Tag Archives: cyprus

Searching for the missing

by Emily Ullmann

A belated reflection from Cyprus…

In the aftermath of the 1974 Cypriot conflict, 1,464 Greek Cypriots and 494 Turkish Cypriots were reported missing. Over the years that followed, both mass graves and individual sites were uncovered, revealing bones and other artifacts. Thirty-seven years later, the political issues remain unresolved, and the UN-occupied buffer zone holds together the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Without a consensus on which to build a joint group to identify the human remains, the UN created a Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) to help dig up and identify the bodies.

Hearing about this program, Sophie and I went to visit the UNFICYP headquarters at Ledra Palace to speak to Oleg Egorov, CMP Political Affairs officer, about the impact of the CMP so far.

UN anthropologists analyze the remains that the CMP has unearthed. (Ullmann/TYG)

Ledra Palace lies deep in the buffer zone, a large, beautiful hotel surrounded by fences and barbed wire. Sophie and I entered through a gate, escorted by armed security. Instead of a concierge, a UN blue beret sat at the front desk and phoned Egorov to inform him of our arrival. Egorov approached us, introducing himself and leading us to his office. As we passed through the hallways, he explained that Ledra Palace had been Nicosia’s most luxurious hotel before it became the site of some of the heaviest fighting. Now, as the UNFICYP building, it seems eerie and desolate, with shells and bullet holes still in the walls.

Egorov explained to us the tough political situation surrounding the CMP, which consists of Turkish Cypriots, Greek Cypriots, and UN members. “The UN is a go-between on CMP to navigate the committee through a sensitive and tangled web of political interests, agendas, desires, and dangers,” he explained, adding that the two sides use remains and threats to impede cooperation efforts as bargaining chips.

At the heart of the project remain the families, Egorov emphasized. Due to this goal, the investigators at CMP are exempt from having to provide the names of the witnesses who come forward with possible locations of bodies. Although this continues the trend of leaving the issue unresolved, it enables people to feel safe approaching the committee with information, and thus the identification of bodies comes before blaming people or solving the political issues. In this way, CMP seems to hope to unearth the past in order to put it to rest. However, the program has caused some tempers to flare. We later found out that most of the families want to know who killed their loved ones and how they died. Some Cypriots and organizations such as Amnesty International have argued the program is inadequate because it fails to bring any murderers to justice.

Later that day, Egorov drove Sophie, Cathy, and I deep into the buffer zone to see the anthropological lab where scientists analyze and identify bones. The way with which Egorov explained the place was sobering.

“This lab is the cage. It is the pain and spirit of Cyprus. The ghost of the terrible past.”

In the lab, an anthropologist named Popi Chrysostomou gave us a tour and explained the procedure of comparing the identification given by the bones to the information provided by the families who originally reported a friend or loved one missing. Once the scientists match the bones to a missing person, they notify the families and give them the opportunity to see the remains. The family can ask how their loved one died, but if they do not ask, Chrysostomou and her staff will not offer the facts.

Anthropologist Popi Chrysostomou shows us the process for identifications. (Ullmann/TYG)

For our last stop, Egorov brought us to the room where the families get to see the remains and any accompanying artifacts. The room was strikingly bare, almost sterile. When a family comes to see remains, only a religious leader (an imam for a Muslim Turkish Cypriot or a priest for an Orthodox Greek Cypriot) and a scientist stay with them in the room. The process, though relatively short, still gives the utmost importance to the comfort of the families.

After identifying a set of remains, the UNCMP brings families to this room to show the remains and provide closure. (Ullmann/TYG)

Although the UN CMP treats the families with respect and values their well being, the program requires a vast amount of time and money ($3 million per year since 2006) without getting any closer to a solution for the political and ethnic conflicts. This program created change in a place that seems stuck in time; nonetheless, it has not necessarily gone far enough. The importance of the CMP cannot be underestimated. If the bicommunal workers do not use it as a means of cooperation and peacekeeping, the staff will have missed an incredible opportunity to not only give the families peace of mind, but also a more concrete peace and safety that would come with a solution to the problems.

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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.


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.

A Taste of Turkey: Cypriot Meze

by Cathy Huang

The Greek Cypriots have an apt saying for mealtimes: “Siga, Siga!”, which translates to “Slow, slow!” Even those with the largest appetites need to heed this advice when meze dining in Cyprus. Meze, which translates to “little delicacies”, involves dish after savory dish– rich dips with breads, grilled meats, and the island’s most popular cheeses.

Last night, our group met up with Katerina, a Cypriot Yalie, who brought us to one of her favorite meze dinner restaurants and expertly placed an order for our entire table. In the evenings, the Cyprus air is balmy and ideal for outdoor dining and chatter. Some of us were hungry after a long day of interviews and attacked the first round of breads and dips. What we didn’t know, however, was how much food meze involves. Some of our favorites during the eight-course meal.

Greek dip/credit: Flickr, creative commons

Greek Yogurt is famous worldwide, but add some cucumber and mint to make this refreshing and textured dip called Talattouri. Our waitress brought us bowls of talattouri, eggplant-based tahini, and sour cheese dip to accompany baskets of pita bread (a definite theme for this trip’s cuisine!). Yum!

halloumi slices/credit: Flickr, creative commons

Halloumi are grilled cheese slices that look, upon first glance, like chicken. Halloumi is served all over the island as an appetitzer on its own, as a salad topping, or in sandwiches and wraps. Kristos, one of Katerina’s Cypriot friends who had dinner with us, shared that halloumi is his favorite Cypriot food. Its salty taste and rubbery texture is certainly different but most palatable. We look forward to trying halloumi in other dishes. Feta, another popular type of cheese on the island, topped our Greek salads.

Sheftalia are sausage-shaped meatballs made from a ground mixture of beef, pork, and spices.

Souvlakia are grilled pork kebabs. Many of us remarked on the tenderness of the meat. Turns out that most Cypriots are masters at the grill! Who wouldn’t be in a place with perpetual barbeque weather?

The main meze delicacies involve high-quality meats. When I asked Kristos if there were any vegetarians on the island, he laughed and said, “Maybe one or two.”

traditional Greek halva for dessert/credit: Flickr, creative commons

Halva is a traditional Cypriot dessert made from flour, sesame, and sugar, and oil. Served in small cubes, halva is incredibly, almost overwhelmingly, dense and sweet.

We left the restaurant contentedly stuffed and look forward to more multi-course meze offerings in the coming days. For lunch, we’ve been exploring the ethnic offerings in Nicosia, a city teeming with multiculturalism as many migrant workers joined the community in the last decade.

A Reporter’s Reflections: Cyprus

by Emily Ullmann

Sophomore Associate Editor Emily Ullmann thought she encountered a confusing world of media and journalism in Turkey: but it’s nothing like the complexity of Cyprus.

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Staying in the Republic of Cyprus side of the divided city of Nicosia, I only had to walk for five minutes to cross the border into the north. Armed guards checked my passport and stamped my visa on my way to speak to Perihan Aziz, director of the Turkish News Agency (Turkish acronym TAK), in what is really just the northern half of the city. TAK is a news agency that gives news in return for money to the fourteen government-subsidized papers in northern Cyprus (thirteen of which are in northern Nicosia).

The border crossing between north and south (Ullmann/TYG)

Aziz explained that TAK is an independent, objective agency that can and will write about everything, a situation that is in contrast to that in Turkey. TAK does its best to inform the northern Cypriot population of news in the south, publishing a news summary based on southern papers. Aziz described the press in northern Cyprus as a reflection of the political situation there. “Newspapers are supported by political parties, but this is not a problem because each party has their own paper,” she said.

Aziz also pointed out the contrast between this objectivity and journalism in southern Cyprus, which she deemed far too influenced by the Greek Orthodox Church. “Northern Cyprus does a better job separating politics, religion, and press than the south,” Aziz explained.

However, back in southern Nicosia, we heard a strikingly different story. Stefanos Evripidou, the Cyprus news editor at the Cyprus Mail criticized journalism on both sides of the island, but noted that the north, dominated by the government, is far worse. Most papers in the south, where people view the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as an illegal occupation of the island, refer to the organizations and institutions as “pseudo” or “so-called.”

The spectre of Hellenism and the Greek Orthodox Church hangs over the Republic of Cyprus, while Ankara hangs heavily over the TRNC. (Ullmann/TYG)

Similarly, Orestis Tringides and Dogukan Muezzinler, both of whom we got in contact through the organization The Cypriots’ Voices, described the Cypriot press as involving self-imposed censorship that is largely influenced by political links. Tringides and Muezzinler criticized Cyprus’s status as one of only four EU nations that has not signed onto Freedom of Information laws, which means that successful journalists must rely on well-established contacts. Tringides also explained that there is a relatively new tradition of journalism on the island, and even that tradition focuses more on advocacy journalism than any sort of investigative journalism. “Newspapers and news channels operate as mouthpieces for political parties and corporations,” Tringides said.

By the end of these meetings, my head was spinning in a whirl of he-said, she-said. Every story seemed slightly different and everyone seemed ready to point fingers, accusing the other side of faults and flaws. Yet these four passionate people, all so critical, failed to offer any real suggestions or solutions to the problems. With the exception of the opening of the north-south border in 2003, the Cypriot conflict has been stale since 1974 and people here do not seem to believe that significant change will happen in the near future.

From an outsider’s perspective, I cannot help but wonder how change can happen in a society where journalism and people’s concepts of reality are so skewed. How can the people demand accountability from their government if they have a press that does not inform them of what their government is doing? And why do the Cypriots not seem to desire a press that does this?

Journalism in Cyprus has become a source of misinformation and propaganda, but as with the case of the political conflict, the people seem content with the status quo. Before arriving here, my question regarding the Cyprus situation was, is it sustainable? I have come to realize that the issues in journalism are just another symptom of the greater problem of apathy among Cypriots. Until Cypriots decide they want to actually find a solution, it will not happen.

New kids on the block

by Sanjena Sathian

For a small island, Cyprus is a bustling place. And for nine 18-21 year olds, I can’t help but be proud of our busy social and professional calendars in the mere 48 hours we’ve spent here so far.

So, you’re thinking about Cyprus. White sand beaches, rich Brits vacationing, lots of nightclubs? Right? Wrong. None of the above. While that version of Cyprus certainly exists, the version we’re seeing, in the capital, far away from the water seems to be a place full of a busy intellectual society, encompassing diplomats and NGO personnel and writers and filmmakers, and what’s coolest is that everyone just seems to know each other. And they want us to know everyone too. We’re like the shiny new toy, and we keep getting passed around between organizations who all want us to hear about the exciting progressive work that they’re doing in collaboration with thirty other groups… and it goes on. It’s exciting to penetrate a society so quickly and feel so immediately welcomed, and reaching into networks to understand a new place is exactly what a Glo trip — and journalism, more generally — is about.

We’ve been to meetings all over the place already: the UN buffer zone, which is a neutral zone that delineates between the illegal, unrecognized TRNC in the north and the internationally recognized EU member, the Republic of Cyprus in the south. We’ve discovered a vibrant civil society – it seems there are almost more NGOs than other organizations – and a group of people very concerned about journalism and each side’s contentious media portrayals of the other side.

Being here is fascinating – we have so little time but we’re filling it with discussion after discussion of trying to puzzle out one of the most complicated political and social situations most of us have come into close contact with, ever. Still, though we’ve begun traversing the social network of the intellectuals, activists and diplomats, it’s important to remember as reporters that the people we’re immediately exposed to and most comfortable with – this community of people who keep identifying themselves as “different” from the rest of the population of Cyprus – are not the only ones who we can speak to.

PS. Apologies for the lack of pictures: we’ve spent about 80% of our time in the UN buffer zone, where photography is forbidden.