In 1954 my grandparents left behind their home in Cyprus. Twenty years later, the home they left behind became unrecognizable- my grandfather’s once multicultural village became solely Greek-Cypriot, relatives and friends were killed in violence, and their country became divided. The island has remained divided since 1974, and despite the opening of border crossings, the Turkish and Greek communities have remained largely separate.
As a child I did not fully understand the conflict in Cyprus, in fact, I was completely unaware of it. My grandparents, who practically raised me, instilled within me values for multiculturalism and understanding. Growing up in the United States, many of our close friends were Turkish and my grandparents emphasized no distinction between us. My Pappou (grandfather) would share gardening advice with our Turkish-American neighbors when they planted fig and pomegranate trees in the yard. He would invite them over to play tavli (backgammon) and drink coffee. It was not until I grew older and left my home that I was exposed to conflict between Turkish and Greek Americans.
There are many things that our cultures and traditions share, and have shared for centuries. As Cypriots, both Greek and Turkish, on the island and abroad in diaspora communities, we can and should promote understanding and cooperation within our communities.
I recently visited the United Nations buffer zone in Nicosia, Cyprus and I felt a sense of relief. Although the conflict remains, there are groups (both local and international) on the island promoting dialogue and cooperation between the communities. As I walked down Marcou Dracou Street, past the Goethe Institute, the old Ledra Palace hotel, I reached a building with Greek and Turkish lettering on it. The Home For Cooperation (H4C) is a building created by the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (ADHR). The building hosts bicommunal educational events throughout the year and includes offices for other NGO’s working in the area.
When I visit Cyprus, I cannot help but think of my grandparents and the lessons that they taught me, the strength they gave me to encourage others to understand the rich cultural connections between us. Although it has been over ten years since my grandfather’s passing, I see his wisdom in these organizations that are working toward peace and cooperation in Cyprus.