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20 May, 2024
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The ''other side'' 20 years later

I looked in wonder at the people on the bastion opposite CYTA. I saw a lot, understood little, and wanted to know more...

Apostolos Kouroupakis

Apostolos Kouroupakis

I first saw the queue at the crossing pointpoint of Agios Dometios in February 2004, while serving my duty in the Greek Force in Cyprus, when a good friend took me to see the spot from where Greek Cypriots passed to go to their villages and towns. The truth is that I knew very little about the Cyprus issue, except for what I had heard or seen during the days of July and August, when TV and radio programs aired commemorative broadcasts.

What I saw in Agios Dometios piqued my curiosity to learn more. My good friend was my first source of information, whose mother comes from Agios Memnonas in Famagusta. So, I started to unravel the thread. Later on, as a soldier, I regularly visited "Heracles" on Ledras Street, and I would go to the crossing pointpoint and look curiously from that opening to the "other side," as well as in the area of Orpheus. I watched with wonder the people in the trench opposite CYTA. I saw many things, understood few, and wanted to learn more...

Like Mrs. Thalia, a 90-year-old woman who told me that when she closes her eyes, she sees the mountains of her village, and when she wakes up, her heart aches.

Years passed before I saw the "other side". Participating in a Greek language learning program in 2010 in the Turkish Cypriot area of Ammochostos, I crossed the line... and with awe, I looked at the other Cyprus. Again, I understood little, what haunted me - if I may say so - was the sign for Pirhan and the church in the distance... In the back and forth of the two years, the unknown village was added, which I saw standing silent and dark on the left side of the road, just before the crossing pointpoint at Vryssoules. So many villages, I don't know why these two left an impression on me. Of course, I learned that they were Pyrga and Achna of Ammochostos. Many questions mainly in my own mind, a why constantly haunted me.

My Turkish Cypriot students from Limassol and Larnaca were eager to learn Greek, and I was eager to teach them about cases, articles, and verbs... Until I had the idea for them to write a few sentences about their villages, where they come from... I felt that a person's roots could not possibly dry up like that... This is how I overcame the obstacles in my teaching. In the next lesson, they brought me their reports, in misspelled Greek and in Frangocypriot, they wrote about their villages in Larnaca and Limassol, many of which were still unknown to me. I did not correct the spelling mistakes in their reports, and I did not ask those who had used the Latin alphabet to transcribe their reports into the Greek alphabet. They spoke happily about their places, curse the educational process.

Then we came up with the slogan to say "Long live Crete" and mean "Long live Cyprus"... because my Turkish Cypriot students had informed me that this exercise had not been well received by some "students". So we agreed on a strange slogan. I also satisfied my nostalgia and we had found a way to communicate and talk about the same thing.

Years have passed since then, and I have crossed roadblocks dozens of times, alone, with Greek Cypriot citizens, with Greek Cypriot refugees, with non-Cypriot refugees, and still, I have no answers to the "whys" that arose in February 2004. I met a 90-year-old man from Melathkia, Paphos, in Neochorio Kythreas, who told me about the aroma of the fruits in his village, while those from Neochorio Kythreas say nothing. I met a 75-year-old man from Zacharia, Paphos, in Agiridaki, Kyrenia, who told me about the waters of his village and lamented leaving his home behind, including his belongings. And then there are the refugees from Neochorio Kythreas who constantly tell me about the beauty of Kythreas, about the almond trees that do not exist anymore, the Agiridaki people who tell me how beautiful their place was, with everything they needed, but it's different now. And in the end, the slogan "Like the place of your birth, there's nothing like it" applies to all Cypriot Greeks.

And behold! 20 years after the opening of the crossing pointpoints, where everything is changing rapidly in the Occupied Territories, where only ruins remain in the Turkish Cypriot villages of Paphos, the land remains divided on the map and on the ground, and in the consciousness of many.

Twenty years later, personally, I don't have answers to my own questions, and I avoid looking refugees, Greek-Cypriots, and Turkish-Cypriots, in the eye, because I don't know if I can look at them and say nothing. Like Mrs. Thalia, a 90-year-old woman who told me that when she closes her eyes, she sees the mountains of her village, and when she wakes up, her heart aches.

Twenty years later, and still the land struggles to yield fragrances from its soil, a land sown with bones, watered with bile, and where politicians from both sides of the Green Line fail to find a solution, offering promises and attending national memorials and funerals, while simultaneously looking at their watches for their next obligation.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

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