Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Turkey: Hostage to Cyprus

One of the most extraordinary aspects of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus (1974) is how the island’s Greeks – despite the catastrophe and depredations they endured, the shattering of the island’s economy and society, bearing all the scars associated with a brutal assault, including the creation overnight of 200,000 refugees (one third of the Greek population of the island) deprived of their homes, possessions and livelihoods – through sheer hard work, determination and ingenuity were able to rebuild their lives, strengthen their state and improve their society.

(This peculiarly Cypriot form of resistance to violent displacement and occupation is, according to this article by Shlomo Avineri, an example the Palestinians should have followed).

The recovery of the Greek Cypriots from the Turkish invasion – which should never be mistaken as contentment with the status quo or hesitation in pursuing reunification of the island – is contrasted by Nikos Konstandaras in yesterday's Kathimerini with the way Turkey since 1974 has become trapped by its involvement in Cyprus and held back and deformed by the justification of Turkish nationalism and militarism the invasion represents. Here’s what Konstandaras says:

‘When a country loses in war or diplomacy it is logical to expect that it will be bound by the conditions imposed by the victor. It is less logical, and yet commonplace, that countries can be trapped by their success and thus persist with policies that turn out to be disastrous in the long term. History is full of great victories that ultimately became defeats.

‘In our region, the clearest example of this paradoxical entrapment of a victor is the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. The Turks are so proud of this episode that one might think it was an earth-shattering achievement – something like the conquests of Alexander the Great. The Greek Cypriots suffered all the evils of the invasion and the occupation of a part of their country. But, though the wounds remain open, the Greek Cypriots recovered. With hard work and persistence they created a country that today is flourishing, is a member of the European Union and provides its citizens (including any Turkish Cypriots who want them) all the freedoms and opportunities of a full democracy. For Greece, the invasion of Cyprus signaled the fall of the military dictatorship in Athens and the establishment of the longest period of democracy and social development our country has ever known.

‘What did Turkey get? It has been trapped into sustaining the primacy of the military over all aspects of life, culminating in the 1981 coup and the continued “guardianship” of the political system by the generals. The occupation of northern Cyprus has cost Turkey billions to support the Turkish-Cypriot economy and fund a large occupation force. But, above all, Turkish policy on Cyprus – as in the Armenian and Kurdish questions – has been trapped in an intransigence born of military success that was followed by repeated diplomatic defeats…’

Read the whole article here.

Sunday, 28 October 2007


28 October is ‘Ochi’ (No) Day in Greece and Cyprus, which commemorates the defeat of the invading fascist Italians, 1940-41, and then the relentless resistance Greeks put up against the invading and occupying Germans, until liberation in 1944.

‘Ochi’ is what Greece’s prime minister, Ioannis Metaxas, allegedly replied on 28 October, 1940 to Mussolini’s ultimatum to allow Axis forces to enter Greece and occupy key locations in the country. In fact, it’s more likely that Metaxas said to the Italians, ‘Alors, c’est la guerre’ (Then it is war), but the spirit of defiance remains the same.

It’s worth pointing out that Greece, still reeling from the Asia Minor Catastrophe (1922) and from economic, political and social crises, only had heart, spirit and pride with which to resist the Axis powers, but it was enough; and that in the period 1940-44, Greece lost between 5-7 percent of its population – up to 500,000 people – one of the highest casualty rates of any Allied country.

Stavros, who knows a thing or two about fighting spirit, over at My Greek Odyssey has a post about Ochi Day, including videos demonstrating how Greek defiance of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany inspired freedom-loving people around the world during the darkest days of the war, 1940-41.

Here are some quotes from significant Second World War protagonists expressing their awe as Greece drove the Italians back deep into Albania and fought furiously against the Germans.

Churchill: ‘Hence, we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.'

Hitler, speaking in the Reichstag on May 4, 1941: ‘For the sake of historical truth, I must verify that only the Greeks, of all the adversaries who confronted us, fought with bold courage and highest disregard of death.’

De Gaulle: ‘I am unable to give the proper breadth of gratitude I feel for the heroic resistance of the people and leaders of Greece.’

Mainichi Shimbun, Japanese newspaper, 7 December 1940: ‘Our country, in which virtue is especially honoured, watches with admiration the struggle of the Greeks in Albania. We are so much touched, that, by letting aside every other feeling, we shout: LONG LIVE HELLAS!’

Long live Hellas, indeed.

I’ll finish with this poem I found on Constantine’s site, by John Dennis Mahoney, written in 1941.

Il Duce with his mighty legions
Knocked at Greece’s ancient gate
He had forty million people
And the Greeks had only eight
With his Fascist banners gleaming
From the high Albanian Peak,
“I am coming,” cried Il Duce.
“Come ahead,” replied the Greek.

“Forward!” shouted the commanders
With a good old Roman curse;
And the legions started rolling,
Rolling swiftly – in reverse,
And throughout the startled nation
The news began to leak
That the Duce had been walloped
By the sturdy little Greek.

Then that poor, moth-eaten Caesar,
What a different song he sang!
“This great big bully licked me!
Hey Adolph, get your gang!”
“You’re a dumkopf,” cried the Fuehrer,
As he pulled his trusty gun;
“You don’t know how to murder kids;
“I’ll show you how it’s done.”

And then the tanks began to roll
With clank and roar and groan:
The great planes blacked the sky and filled
The air with ceaseless drone,
In endless ranks with flame and bomb
And gray guns long and sleek;
The mighty German war machine
Moved down upon the Greek.

And still that fellow wouldn’t run –
He didn’t quite know how.
“We’ve got some help,” he said, “and that
just makes it even now.”
“Bring on your millions, Adolph dear,
We’re neither scared nor meek.
The British, sixty thousand strong,
Are standing with the Greek!”

They fought a fight like Homer’s song
They died, as brave men must
Their ranks, “neath dark odds,
Were beaten to the dust.
And then heroic chivalry
Attained its highest peak
As the victors clasped their bloody hands
Above the fallen Greek.

Someday, beyond this veil of tears,
We’ll all stand on the spot
To tell the Judge of all the world
Just who we were – and what.
I wouldn’t be a Fascist then,
Or Nazi grim and bleak;
But I’d be proud to tell my God
That once I was a Greek!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Cyprus and the Labour party’s sad demise

It used to be the case that Cypriots could rely on the Labour party and Labour politicians in their fight against the Turkish invasion and occupation of their island.

Here was a clear case of unprovoked aggression, the strong trying to impose their will on the weak, ethnic cleansing, massive human rights violations and a cynical disregard for international law, all issues you’d expect to arouse and did arouse the consciences and principles of socialist luminaries such as Tony Benn, Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and Robin Cook.

Indeed, it was the Conservative party – partly because it felt the Turkish invasion of Cyprus was some sort of revenge for the Greek Cypriot rebellion against British colonial rule (1955-1959) and partly because it was unwilling to alienate Turkey, perceived as an invaluable ally during the Cold War – that was felt to be hostile to the Cypriot cause.

But more recently, since Tony Blair became leader, it is the Labour party that has been appeasing Turkey, bizarrely picking on that country to demonstrate to British Muslims and the rest of the Muslim world that Britain is not intrinsically hostile to Islam and that Islam and Western democracy – which Turkey supposedly provides a representation of – are compatible.

That Labour should suggest that a brutal, authoritarian, corrupt, militaristic, hypernationalist, semi-fascistic, unreliable country like Turkey is a model for other Muslim countries is appalling and shows the extent to which the Labour party has degenerated and lost its identity.

The situation now is that although there are still Labour politicians – such as London mayor Ken Livingstone, Andrew Dismore and Eddie O’Hara – who support Cyprus, the most outspoken British opponents of the Turkish occupation are from the Conservative party.

Two of the most active Conservative justice for Cyprus campaigners are Theresa Villiers – the admirable MP for Chipping Barnet and Shadow Transport Secretary – and Brian Coleman – London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden.

Indeed, in this week’s New Statesman, Coleman has a good piece – The desecration of Cyprus – in which he reflects on a recent trip he made to Cyprus to take part in an anti-occupation rally organised by Greek refugees from the town of Morphou.

Coleman describes occupied Cyprus as having been given over to Turkish settlers from Anatolia, who have reduced northern Cyprus to a state of ‘Asiatic poverty’, and goes on to say that:

‘The desecration of Orthodox churches and the wholesale stripping and sale abroad of religious icons and archaeological treasures has to be seen to be believed and the ethnic cleansing carried out in the north of this magnificent island is as bad as anything experienced in the former Yugoslavia.’

No reasonable person could quibble with Coleman’s description of the Turkish occupation – he’s not saying anything which thousands of other observers haven’t said before about Turkish depredations in Cyprus.

But this hasn’t stopped Turkish Cypriots commenting on Coleman’s piece questioning not only his knowledge of the Cyprus issue but also his probity and integrity. A pity, especially since the arguments Turkish Cypriots have deployed against Coleman – and not only against Coleman but also here on my mirror blog – their depiction of the history and politics of Cyprus, is so outlandish and so perverse that it makes you wonder about their grasp of reality and mental equilibrium.

Of course, Turkish arguments against the Armenian genocide should have made us used to crazy justifications and weird versions of history, but it is still disappointing – and depressing, a cause for pessimism – that so many Turkish Cypriots should put forward such arrant nonsense about the island they claim is their homeland.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Trahanas: Byzantine porridge

I’ve been slightly unwell with a cold – sore throat, runny nose, chest infection – I have been prone to chest infections since a nasty bout of pneumonia a few years ago.

A cold, obviously, is no big deal, but it is still an inconvenience that requires attention and confrontation. And who is our greatest ally in this battle to restore our health? Our mothers, of course. Our mothers’ advice, our mothers’ honey and lemon drinks and our mothers’ trahana – pictured above.

Trahanas is a Cypriot national dish, a thick, creamy soup, mostly eaten in winter and bound up with Cyprus’ ancient and Byzantine past. Trahana is so important to Cyprus that it has been the subject of academic research, most notably by William Woys Weaver, professor of Food Studies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, who wrote The Origins of Trachanas: Evidence from Cyprus and Ancient Texts.

Trahana is also widely eaten in Greece, and in their essay Byzantine Porridge: Tracta, Trachanas and Trahana, Stephen Hill and Anthony Bryer trace the origins and history of this pastoral food through ancient Greece and Byzantium.

(A by-product of all this academic research into trahana is the suggestion that rather than Marco Polo bringing pasta to Europe from China, pasta is an offspring of trahana and therefore a traditional European food, which comes to us via the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines).

My mother’s trahana soup uses one cup of homemade trahana – a dried mixture of soured milk and crushed wheat – (trahana can be bought in the shops, but obviously homemade is better), water (some cooks use half milk, half water), chicken stock and avgolemono/beaten egg and lemon. I like to sprinkle grated cheddar cheese on top, though chunks of halloumi, kefalotyri or feta is more authentically Greek.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Godard’s Le Mépris

Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris (Contempt), made in 1963, is, among other things, a meditation on Homer’s Odyssey, a celebration of Mediterranean landscape and culture and an exposition of the filmmaker’s love/hate relationship with America.

Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) is invited by American film producer Jeremiah Prokosch (Jack Palance) to rewrite the screenplay of The Odyssey because he feels the version being filmed by the director, Fritz Lang – who plays himself – is too intellectual.

The American wants more sex in Lang’s Homer – and not just more sex, but more of everything, without being able to define what he wants more of, he just wants more – and although Paul is reluctant to undermine Lang, the money Jerry offers him for joining the project, which Paul thinks will please his beautiful wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot), overcomes his doubt and guilt.

In fact, Paul becomes so impressed by Jerry’s money and power, so enamoured with the glamour of filmmaking, so anxious not to alienate his benefactor, that he encourages his wife to go along with the advances of the voracious American, virtually offering her to him on a plate, prompting her to lose respect and love for her husband, to feel the ‘contempt’ which constitutes the title of the film.

Paul and Camille’s disintegrating marriage – revealed in an extraordinary 30-minute sequence of fighting, insults and arguing – encourages the writer to accept Jerry’s interpretation of The Odyssey as a tale of a poisoned marriage, of Penelope’s infidelity and Odysseus’ ennui.

For Jerry, Odysseus leaves Ithaca to fight the Trojan war because he is bored with Penelope, and stays away for so long because he can’t stand the prospect of returning to his wife, who far from being faithful and patient is, according to Jerry, resentful of Odysseus for abandoning her and cuckolds him with the suitors.

Lang, the personification of European sophistication and old world charm, always ready with a quote from Holderlin or Dante, hates this interpretation of Odysseus as a ‘modern neurotic’, but is impotent to impose his view on Jerry – the bullying, crude American film producer, who quotes trite aphorisms written on scraps of paper he keeps in his pockets, who expects the world to conform to his desires, and who ‘likes gods. I like them very much. I know exactly how they feel.’

When Fritz Lang defends his vision of The Odyssey – ‘it’s a story of man’s fight against the gods’ – and tells Jerry that in his film ‘finally, you get the feel of Greek culture’ – Jerry says: ‘Whenever I hear the word culture, I bring out my chequebook,’ echoing Gestapo chief Hermann Goering: ‘Whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver.’

The exchange is an early hint of the anti-Americanism which infamously characterises Godard’s films – though Le Mépris, infused with references to Rancho Notorious, Hatari, Bigger Than Life, Some Came Running, Rio Bravo, Griffith, Chaplin and United Artists, also shows how much Godard’s imagination has been shaped by American film and culture.

In Eloge de l’amour (2000) – in which one of the plot lines involves Spielberg Associates and Incorporated trying to buy the rights to make a French resistance movie – Godard has his protagonist Edgar say: ‘Americans have no real past… They have no memory of their own. Their machines do, but they have none personally. So they buy the past of others.’

But in Détective (1985), Godard shows his abiding love for American film and American culture by dedicating his film to John Cassavetes, Clint Eastwood and Edgar G. Ulmer.


Friday, 19 October 2007

Nenikikamen… again

Nenikikamen – we have won – is what the exhausted messenger Phidippides declared with his dying breath to the Athenians after running from Marathon to Athens to report the defeat of the Persians in 490 BC.

And nenikikamen was the word on every Greek’s lips after Greece beat Portugal 1-0 to become European football champions in 2004.

Nenikikamen is also what we said when Greece became European basketball champions in 2005, crushing Germany 78-62 in the final; and nenikikamen is what we shouted when Greece defeated the USA 101-95 in the semi-final of the 2006 World basketball championships.

And on Wednesday night, nenikikamen again; in Constantinople, defeating Turkey 1-0 (video above) to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals in Austria and Switzerland, where we will defend our title.

It was sweet that Greece ensured its qualification in Constantinople, that the wrong of the 4-1 defeat to Turkey in Athens earlier in the campaign was righted and Wednesday night’s win dealt a serious blow to Turkey’s own hopes of getting to Euro 2008 – Norway are now favourites to take the second qualification spot in Greece’s group; but we shouldn’t gloat or overdo the pride. This is a matter of football – sport – not national salvation.

Just like the 4-1 defeat was not a rerun of 1453 or 1922, so Wednesday night’s 1-0 victory did not constitute another 1821 or 1912. Yiannis Amanatidis – scorer of the Greek winner – is not Theodore Kolokotronis driving the Turks out of the Morea or Crown Prince Constantine riding into liberated Thessaloniki on his white horse.

A mention too for Cyprus. Cyprus is not going to Switzerland and Austria for Euro 2008 – Cyprus currently lies fourth in Group D – but its qualification campaign has been a resounding success.

Having already crushed Ireland 5-2 and drawn 1-1 with Germany – Germany are probably the strongest team in Europe at the moment – Cyprus, last Saturday, defeated Wales 3-1, while on Wednesday the lads drew 1-1 with Ireland in Dublin.

Indeed, Ireland only managed to equalise Stelios Okkarides’ header in the second minute of injury time – depriving Cyprus of what would have been only its third away victory in competitive matches – the other two wins were against San Marino and Malta.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

The funeral of the bride

I attended a wedding on Sunday – a London Cypriot wedding. I call it a London Cypriot wedding because these weddings are distinct from those that take place in Cyprus nowadays.

London Cypriot weddings reflect the compromises that have to be made by an immigrant community – for example, much of the Greek Orthodox church service was in English as was the exchange of wedding vows – English being the first language of the happy couple and much of the congregation – though, paradoxically, London Cypriot weddings also retain many of the more traditional aspects of Cypriot wedding rituals now abandoned or dying out in Cyprus.

Among these traditions are the series of dances that take place, between the bride and groom – including the money dance/the pinning of money on the happy couple; followed by the koumbari (best men) dancing one by one with the groom; then the koumeres (best women) dancing a kalamatiano (a circle dance) with the bride; the fathers sharing a dance; the mothers doing the same, and so on. Weddings in Cyprus nowadays don’t go in for all these village-type festivities; they are much more businesslike. Church, buffet, congratulate the happy couple, hand over to them tens of thousands of pounds in white envelopes, go home.

On a more general note, I don’t like weddings. This is not because I am opposed to marriage in principle or believe in free love; it’s just that I’m not very good at jollification. My temperament is more suited to funerals than to weddings.

Indeed, ever since I read Rush Rehm’s Marriage to Death: the conflation of wedding and funeral rituals in Greek tragedy, I have become convinced that the marriage ceremony is in fact a death ceremony, symbolising and reflecting, particularly for the bride, not the beginning of a new life, but the death of a previous one – and therefore a reason for sadness and mourning.

So it is, thanks to the ancient Greeks, I now attend weddings with the attitude that I am in fact attending a funeral – the funeral of the bride.

Of course, during the special day, I keep this knowledge of the true nature of the marriage ceremony to myself. I congratulate the bride on this the happiest day of her life, tell her she looks lovely and wish her all the best for the future. I would like to commiserate with her on the occasion of her death and tell her of my deep sorrow at her tragic demise but, of course, I am not mad. I am someone, however, who has read too much.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Betrayed by Syria

Our friends the Syrians – who we always thought understood us because of Alexandretta and the Golan Heights – have stabbed us in the back and yesterday began a twice-weekly ferry service between Latakia and the Turkish-occupied Cypriot port of Famagusta, thus giving a boost to the illegal occupation regime in northern Cyprus and its efforts to gain international legitimacy.

Now, what did we do to upset our Syrian friends – those high-minded supporters of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iraqi terrorists, who’ll blow up anyone in Lebanon who opposes the imposition of Syrian hegemony there? We don’t know, because the Syrians are refusing to respond to all our letters asking for explanations.

Perhaps the Syrian foreign minister has been too busy to write back because this week he’s been playing host to his Turkish counterpart Ali Babacan – who while in Damascus praised Syria’s ‘constructive role in the region’ – and making plans for next week’s state visit to Turkey by the Syrian dictator and London-trained ophthalmologist, President Bashar al-Assad.

Nevertheless, despite Syria’s reluctance to divulge to us the reasons behind the termination of our beautiful friendship and their sudden affection for the Turks, we have our suspicions.

We suspect that Turkey and Syria have found common cause in opposing a Kurdish state in northern Iraq – both Turkey and Syria have restless Kurdish minorities; we suspect that Syria is prone to Turkish pressure because Syria is dependent on Turkey for 80 percent of its water; we suspect Turkey has promised Syria not to allow Israeli fighters to use Turkish airspace to strike Syria – as apparently happened last month when Israeli jets flew over Turkey before hitting targets deep in Syria; and we suspect that Turkey is enjoying flexing its muscles in the Middle East – particularly now that it feels less constrained than ever before by deteriorating American prestige and influence in the region – and is testing how far it can push its neo-Ottoman aspirations.

There have also been suggestions that Syria feels no compunction in cuckolding Cyprus because Damascus is upset by increasingly close relations between Cyprus and Israel; except that if Cyprus and Israel have been getting close no one in Cyprus seems to know about it.

In fact, the only time we hear of Israeli involvement in Cyprus is when so-called Israeli businessmen make ‘investments’ in the Turkish-occupied areas, like the one reported in the Turkish Cypriot press this week regarding the occupied Greek village of Yialousa, in the Karpas peninsula, in which an Israeli/British syndicate is planning to spend £150m ($300m) to build the largest marina in the Eastern Mediterranean and two luxury hotels.

Vultures, thieves, usurpers. Come to Turkish-occupied Cyprus, all are welcome.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

You are what you eat

I read this appalling story last week regarding increasing obesity and heart disease in Greece as a result of the abandonment of the traditional Mediterranean diet in favour of one inclined towards high-fat and processed foods.

There is no excuse for such a trend, which Greeks for once cannot blame on the machinations of foreigners. What we put in our mouths and allow to enter our stomachs is our choice and our responsibility. No one force-feeds us chocolate, crisps and doughnuts.

Furthermore, as the report makes clear, other Mediterranean countries – Italy, Spain, France – have managed to preserve their traditional cuisines and diets. I can also testify that during my recent trip to Cyprus, Cypriots remain satisfied with their traditional cuisine, which is one of the tastiest in the world.

The quality of local Cypriot produce is high, care and pride is taken in the production and preparation of food, eating is a pleasure, a holy sacrament. Rubbish won’t do; it won’t go down. I remember Auntie A’s baked okra in tomato sauce, Auntie M’s stuffed onions, her cherry tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil, so sweet that I ate an entire plateful; and then there was Uncle K’s souvla (barbecue) – a slap-up meat feast, consisting of lamb chops, loukanika (spicy sausages), sheftalia (more spicy sausages), pork souvlaki (kebab) and, Uncle K’s speciality, snails in tomato and garlic sauce.

I’ve never eaten snails before and found them to be exquisite little things – though I did have trouble sucking the slugs Cypriot-style out of their shells and had to be given a toothpick to extricate the flesh, the effeminate French way. I need to work on my suction technique.

Anyway, to show that even 4,000 miles away from civilisation, it is still possible to eat well, like a Greek and a Cypriot, I will from time to time be providing details and photographs of my main meal of the day, particularly when I have the good fortune to savour my saintly mother’s cooking.

Last night, as pictured above, I had louvi (black-eyed beans) with courgettes in olive oil and lemon juice; lots of tashin (tahini paste, lemon juice and garlic); and a couple of loukanika. Delicious. I wish you’d all been here to enjoy it with me.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

The occupied mountain

The Pentadaktylos mountain range runs 100 miles (160km) along the entire north coast of Cyprus, from Cape Kormakiti in the west, traversing Kyrenia, its satellite towns and villages, and shooting along the Karpas peninsula to the peninsula’s easternmost tip, at which is located the island’s most revered Christian shrine, the monastery of Apostolos Andreas.

Pentadaktylos is adorned with monuments to Cyprus’ Christian and Byzantine heritage – such as the castles of Bufavento, St Hilarion and Kantara – and the monasteries of St John Chrysostomos, Panayia Absinthiotissa and Antiphonitis – all of which since the Turkish invasion in 1974 have endured looting, vandalism and desecration, victims of a crude and widespread campaign by the Turkish occupation regime to wipe out the Greek and Christian heritage of northern Cyprus.

Pentadaktylos’ relationship with Cyprus’ Byzantine culture is also revealed in the myths associated with how the peak of the mountain received its five-fingered shape, after which the range is named – Pentadaktylos is Greek for five-fingered.

These myths are invariably connected to the peripatetic hero of Byzantine epic poetry, Dighenis Akritas, who, drowning in the sea between Cyprus and Asia Minor, is said to have reached for land and left the imprint of his hand on the mountain; or, in pursuit of a Saracen who had fled to Famagusta, beyond the mountain range, grabbed the top of the mountain with his hand and leaped over it, again leaving his five-fingered mark; or, to escape Arab raiders, dug his hand into the mountain and vaulted to the safety of Asia Minor.

And it is to the mythical Pentadaktylos that Costas Montis, Cyprus’s leading modern poet, appeals in his poem, Moments of the Invasion, for help to throw out the Turkish invaders, whose assault on the island began on Kyrenia’s shores.

Στιγμές της εισβολής
Είναι δύσκολο να πιστέψω
πως μας τους έφερε η θάλασσα της Κερύνιας,
είναι δύσκολο να πιστέψω
πως μας τους έφερε η αγαπημένη θάλασσα της Κερύνιας.

Ανασήκωσε την πλάτη
και απόσεισέ τους, Πενταδάκτυλέ μου,
ανασήκωσε την πλάτη
και απόσεισε τους.

It is hard for me to believe
That the Kyrenia sea brought them to us.
It is hard for me to believe
That the beloved Kyrenia sea brought them to us.

Raise your back
And shake them off, Pentadaktylos.
Raise your back
And shake them off.

Montis’ poem, set to music by Marios Tokas and sung by Giorgos Dalaras (see video above), illustrates the symbiotic relationship that has always existed between Cypriot landscape and culture, and the alienness and brutality of the Turkish presence in Cyprus since 1974; a brutal and alien presence symbolised by the painting of giant Turkish flags and slogans on the southern slopes of Pentadaktylos,
which loom over Nicosia, a stupid defilement, supposed to daily remind Cypriots of Turkish omnipotence but in fact daily remind Cypriots of how shameless and obnoxious the occupier is.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Greek sweep

A clean sweep for Greek clubs in European football this week. On Tuesday, Panathinaikos beat Artmedia Bratislava 3-0 to go through to the group stages of the UEFA cup 5-1 on aggregate; while on Wednesday, and after 31 attempts, Olympiakos finally won a Champions League game away from home, beating Werder Bremen 3-1 (see video above), to go top of Group C, ahead of Real Madrid.

And last night, back in the UEFA cup, AEK, though losing 1-0 to Salzburg, went through to the group phase of the tournament 3-2 on aggregate; Panionios, though going down 1-0 to Sochaux, went through 2-1 on aggregate; Larissa, though losing 2-1 to Blackburn, went through 3-2 on aggregate; and Aris Salonika, though going down 2-1 to Real Zaragoza, went through on the away goals rule, having won the first leg 1-0 in Greece, 2-2 on aggregate.

Anorthosis Famagusta were the only Greek club to go out of Europe this week. Despite playing well against Tottenham in yesterday’s encounter in Cyprus and earning a victory of sorts with a creditable 1-1 draw – Anorthosis took the lead in the 54th minute with a goal from Fabinho only for Robbie Keane to equalise 12 minutes from time – the damage had been done in the first leg at White Hart Lane, which Tottenham won 6-1 – and Anorthosis exit the UEFA cup 7-2 on aggregate. Never mind. Next year. Next year back in European football and next year to Anorthosis’ matches being played not in Larnaca but in a liberated Famagusta.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Pleading for justice from the unjust

Another invidious aspect of the Turkish occupation of Cyprus is the way Cypriots have to explain their problems, listen to the stupid opinions and suggestions and ask for the assistance – indeed, plead for justice – from idiots.

Beseeching your inferiors for justice tries your patience, damages your ego and makes you cynical. It’s not easy being powerless. It’s not easy having interests that collide with the interests of those who, for whatever reason and however temporarily, have found themselves in a position of global influence able to shape your fortunes, to devastate your fortunes if it suits them. Even in today’s world – of the UN, international law, war crimes, human rights courts and so on – Thucydides’ observation – or rather the observation of the Athenians to the Melians – that ‘the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must’ still applies.

Where’s this leading? This is leading to Joan Ryan. Who is Joan Ryan? Joan Ryan is one of the idiots to whom Cypriots have to plead their case against the Turkish invasion and occupation. Ryan is Labour MP for Enfield North, a marginal seat in suburban North London, where there happens to be a large Cypriot community – Greek and Turk – and for this reason, and this reason alone, has meant she has taken an ‘interest’ in the Cyprus issue, initially as a supporter of the Greek Cypriot cause – attending rallies, making speeches in parliament, going on ‘fact-finding’ missions to the island – usually during the summer months, when the weather is good – then, since the Annan plan and since she began fancying a ministerial career in Tony Blair’s government – the most anti-Greek Cypriot British government for 50 years – as an advocate for the Turkish cause – speaking out in favour of the partitionist Annan plan, direct trade with the occupied areas, recognition of the occupation regime and so on.

Naturally, for those Cypriots in London who put store in having minor political figures of no substance taking positive positions on Cyprus, Ryan’s change of heart amounted to a betrayal. Worse was to follow for the lobbyists; because in June new prime minister Gordon Brown appointed Ryan as his special representative to Cyprus, in which capacity Ryan is currently on the island, ‘listening’, in fact wasting everybody’s time – including President Papadopoulos’ – by pretending that someone as insignificant and thick as she undoubtedly is has something to contribute to finding a way to end the Turkish occupation of the island.

Anyway, here’s a letter sent by the Kyrenian refugee association – Adouloti Kyrenia (Free Kyrenia) – to the British high commissioner in Nicosia concerning the appointment of Ryan and her visit to the island – which demonstrates not only Cypriot resentment towards the British, but how Cyprus is trapped by having to plead for justice from those it knows are out to destroy it:

Dear High Commissioner
Recently you made a public statement that Britain is on our side and we, the Greek Cypriots, misunderstand British policies on the Cyprus issue.
We would like it to be so. We would have liked to have Britain, not on our side, i.e. not on the Greek Cypriot side, but on the side of the Cypriot people as a whole, because, the way we see it, British policies in Cyprus are harming not only the Greeks but the Turks also.
It is not a matter of opinion, but proven fact, that British policies regarding Cyprus, from the 1950s, if not before, have been biased towards the official Turkish position on Cyprus and hostile to the Cypriots, irrespective of origin, race or faith.
This fact has been revealed through your own documents over the years, and is verified by the devastating effects your policies have had on all Cypriots.
We can discuss this claim and present volumes of proof, which, of course, you may brush aside and present all kinds of different interpretations and counterclaims, but the fact remains: Cyprus is still suffering from the Turkish occupation and we are on a daily basis witnessing Britain ‘washing its hands’ of the most significant consequences pertaining to this illegal situation.
One thing that is incontrovertibly true about British policies on Cyprus is that your country continues to push to conclude the agreement it has had with Turkey since 1956 to divide the island into Greek and Turkish zones, at the expense of the human rights of the ordinary people of Cyprus – Greeks, Turks, Armenian, Maronites and others.
Two hundred thousand Greek Cypriot refugees are still waiting to be vindicated, hundreds are still missing, the Turkish Cypriots, far from their own homes and properties, are either emigrating or disappearing under the pressure of the Turkish settlers and the military occupation.
For this situation to exist, on a small island, which is a member of the Commonwealth, is a shame, not on the people of Cyprus, but on Britain and the British people.
One recent development that increases our concern about British policies is the appointment of Joan Ryan as special representative to Cyprus.
She is a declared (by her words and deeds) pro-Turkish person and by this we mean she advocates the legitimisation of the ‘realities’ of the 1974 invasion and the illegal deeds associated with 33 years of occupation.
She is helping neither Greek nor Turkish Cypriots. She is, as revealed by her own statements, promoting the furtherance of division under the cover of a bizonal, bicommunal federation, which will permanently divide the Cypriot people on the basis of race and religion. This position, taken together with her failure to declare whether under a bizonal, bicommunal federation all refugees will be able return to their homes, undermines her mission.
We anticipate a broker for peace in Cyprus to advocate:

1. The unconditional and immediate withdrawal of all the Turkish troops and settlers from Cyprus.

2. The immediate restoration of the sovereignty and authority of the government of the Republic of Cyprus.

3. The initiation of practical steps for the resettlement of all refugees.

4. The creation of a reunited country and people, the establishment of a new democratic constitution for Cyprus, based on international law, the European acquis and the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, guaranteeing democracy and equality for all the island’s citizens.

Is Mrs Ryan prepared to do this?

To propose a bicommunal, bizonal Cyprus without a commitment for the return of all refugees to their homes and property is to propose keeping the island divided, in the way the Turkish occupation has done for 33 years.
As freedom-loving people who respect international law and, what is more, respect ourselves, we shall not accept the de facto situation in Cyprus becoming a de jure situation, which would condemn us to remain refugees in perpetuity.
Therefore, if Mrs Ryan, and the British government which appointed her as its special representative to Cyprus, are genuinely interested in helping, she should agree to meet us during her visit to Cyprus and be prepared to listen to ordinary people, especially those not in favour of a bizonal, bicommunal solution to the Cyprus problem, because of their fear of becoming permanent refugees.
The Cypriot people deserve to live in a united, democratic country under the EU umbrella, enjoying stability, peace and progress. In short, we believe our future will be guaranteed through a united Cyprus, in which all are allowed to return to their towns and villages of origin.
Please forward our letter and request for a meeting to your government and to Mrs Ryan herself.

Sincerely, for the association,

Ioannis Shekersavvas

Read a fuller version of the letter here.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Karteroumen: a lesson in Stoic endurance

While in New York last week to attend the opening of the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly, President Tassos Papadopoulos found time to inaugurate the Cyprus Global Distinguished Professorship on History and Theory of Justice at New York University, the first holder of which is the renowned Aristotle scholar, Richard Sorabji.

In his speech at NYU, Tassos said ‘Cyprus is proud to have been part of Hellenic civilisation without interruption for more than 3,000 years and has contributed to its achievements, its aura and radiance’, drawing attention in particular to the example of Zeno of Kitium (Larnaca), the Cypriot founder of the Stoic school of philosophy.

Tassos said ‘we owe to Zeno the moral perspective that compels us to associate political justice with individual human rights’, and explained in relation to the Turkish occupation of Cyprus ‘that the application of the rule of law in international relations [is the only way] small states like Cyprus can seek justice and protection against the use of force’.

Now, Zeno’s teachings, as Tassos called them, also lay great emphasis on the virtue of karteria – i.e. endurance, steadfastness, forbearance, perseverance, doing what is right even though painful – which comes to Stoicism via Homer – Odysseus embodies karteric virtues – Socrates, Aristotle and the Cynics, and from the Stoics finds its way into Christian ethics, to the example of the Christian martyrs and the monastic tradition.

Karteroumen – the present tense, in Cypriot dialect, of the verb ‘kartero’ – which in modern Greek means to wait patiently or long for something – is also a poem by the Cypriot poet Dimitris Lipertis (1866-1937).

Καρτερούμεν μέραν νύχταν
να φυσήσει ένας αέρας
στουν τον τόπον πο'ν καμένος
τζι' εν θωρεί ποτέ δροσιάν

Για να φέξει καρτερούμεν
το φως τζιήνης της μέρας
πο'ν να φέρει στον καθ' έναν
τζιαι δροσιάν τζαι ποσπασιάν

We long day and night
for a cool breeze to blow
in this scorched place
which has never seen shade

We long for a dawn to break
and a light to shine
which will bring shade to us all
and an end to our troubles.

For Lipertis, that which would have brought shade and better days to Cyprus, that which was longed for, was an end to British colonial rule and union with Greece; but since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus the longing of the poem has come to mean a longing for an end to the Turkish occupation, a preparedness to endure the pain of being a refugee and a steadfast determination to return to the towns and villages brutally seized by the Turkish army in 1974.

Not surprisingly, Lipertis’ poem, as set to music by Dimitris Lagios – the brilliant composer who died aged 38 in 1991 and was so in love with Cyprus that he requested that half his ashes be scattered in the sea of his home island, Zakynthos, and the rest in the Cypriot sea – and sung by Giorgos Dalaras (see video above), has become Cyprus’ unofficial national anthem against the Turkish occupation.