Cyprus, one of the smallest countries in the European Union, is also the last divided country in Europe, Nicosia its last divided city. Winning its independence from Great Britain in 1960, Cyprus has been roiled in ethnic conflict, violence, and division almost from the start; everyone of a certain age remembers the troubles of 1963-1967. The 1974Turkish invasion and subsequent occupation sealed the fate of Cyprus for decades.
The troubles of the last 50 years are not unrelated to Cyprus’ strategic location at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea, a place that has long attracted and continues to draw the great world powers. Rome ruled, as did Istanbul and England. Richard the Lion Hearted took a piece of the island on his way to the Crusades, Paul the Apostle was given 39 strokes with a lash by the Romans for preaching the Gospel, Othello’s Castle is on the southern coast, and Lazarus died on the island. Cyprus has always been a storied jewel of the Mediterranean.
Today UN peace keepers patrol the buffer zone between north and south, and England maintains a massive presence, tens of thousands of military personnel, and two air bases (which were used by the US most recently to launch into Afghanistan and Iraq) constituting 10% of the land mass. Some Cypriots complain that the great powers see Cyprus as little more than a huge, unsinkable aircraft carrier.
While there has not been a shot fired since 1999, and while the border between the north and the south opened in 2003, for the generation now in its sixties, memories of the early days are both vivid and raw, and, indeed, for most Cypriots of every age, Cyprus still bleeds. That bleeding—its interpretative meaning and its pervasive imaginative power today—is the focus of this work.
Our project is simply this: to record in notes and photographs and sketches, on audio or video, the voices and words of the people of Cyprus themselves, from every community, to capture their memories, understand their specific meaning-perspectives, illuminate their lives. Our guiding light is every person a philosopher/every day another story. We will create as rich and varied an archive as we can, and we hope that participants will see themselves in this collection as three-dimensional, grass-roots makers of history, and that their descendants will better understand how their ancestors—like all human beings: free and fated; fated and free—shuffled through this mortal coil. We hope, too, that future historians will find material to aid in their own searches for deeper meanings and fuller understandings. We hope, finally, to add ground-level, individual perspectives toward uncovering and teaching the conflict, and in this way, through oral history, to assist the process of truth-telling and reconciliation. Continue reading