This has been the plight of hundreds of thousands, nay, millions of people throughout the bloody twentieth century, sacrificial pawns in the greater game of weltpolitik chess played by unworthy and insidious rulers. The Greek people are no exception. From the Northern Epirots who had borders drawn across their house blocks, to the refugees from Asia Minor who in some cases settled on islands and spent the rest of their lives longingly looking back across the narrow sea towards their vanished homeland, expecting they would be back their homes soon, our history is an ever pulsating quicksand of population movement, studded like dead twigs, with a vast array of broken hearts.
The facts of these past events are but dim entries in dusty history books or papillae upon the undulating tongues of neonationalists, though they continue to haunt our psyche. We are nothing more than a nation of unsleeping corpses, perennially in search of an undisturbed resting place, haunted by the more powerful spectre of eternal dispossession. We know not of the albatrosses our ancient mariner ancestors killed to bring about their damnation. Like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner however, we seemed to be doomed to travel from one end of the earth to the other, persecuted or despondent in search of permanency, only to resume the journey generations later, if our weary bodies have not already been assumed by the soil of our place of sojourn. That there is no redemption can be evidenced by the fact that it was only thirty or so years ago that the latest of our damned, the Cypriots, were violently and brutally forced to leave their homes, during the Turkish invasion of that island, justified as a military operation to make that country “safe for democracy.” At the lookout at Deryneia, which faces occupied Ammochostos, now a ghost town, on any given day, a middle aged person can be found staring across into the distance, at the eerie abandoned and crumbling ghost town – permitted to crumble through the ponderous genius of Rauf Denktash’s carrot on a stick diplomacy. “I am Andreas Pougiouros,” he told me in 1999. “I am the mayor of Ammochostos.” He proceeded to point out every building on the shorefront. He explained the planning procedures that had taken place for the construction of each hotel and quoted statistics as to the tonnage of oranges harvested in the greater radius prior to 1974. “We already have plans for how to develop the city once we return,” he remarked enthusiastically. I stood silently for a moment, watching a solitary Turkish Cypriot herd his solitary cow before the solitude of the abandoned city, leaning upon the azure sea with the superreal clarity of a Salvador Dali composition. Finally, I asked: “And when will that be?” He did not answer. Instead, he told me the story, one I had read before, of the poor woman who kept on getting into taxis and asking the driver to take her home to Ammochostos. Here was an ancient mariner who had become so at one with his city that his face had taken on its unearthly grey hue and though it was as weathered and exposed as that city, its focus refused to waver, or its persistence expire.
Leukosia was designed as a fortress and the whole atmosphere is pervaded by a siege mentality and the brooding Pentadaktylos mountain bearing its badge of slavery, branded as it is by a huge Turkish flag, as if to deter those cattle rustlers who would return home. Apart from the empty buildings mouldering on the green line, refugees from the occupied part of the capital can rest easy at night knowing that their home, which has been usurped by someone else, is in some cases, just over a wall. One of the walls overlooking the dead zone bears a sign that reads: «Τίποτε δεν κερδίζεται δίχως θυσίες και η ελευθερία δίχως αίμα.» After all that we have suffered, we cannot still placate the furies. Across the wall, there is death. Within it, further blood offerings are demanded.
In Moonee Ponds, signs of death are all pervasive in the Edwardian home of an old mariner who ventured far away from her birthplace in fear and is now preparing to return to her village in occupied Karpassia for the first time in thirty two years. Her brother went missing during the invasion and her walls are plastered in newspaper articles and cut outs from various print media that have featured his story over the years. The passage of time has not aged that youthful face, though the paper that bears is has yellowed and become brittle. He too is an ancient mariner, of a history that refuses to be forgotten and of a tragedy too heinous to speak of.
As we remember this month, the heinous crimes committed by the Turkish invading army, we should focus on the plight of its victims. Of late, the Cypriot issue has become a Byzantine enravelment of political plans for bi-zonal, bi-communal settlements, proposals, counter-negotiations, legal processes, compensations, United Nations censures, behind the scenes lobbying, exhaustive conferencing, European Union joining junkets and Cat and Mouse dodging and prevarication.
Somewhere amidst this labyrinth of politics, the individual tragedy of families and their dislocation can be obscured and forgotten. Many families both here in Cyprus and Australia share the heartbreak of not being able to return to their homes, the agony of not knowing what befell their loved ones and in some cases the trauma of rape and massacre.
In the rage of injustice and in the battle for what is right, tragedies like this too often become reduced to mere statistics, or more dangerously, tools in the hands of the lusty propagandist, who, not taking the time to truly comprehend the magnitude of their wounds, waves around case studies in the perverse pleasure of proving that yes, we are a wounded and wronged people. This type of attitude is dehumanizing and disrespectful. Yet it seems to be the method most nationalists adopt to “prove” their point.
All things are needful in the struggle for what we term “ethnic issues.” Including balance. Our annual march to Parliament House to request Justice for Cyprus from people who cannot give it to us is important in that it preserves in our mind the injustices committed and still extant. They also make us feel important, that is the increasingly few of us that make it to Parliament house every year. By walking, we may be seen to delude ourselves that we are doing something, much like our ancient mariner ancestors.
We are. We are remembering. Not only are we doing so, but also we are reflecting on the fragility of the human condition and of the ridiculous but thoroughly evil processes that lead one group of people to inflict violence upon another. We should also, while listening to dreary, clichéd and nationalistic sentiments, remember those Cypriots who still remain in occupied Cyprus, in Karpassia and have a status little less then that of the cicada in the eyes of the current overlords of the North. Deprived of basic education, sanitation and opportunities, these people are being starved and intimidated out of existence, despite the threadbare goodwill rhetoric.
Cyprus is οne of the last divided countries in the world. It is a repository of untold misery and yet it is irrepressible in its desire to free itself from the rhyme of the ancient mariner and embrace its future with gusto, if only it could be permitted to do so. And across the green line, the dispossessors envy the righteous suffering and dreamless sleep of the accursed, for no barbed wire can hinder the words of the poet Yiannis Ritsos from leaving their dozing lips and insinuating themselves into the ears of those afraid to lie upon the earth that they have so defiled and evoking the insomnia of the guilty: «Δεν είναι ανάγκη να φωνάξω για να με πιστέψουν/ να πουν, όποιος φωνάζει έχει το δίκιο./ Το δίκιο το έχουμε μαζί μας εμείς/ και το ξέρουμε./ Κι όσο σιγά κι αν σου μιλήσω/ ξέω πως θα με πιστέψεις.....»