Discussions on Cypriot identity flare up from time to time. This time the person who triggered the discussion was Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar. Even though he avoided making the donkey analogy like those before him, nevertheless, Tatar caused a big stir. Many columns have been written in media, not to mention some below the belt social media comments on the issue.
In this article, I won’t mention these comments. I would just like to assert my belief that identity is a subjective thing. I am how I identify myself. People have a right to call themselves Cypriot, Cypriot Turk / Cypriot Greek, Turkish Cypriot / Greek Cypriot, Turk, Greek, Cypriotturk / Cypriotgreek, Turkish Speaking Cypriot / Greek Speaking Cypriot. There might be other identity assignments that I might not be aware of. No matter what one’s position, he/she has no right to impose his/her views on others on identity and indeed on any other issues.
I have been saying for years that to expect politicians to bring about a solution and peace in Cyprus is at best naive. It’s a waste of time. Cypriots will force the solution and peace on our beleaguered island. Cypriotturks and Cypriotgreeks. We will do this by emphasising our common denominators. These could be our joint aspirations and interests. One important such denominator is our joint culture.
There are many examples how art and culture played important roles in conflict resolution and peace efforts in areas of conflict. The below excerpt is from a report Dr Edel Hughes wrote for the project “Voicing Peace and Fostering Inclusivity in Turkey”, a DPI’s (Democratic Progress Institute) new conflict resolution series, Mapping a Cultural Repertoire of peace in Turkey.
“Even in contexts of ongoing violence and repression, the arts can suggest the possibility of accountability, offer glimpses of freedom, and even bring the idea of reconciliation into the communal imaginary.’(66) Whilst it would be foolish to suggest that arts and culture initiatives in and of themselves can build peace, from the examples outlined above, it is clear that they can serve both as an important memorialisation of conflict and as a means of re-building communities that have been devastated by conflict”.
It is well known that theatre was widely and effectively used in South Africa during the Peace and Reconciliation Process at the end of the collapse of the evil apartheid regime.
In Cyprus, there are quite a few bi-communal music, literature, folk dance and other artistic, cultural and educational initiatives attempting to bring about togetherness among all Cypriot groups. Cyprus Songs Association, Cypriot Chamber Orchestra, Bi-Communal Cypriot Choir, Bicommunal Music and Folk Dance Association are some examples of these excellent initiatives. There are many more.
Diaspora Cypriots too have a lot of potential to contribute to peace efforts on our beautiful island using artistic and cultural events. Have we done this enough? I am afraid the answer is negative. Our efforts in this field have so far limited to the annual Cypriot Wine Festival and occasional bi-communal peace concerts organised by left wing associations.
No need to despair though. Those veteran Cypriots, “the tired democrats” (from Ahmet Kaya’s famous song) are about to organise a bi-communal Cypriot festival on Sunday 8th October 2023. It is very pleasing to see that young Cypriots have been active on the organising committee of the festival.
This event could not have come about at a more important time. Politicians on both sides of the divide are desperately trying to hang on to the status quo. Resolution of the Cyprus issue has not been this inaccessible for a very long time. Morale has never been at a lower ebb. Recent efforts in New York has resulted in failure due to Tatar leaving the talks, just as President Christodoulides, then Government Spokesman, did in 2017.
The festival gives us an opportunity as Cypriots to express our disgust at politicians failure to bring about peace in Cyprus. It is an opportunity to show our togetherness, common desire and aspiration for peace.
Let us come together on 8th October at the Cypriot Community Centre to enjoy the beauty of our common culture and give the politicians the message that we, the Cypriots, will ensure peace, despite them.