The news reports about progress in the UN’s Cyprus talks continue apace. For readers not familiar with what is at stake, the TNH website will occasionally feature articles by people who are not necessarily experts, but who have been there. Zoe Andris participated in the seventh annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus, sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation. She shares her experience in the article that follows.
By Zoe Andris
“Do you know anything about Cyprus?”
When I returned from the American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) Foreign Policy trip a month ago, I found myself asking that question a lot—to my friends, to casual acquaintances, to my hairdresser, to anyone that will listen. The responses that I’ve received so far include:
“Yeah, that’s near Greece, right?”
“You mean Crete?”
And, the most common one:
“Don’t worry, I didn’t either,” I reassure them. “But I went there and over one-third of the island has been occupied by Turkey since 1974 and 1600 people are still missing from the invasion and it’s only 65 miles from the coast of Syria. Isn’t that crazy?” I rattle off.
Their eyes widen, and I know I’ve gotten their attention. That’s my cue to go in deeper.
When recounting my trip, the experience I talk about the most was our visit to the occupied area.
How when we reached the border, AHI President and leader of our group, Nick Larigakis, told us that if summoned by the police, we were to say that this group of ten college students was here for a trip to the beach and some lunch, rather than to experience one of the most shocking and gut-wrenching moments of our young lives.
How we were told that if border control asked to stamp our passports, we should deny them, just as we do not recognize the occupied area as a sovereign nation.
How the street signs and billboards suddenly changed from Greek to Turkish in a matter of minutes and a few feet.
How I walked along the beach in Famagusta, and I couldn’t help but stare at the people sunbathing, swimming and laughing when behind them was a fenced out, guarded, dead city—once a bustling and thriving tourist attraction that now sits deserted and untouched since the 1974 invasion.
How I saw a Greek Orthodox and Muslim cemetery side by side—the Greek one desecrated, with crosses smashed in half and littered with trash and the Muslim one, untouched and in pristine condition.
But what surprisingly angered me most, what my father hadn’t prepared me for during my Cyprus History Crash Course over pulled pork sandwiches back home, was the mountain—carved with the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags side by side, with the words underneath translating to “How fortunate is the person who can say ‘I am a Turk.’” I immediately texted my father upon seeing it, saying “You never told me about the mountain!!!” to which he replied, “Wanted you to be just as shocked and surprised as I was.”
And I was. It made me livid to see that kind of branding of home and country. In that moment, I felt for the Greek Cypriot people, who have this overpowering, physical reminder that their land and homes no longer belong to them. Members of their family still missing, landmarks of their faith, history and culture stripped away…and the mountain looms over it all.
I carried that anger and sadness from each of these moments back home and I share it with my peers, in hopes that they will not only understand my sentiment, but that they themselves will feel it as well. While this catastrophe has remained on the backburner of the United States for decades, there are people who still know nothing of the invasion, destruction and current occupation of the island. When I recount my experience to my friends, they don’t get bored or try to change the subject; they listen and ask questions and try to understand the situation themselves. This is the world we are living in. There is so much that we don’t know or talk about, but that does not mean that we don’t want to. After physically being there, it’s personal now, and I will forever take it upon myself to share the Cyprus issue and what I’ve learned with those around me. Thanks to the American Hellenic Institute and this enlightening trip, I proudly now say, “How fortunate is the person who can say, ‘I was there, and I am changed.’”
Zoe Andris, a native of Washington, DC, is a junior and is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology at Kenyon College in Ohio. Passionate about her Greek heritage, she is an active member of her church and has spent her summers in her family’s village tucked away in the Parnon Mountains near Sparta