WINE, WHINING AND SONG
In Doctor Who, the Gelth, ghostly alien life forms, informed the Doctor that: “The Time War raged, invisible to lower species but devastating to higher forms.” One would be forgiven for thinking that we are the lower species of our community, for of late, a war of words has blown in off the coast of our organised manifestations, its high winds of bluster, accusation and recrimination battering the galvanized rooftops of our self-assurance – while most of us, ensconced within the sandbags of our everyday mundane existence, have had absolutely no clue of its passing.
This year, in what has been described by Thomas Andronas in his recent article in this publication as “A Festival of Love,” a Turkish-Cypriot singer, Umut Albayrak was invited to perform at the Cyprus Wine Festival. This was hailed by Thomas Andronas “as heralding a gentle move towards peace occurring in Cyprus between the Greek and Turkish communities.” Cyprus Community president Stelios Angelodimou echoed these statements, hinting that the primary motivation for boldly stepping outside the tight, racially claustrophobic bounds of our community and opening up our revels to others, was to send the message that Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities can and do live in peace.
At first glance, this brave, pioneering move is a laudable one. While we love showcasing our heritage to the world, we generally like to do so unadulterated by the admixture of other conglomerate cultures, for this would dilute our own sense of our uniqueness. Further, such efforts as are made to manifest ourselves to others are usually so made not in conjunction, but rather in juxtaposition with the other collaborative cultures. These efforts have mixed results. Contrast for example, the seamless way in which the Thessaloniki Association “White Tower” managed to integrate a group of Japanese drummers in its Melbourne-Thessaloniki sistership festival last October at Federation Square, compared to the reconciliation efforts made a few years ago, by the dance group of Pontiaki Estia. That dance group had made initiative towards securing a joint performance of Black Sea dances by it and a Turkish Black Sea folkloric group. For reasons that pertain to historical perspectives on the genocide of Christians in Anatolia, the Turkish Black Sea group, after initially signalling its interest, refused to participate.
Thus, in the outset, Stelios Angelodimou’s gesture, in including a Turkish Cypriot entertainer in what is in effect, a Cypriot-Australian institution, seems to send a message of peace, harmony and cohesion. After all, given that the Cyprus Wine Festival pertains to Cyprus and that Turkish Cypriots presumably also are Cypriot, at least if you read the Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus, then Turkish-Cypriot artists have a place, by right, in such events.
Unfortunately, Umut Albayrak’s performance has had quite the opposite result, provoking, the fury, frustration and disappointment of a considerable number of influential members of the Greek Cypriot Community. Their response prima facie seems strange and extreme. Reading the statement of certain disaffected members of the Cyprus community expressing their opprobrium, we are shocked to read them decrying Umut Albayrak’s performance and demanding that she pledge her loyalty to the Cypriot constitution and State and demand a withdrawal of invasion troops from the occupied North, before she is allowed to perform. This truly appears to be an extreme knee-jerk reaction.
However, it is not. While there is intrinsically nothing wring in inviting performers of all ilks and backgrounds to perform in our festivals, the handling of the Umut Albayrak affair has been misconceived and ill timed. To include Albayrak in a Cypriot Festival because she is Cypriot is logical. However, it would follow axiomatically that the Cyprus community would also have to invite Lebanese Maronite and Armenian artists to also participate, as these too, comprise venerable and important Cypriot minorities. As far as we know however, these two Cypriot minority groups have been assiduously ignored. Are they any less Cypriot than the minority Turks of the island? Or are some minorities more important than others?
In an incisive comment in the Greek section of this publication on 12 March, Kypros Kyprianou points out that it is the height of folly to believe that by inviting a Turkish-Cypriot singer to perform at the festival, that this would send the message that the two communities can live together in peace. First of all, the Greek and Turkish communities have demonstrated that in many countries, such as Australia, Germany and the United States that they can live together without friction or conflict. In Cyprus today, Turkish Cypriots are free to leave the military regime of the north and work or reside in free Cyprus, where they enjoy labour protection and equal rights with all other Cypriot citizens. He, and many other Cypriots who have, over the years, been at the forefront of the campaign to achieve justice for Cyprus, ask the question: Why do we, an aggrieved party, a victim of Turkish aggression, feel compelled to make empty, tokenistic gestures that seem to justify the flimsy Turkish justification of the heinous invasion, occupation and division of Cyprus? By inviting Turkish Cypriot artist to perform on the pretext that we need to somehow ‘prove’ that the two ‘sides’ can live in peace, are we not ‘proving’ correct the Turkish contention that Greeks and Turks cannot live in peace in Cyprus and that is the reason why the illegal occupation of a sovereign nation is necessary? Are we not absolving Turkey of its culpability in causing untold misery upon an innocent population and enforcing a racist system of apartheid upon the north of the island?
Furthermore, inviting Albayrak to sing in order to show that the two communities can live in peace has another damaging consequence. It serves to remove the Cyprus issue from its status as one involving violations of International Law, State Sovereignty, Human Rights Law and War Crimes and instead, relegates it to the status of a paltry intra-communal dispute. It would be ineptitude to the greatest degree for us, by our actions, to assert or to imply that the Cyprus Issue can be resolved by two communities being able to live in peace with one another. The fact remains that the Turkish Republic is illegally enforcing a pseudo-democratic, military regime upon the inhabitants of the northern sector of Cyprus, a sovereign nation, whether those inhabitants like it or not. That is the nub of the issue.
It is a savage indictment upon western concepts of justice that we, as victims, are perennially called upon to embrace aggressors in empty gestures of friendship that do nothing to resolve the original conflict or provide restitution for wrongs. So pervasive is this humiliating ideology, that it pervades our consciousness, making us feel guilty for being victims and putting the onus on us, though we have committed no crime, to seek the favours of the perpetrators of crime. The Turkish Cypriot community has not made similar gestures of reconciliation. Nor has it ever attempted to emancipate itself from the direction of Turkish or Turkish-imposed officials in order to engage in meaningful and constructive debate as to the integration of all Cypriots as a community and nation. It cannot, for it is a disenfranchised community, captive to policy-directions and strategic considerations that serve the interests of another power. As the foreign minister of Cyprus admitted during his recent visit to Australia, even high-level, friendly discussions between ideologically linked Turkish puppet leader of the occupied north, Mehmet Ali Talat and Cyprus President Mr Christofias are useful: “not so much for reaching a solution but for easing the tension that may arise occasionally.” We experience no such tension here.
It is axiomatic then, that the Cypriot Community’s well-meaning gesture is futile and will bear no fruit. If it wants to show that all ethnic communities in Cyprus can live in harmony, it would do much better to seek the support and work closer in the interim with communities that have already pledged their support and loyalty to the Republic of Cyprus, including the Lebanese and Armenian communities and which are fully integrated within Cypriot society. These communities are favourably disposed towards us and their own contributions to multi-cultural Cyprus and Victoria are not inconsiderable. Why ignore them instead of harnessing their resources to show the world what a fascinating tolerant melting pot and mosaic of cultures and ethnicities Cyprus really is?
That being said, it would be ungracious and inhospitable to compel an artist, invited to perform at an event to be drawn into a political dispute by virtue of her name and ethnicity. Regardless of the motivation behind her invitation and her acceptance to perform at the Festival, Albayrak, a talented signer in her own right, should be thanked warmly for her contribution and not be coerced to enter into a series of representations that could land her in a good deal of trouble by the authorities that regulate her day to day existence. She will always be welcome at a Cyprus Community function, not because her presence somehow magically proves that Greek and Turkish Cypriots can live together in peace but because as a Cypriot, the Cyprus Community is her home away from home. On the other hand, the Festival organisers would be better served by consulting widely with members of their community that have extensive experience in seeking Justice for Cyprus and cross-ethnic harmony before amateurishly embroiling their community into conflict, without cause. In this game, semantics are everything.
The Cyprus Community of Melbourne and Victoria does not make foreign policy within the context of a community where every man is his own foreign minister. It does however, have not inconsiderable influence in informing both Australian and Cypriot governments about aspects of the ongoing Cyprus issue. The interests of the Cyprus Community are not served by empty gestures of reconciliation that a) have no counterpart among those with whom they seek or wish to be seen to seek to engage b) polarise and disappoint their own members, and c) bear no results. By all means play the game but remember that our community organizations primary function in this country is not solve international disputes but rather, to safeguard whatever understand our own culture to be, for the next generations. In a zeitgeist of community disintegration, of limited time and even limited resources, can we really afford to play politics? Until next week, Justice for Cyprus seekers, this thought, abounding in aptness from the king himself, Elvis Presley:
“Singers come and go, but if you are a good actor, you can last along time.” Now let’s tread the boards carefully.