus Islam as it is religious versus secular. In a plaza in southern Nicosia, the Greek Orthodox Church rules. (Osborn/TYG)

Our research in Cyprus centers around these issues: the role of the Greek Orthodox church in prolonging “the Cyprus problem,” how invested young people are in reconciliation after almost forty years, why Turkey is sending settlers from its rural, conservative Muslim southeast to settle in northern Cyprus, and how all of this affects Turkey’s bid for accession to the European Union.

Dinner with a Kurdish Tribal Leader

After dinner with Haci Muhammed Baisal (center), leader of a local Kurdish tribe (Khan/TYG)

by Charlotte Parker

When our guide Nebi told us that we were having dinner with a Kurdish tribal leader, I think all of us expected that we’d be dining on the cushioned floor of an elaborate tent, with goats and the sound of drums somewhere outside the tent flaps. While we did go outside the city limits, we were surprised when we pulled up to a big stone house in the same style of our faux-desert-antique hotel. Haci Muhammed Baisal and two of his sons greeted us and ushered us into the front room, where we did in fact sit on cushions around a low table, but other than that the house was thoroughly modern—think iPhones charging in every outlet.

After a brief moment of uncertainty as to Kurdish tribal table manners, we dug into the food placed in front of us. When in doubt at table in Turkey, we’ve discovered, it’s eat first, talk later….Which was fine by us, as the food was some of the best we’ve had yet: rice with pine nuts and currants, succulently spiced lamb stew, yogurt and cucumber sauce, and a gazpacho-like salad special to the region.

When our hosts reclined from the table to digest, we followed suit. Sipping his çay Haci presided over the table a bit like “Santa Claus, with a Kurdish power broker twist,” as Luke put it: his crinkly blue eyes smiled, and he wore a button-up grandpa sweater over his paunch, but his words were measured and often intense.

His “day job” is farmer and he defines himself as such, but his sons protested that he was too humble and rambled off a list of his accomplishments, including building and supporting a large number of schools. As this is election season, he emphasized that he doesn’t tell his 20,000 constituents who to vote for, although he said that he is most sought-after for advice during election season.Throughout our discussion, history and present politics intertwined. Haci talked somberly about the bad years in the 1980s when the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party, generally considered a terrorist organization) encouraged tribes to go to the mountains and fight for Kurdish independence, and how his tribe suffered killings for their decision to stay aligned with the Turkish government. Later, a cacophony of criticism arose from all corners of the room when we brought up the BDP, the pro-Kurdish government party that, all insisted, is directly tied to the PKK.

Despite the issues, we were struck by the sense of optimism in the room, much of it due to positive social and economic change connected to the Turkish government’s development initiatives (namely the GAP, or Southeast Anatolia Project). His eldest son is a GAP engineer and a coordinator for the region, and we’re meeting with him tomorrow, so stay tuned for more details.

As we gathered to leave, three women—Haci’s granddaughters—emerged from the back of the house, which fleshed out our impressions of family life. We talked and laughed with them through hand signals and cavemen Turkish, and the evening ended with a gift of handfuls of roses from their garden. Overall, it was such a special night—putting faces to a tribal system that sounds exotic but really is just another means of governance, deeply rooted in history and community.