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Ανοικτή επιστολή στον Roger Crowley της βρετανικής ‘Times’ 11/10/2009

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O Roger Crowley [πηγή: Αντιφωνητής]

‘Αντιφωνητής’
«An Open Letter to Roger Crowley»
08 Αυγούστου 2009

Απάντηση στον ιστορικό Roger Crowley για το άρθρο του με τίτλο «Η Σύγχρονη Ιστορία της Βόρειας Κύπρου» που τυπώθηκε στους Times του Λονδίνου στις 8 Αυγούστου, 2009.

Dear Mr. Crowley,

This is in response to your article titled «The modern history of northern Cyprus» (Times, August 8, 2009). In writing this letter, I don’t imagine that I will convince you of anything but I do hope to make a few things clear to you and your readers.

To begin with, there is a great paradox here between your title and your actual content. You claim you will speak of the modern history of «northern Cyprus» whereas most of your article deals with the Venetians, the Ottomans, and, mostly, with many ruins (amidst so many ruins, where are the people?). Your point, of course, is to tell us that time has somehow stopped in this god forsaken place–as you probably know, other Orientalists have claimed the same before you. They have also used the same stereotypical expressions that you are using such as «Levantine sloth» or «I have an unnerving feeling that if I fall asleep here I may not wake up for 100 years – and it will look much the same.» And they have similarly de-populated distant and exotic lands (preferring to speak of ruins rather than people). At least your orientalist spirit is unbiased as you recall your teaching days in Turkey where you were traveling by donkey and where the natives spoke bad English and they were confusing donkeys with monkeys (how funny).

When you see Famagusta, once a flourishing city and now, as a result of the invasion, a ghost town, your orientalist senses are overstimulated: «Within [the city of Famagusta], I step into a sepia photograph, hardly touched by modern life.» Famagusta was the top tourist destination in Cyprus prior to the Turkish invasion and occupation. If it hasn’t been touched by time ,it is not because of some Levantine sloth or because of the natural progress of things in the Mediterranean as you imagine it. It’s because it was captured, sealed and left to rot there by the occupying forces. Yes, the same forces that, as you write, you were enjoying your tea with relishing in the memories of your days in Turkey. But, to continue with your representation of Famagusta, you write:

Airbrush out a few cars and you can imagine you’re back in the 19th century. There’s so much empty space that the British used to play golf inside the town, and they still could. Numerous neglected churches stand in abandoned grassy lots. The buildings comprise a jumble of styles.

I will return to this image of the British playing golf in Famagusta since it’s quite telling. But for now, you should note, once more, your insistence on seeing this land as lost in time, forgotten in the 19th century. And you even «airbrush out a few cars» when they get in the way…(Damn technology for getting in the way of keeping these places virginal in our imagination!)

But allow me to say, again, that your perception of time is somewhat skewed. You inform us that «on the evening of August 20…Turkish troops had just landed on Cyprus to protect their population.» Thus, they rudely interrupted your happy excursion in Turkey (I hope that wasn’t too inconvenient). The Turkish troops landed on Cyprus on July 20th and a second wave of attacks took place on August 14. For a historian like yourself, one month might not be significant (or it might not correspond nicely with your narrative) but, I assure you, for the people that went through the terror of the invasion, for the families of the missing, for the dead, for the 200,000 refugees, it is. Then you imagine Turkish troops like modern crusaders who came to the island to «protect» their population…

Again and again you insist on viewing the island as backwards, lost in time, that is, your unmistakeably western measurement of time. «The Green Line, which divides the city in two,» you write, «can now be crossed quite easily, but Nicosia remains barricaded from the modern world. Starbucks has never arrived.» I am sorry that you didn’t get your iced non-fat latte in Nicosia, but had you crossed the Green line you would have found that the city has two Starbucks cafes. In fact, one of them is located in Ledras street right across the barricade and right next to McDonald’s. What you probably meant to say is that the Turkish sector, or the occupied part of the city has no Starbucks. I am not sure what to do with this statement of yours so allow me to simply state this for the record (in case you didn’t realize it): Nicosia is a divided city, it does not stop at the Green line. It was divided into two sectors, a Turkish and a Greek one in the early 60s, and it was permanently divided (by force) in 1974 as a result of the invasion.

What I find most interesting in your article is the humanistic tone that you assume. This is the neo-humanism of «every story [has] two sides.» Well, you didn’t really bother to tell us about this «other side»; your representation of a desecrated church and the Turkish flag painted on the mountain is countered by the phrase: «down the road there’s a memorial to Turkish Cypriots killed before the army arrived in 1974.» Contrary to what you might think, I do not doubt that many Turkish Cypriots suffered because of Greek-Cypriot nationalistic sentiments and actions. And you shouldn’t doubt that the opposite is true as well. But you should also consider that history doesn’t stop and end with the coup d’ etat. It continues with an invasion and an occupation, with a forced demographic change, with executions, with people arrested, taken to prisons in Turkey and never seen again. Conflicts are not resolved by being wished away, or by holding hands and singing ‘give peace a chance’ (allow me a brief parenthesis here where I must recall this phrase of yours: «I think maybe time can heal these new wounds, just as it has tamed the old ghosts of Famagusta.» Well, certainly not your perception of time which insists to place things in the distant past and to somehow marvel at this aesthetic achievement). Turkey continues to illegally keep over 40,000 troops on the island. Much of the isolation that you experienced is not due to some aesthetic perception of exotic lands but to political intransigence and calculated strategic goals.

But trying to offer a more complete picture of the Cyprus problem might be beyond the point since you did not really bother to investigate the issue and you preferred to indulge in your orientalist musings. I would rather return to your telling (historical) image of the British playing golf in Famagusta. You should consider, along with Lawrence Durrell (whom you refer to in your article), that much of this bitterness is a result of the British colonization of the island. Yes, the British could still play golf in Famagusta’s empty streets. As they play golf in the two British military bases in Cyprus (remnants of one of the saddest periods in the history of the island). As they still play golf in the properties they buy in the North, like the Orams; properties that belong to refugees, who were illegally forced out of their houses and who are not allowed to return. For you, a visit to the north might be a happy recollection and an escape from the bonds of time. For others, it’s a painful and heart wrenching experience.

In closing, I should also tell you that I was not surprised to see that your article is followed by four links, apparently placed there by the Times (online) editors. It’s quite fitting since your article reads more like a naive and empty travelogue rather than an in-depth description of Cyprus and it’s people. The last link takes you to the so-called ministry of tourism’s website of «North Cyprus» where we read:

The TRNC is a fully democratic state and peace subsists across both sides of the island. On 23 April 2003, the borders between the North and South were opened and it is now also very easy to get around, making North Cyprus a truly excellent destination for those who dream of a holiday steeped in history.

Some people’s dreams, I assume, are other people’s nightmares. But this view of Cyprus is as constructed as your orientalist ruminations of the island. The more you insist to view the island as time-less, the more you will fail, as you have, to grasp both its beauty and its pain.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

‘The Times’
«The Modern History of Northern Cyprus»
08 Αυγούστου 2009
Roger Crowley
*

The Turkish officer eyed us intently. «So,» he began, «you are travelling by monkey?» As military interrogations go, this was an unusual opening gambit – but so were the circumstances. In 1974 I spent a summer in Istanbul teaching English.

When the term was up, we decided to round it off with a long walk across western Turkey. It was a vivid, unforgettable time – four English teachers in nominal charge of four errant donkeys. For days on end we followed dusty tracks across the hot plains, crossed mountains, slept under stars.

The villagers were incredibly kind, if puzzled: why didn’t we travel by bus – it would be much quicker? On the evening of August 20, this spell was rudely broken. Turkish troops had just landed on Cyprus to protect their population.

Back on the mainland people were jittery and we stuck out like sore thumbs. We were handed over to the military as spies. Unfortunately, the officer had chosen to ask the questions in English.

Three decades on I’ve come with my wife, Jan, to see northern Cyprus at first-hand. My purpose is to trace the historic roots of Cyprus’s modern troubles.

In 1570 the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul ordered the capture of the island from the Venetians. It all boiled down to the story of two brutal sieges – the inland capital of Nicosia and the port of Famagusta. I’m here to visit these sites, but also to put that August evening into some kind of context.

Our base is a house in the hillside village of Bellapais with a distant view to the entrancing Venetian harbour of Kyrenia and the sea – and a pond of incredibly noisy frogs.

Lawrence Durrell once lived round the corner in the tangle of tiny lanes; just below is the village’s 13th-century Augustinian abbey – a reminder of the odd assortment of peoples who have pitched up here over the centuries.

It’s mid-May and the heat is already intense as we drive up behind Bellapais and over a spur of the Five Fingers, the jagged mountains that seal Kyrenia off from the Mesaoria, the island’s central plain. I should be viewing all this through 16th-century eyes, but as we slip down the southern flank, modern history intrudes.

On a commanding shelf above the plain, we stumble on the wrecked Byzantine monastery of Panayia Absinthiotissa. It’s an eerie spot. There is rubbish and graffiti in the stripped church, bullet holes in the dome. No one is about. Ancient olive trees creak in the wind.

An enormous Turkish Cypriot flag has been painted on the adjacent hillside as a marker of possession. But every village here has two names – a Greek and a Turkish one – and every story two sides; down the road there’s a memorial to Turkish Cypriots killed before the army arrived in 1974.

We head on to Nicosia. The approach to the north’s half of the capital is surprisingly simple, but when the Ottomans pulled up here in July 1570 they were confronted by state-of-the-art military engineering. However, the Venetians had reckoned without the human factor. Their general was hopeless and the defence collapsed.

The bastions are still there but from ground level they look surprisingly unimpressive. We enter the inner city as easily as the Ottoman army and find ourselves in a typically low-key provincial Turkish town. If it feels like a backwater, that’s because it is.

The Green Line, which divides the city in two, can now be crossed quite easily, but Nicosia remains barricaded from the modern world. Starbucks has never arrived. Instead there are tea shops and hammams, impressive vegetable markets and men in Turkish football strips. It doesn’t feel much like the capital of anywhere.

We eat mezé under the trees and I poke my nose into a crumbling «han» – a wayside inn for Ottoman travellers – and admire the oddly truncated Gothic cathedral of Saint Sophia, now the mosque of Selim, the sultan who ordered the Cyprus war.

In the 17th-century hall where dervishes once whirled to the music of flutes, the sentimental curator offers us carnations from a saint’s tomb «because it’s mothers’ day». The northern sector of Nicosia has an unpretentious charm all of its own, but disappointingly for me, the Venetians have all but vanished.

Next day we follow the Ottomans on down the road to Famagusta. It’s a long straight drive across the Mesaoria. The dusty plain, level as a billiard table, shimmers in the heat and throws up strange apparitions. A luxury apartment complex blossoms in the middle of nowhere, then a stranded university.

And Famagusta itself turns out to be unlike any place I’ve ever seen. Outside the city walls a straggling modern town has grown up. Within, I step into a sepia photograph, hardly touched by modern life.

Airbrush out a few cars and you can imagine you’re back in the 19th century. There’s so much empty space that the British used to play golf inside the town, and they still could. Numerous neglected churches stand in abandoned grassy lots. The buildings comprise a jumble of styles.

There are compact Byzantine domes, incongruous Gothic churches and crusader chapels set among palms. Some look as if their roofs were blown off by Ottoman cannons only yesterday; others are single walls.

The shell of the Venetian governor’s house, adorned with columns plundered from ancient Salamis, resembles a stage set, and towering over the whole town is a replica of Rheims cathedral miraculously transplanted to the east. Behind everything, the brilliant sea.

As a siege enthusiast I feel impelled to tour the extraordinary Venetian walls, leaving Jan to loiter among the churches. You can inspect an almost intact Renaissance fortification system – a warren of bastions, ditches, gates and gun emplacements. It is said that Leonardo provided construction tips when he visited the island in 1481.

For ten months a small Venetian force kept the might of the Ottoman army at bay; when they had eaten the last cat they negotiated surrender with the promise of safe conduct. Alas, on the final day something went horribly wrong. There was a furious argument; the Venetians were executed and their commander skinned alive.

In the bright sunlight these violent ghosts seem to lose their power. If Kyrenia smacks of the Aegean, Famagusta is positively oriental. Here we’re only 100 miles from Beirut. For a short time this was one of the wealthiest cities on Earth, famous for its crusaders, its trade and its prostitutes.

Now there’s a pleasing Levantine sloth about the place. The salt wind eats remorselessly at the stone, confusing epochs and weakening resolve.

A crumbling Venetian lion looks at you with puckered cheeks as if it has swallowed a wasp; the sea glitters; a George V postbox has been painted yellow; an ancient fig tree, predating the cathedral, watches the empires come and go. I have an unnerving feeling that if I fall asleep here I may not wake up for 100 years – and it will look much the same.

We head for the very end of the island – the Karpaz peninsula, a 30-mile spike of wild land. The monotonous plain gives way to a charming landscape of small fields and contoured hills. We stop at the ancient Christian basilica of Ayia Trias, set among olive trees, and wonder at the strange emblems of eternity picked out on the mosaic floor.

There’s a pair of strapped sandals, some pomegranates and peppers – and the whole thing is signed. «Eraklios did this,» it says in mosaics. It’s an affecting detail, like a voice from the deep past.

Despite gradual encroachment, the Karpaz remains a Mediterranean sanctuary. We pass enormous sweeps of sandy beach where turtles come to lay their eggs, and the Orthodox monastery of Apostolos Andreas, famed for miracle cures.

Wild donkeys browse off the road. The peninsula dwindles down a dirt track to the last cape. It seems the end of the world. There was once a shrine here to Aphrodite, Destroyer of Men, but the place is deserted and the sea utterly still.

I lower myself into the transparent depths and swim out, trying to get some perspective on what I’ve seen. The north is certainly Durrell’s bitter-sweet island: by turns complicated, charming, painful, eerily beautiful. It surprises and it asks questions. As I paddle around I think maybe time can heal these new wounds, just as it has tamed the old ghosts of Famagusta.

From out at sea I watch a group of donkeys ambling through the scrub. They seem to be eyeing me suspiciously – maybe they know something about my past as a donkey minder. And the interrogation? After the killer question it collapsed in fits of laughter. We left our animals tied insecurely to posts and drank tea with the army.

* Roger Crowley is the author of Empires of the Sea: The Final Battle for the Mediterranean. This was The Sunday Times 2008 history book of the year.

Σχόλια

1. Mehmet - 15/10/2009

Both side of cyprus is great! Give peace a chance 😉


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