Cyprus, the island of beauty that turned into dust

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My name is Erman and I was born on one side of this divided Cyprus in 1990. The division of the island started a long time before I was born, in 1974, but the roots of the division started even earlier. When we say division it could refer to one of two things: the division in our mind, or the wall that separates this whole island into two. Nicosia is the last divided capital in Europe and maybe it will be for a long time to come, if we don’t act. People like me who have grown up with the hope of a peaceful solution, we need to get together and change the future now.

All people who have grown up here grow up with the fear of the “enemy”, and that fear of the “other” is the same on both sides. We learn this fear in school, in our families, in conversation with friends, and in the books they give us to read. Teachers took us to the museums where we learned hatred—not only how the “others” hate us but also why we should hate them. We live in a land occupied by Turkish, Greek, British, United Nations, and two local Cypriot armies.

Half of the island was invaded by Turkey, and Turkey remains the only country that recognises northern Cyprus as Turkish, and even Turkey changes its mind when it comes to international events like the Olympics, basketball games, flights and some diplomatic meetings. We are surrounded by military bases, military vehicles, and militarist systems, and this applies to every piece of land. An island that should be an island of peace have only guns and bombs; Varosha (a Greek-Cypriot town now in the Turkish-controlled north of the island) is a ghost town where the traces of war can still be seen. Between1974 and 2003 we were unable to cross each other (north to south and vice versa) as we can do now and we were brainwashed into believing that behind the walls there were “monsters” waiting to kill us. If the walls fell down, our so-called enemies would come and kill us. Time passed and we have grown up, and meanwhile we started to see the reality crystal clear: our tiny island has been divided into two just to be divided and controlled by the big powers and, for this reason, the two communities were told that they were enemies. Nobody mentions any more that the Cypriots used to live together. Now, everybody is divided into Turk or Greek and both communities have let the fascists divide and control the island. The separation between two communities impacted everyone living on the island. Before, we could live all together as Turkish and Greek speaking Cypriots, Maronites, Armenians and Latins.

There are many peace activists on both sides. But also, there are fascists who benefit from this divide. This fascism has its roots in patriarchy and militarism. It took me time to understand this reality. First I had to accept that every living being has the right to live and has equal rights. Then I started seeing the lie that there is an enemy behind the walls, and seeing that the enemy is in fact the hatred they teach us. I feel neither Turkish nor of any other race, I don’t believe that I was born as a soldier (in Turkey there is a saying that “every man was born as a soldier” to promote the manhood and militarism) nor am I someone who wants to prove his manhood.

I have become an animal rights activist and I believe that every living being deserves to live. I’ve become a vegan and rejected the idea of killing animals in order to eat. I find it wrong to serve any army and be educated to kill my friends for the sake of the powers that benefit from divisions on the island. I can’t be part of a system which tries to convince me that my friends are my enemies, the friends that I am sharing my life with. As a feminist I can’t be part of an institution which humiliates women and gay man, supports the patriarchy, and is homophobic, sexist, and transphobic. People are being forced to leave this island, many people become depressed during their army service and even commit suicide, some leave the island to avoid joining the military, and the ones who do go to the army face violence and bullying. Whoever wants to be the voice of these people and does not want to do all these wrong things, is being judged and sent to prison to be “treated”. In the northern part of the island, Murat Kanatlı and Haluk Selam Tufanlı have been sent to prison just because they refuse to be part of the army as reserves. There are many other people that are expected to undergo the same treatment, including myself. People who could really be useful for building a better future are being wasted in the courts or in jail. After many years and countless efforts, discussions and negotiations done by the “leaders” to resolve the Cyprus problem have not been successful. Every international negotiation and conflict resolution attempt has failed and brought more disappointment and frustration to the people of Cyprus. This proves one more time that grassroots actions can be the most effective way to establish a sustainable solution on the island. For these reasons, many initiatives like Demilitarise Nicosia, Occupy the Buffer Zone, Anti-Militarist Peace Operation—examples of cooperation from both communities—are trying to build the Cyprus we dream of, without the need for the big powers and leaders. We demand the right for every person to live in Cyprus in peace, without the threat of war, without the shadow of arms.

As a conscientious objector I believe that we should fight against all the oppressive structures related to nationalism, austerity, gender and sexuality, the destruction of the environment and our ecological and urban commons, and start showing solidarity and being part of the anti-militarist movements on the island.

“Peace will come to Cyprus when all the armies are gone”.

For more information about the actions take place on the island see:

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Erman Dolmacı, conscientious objector and a member of Queer Cyprus Association 

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