From the terrace of my room at the Cyprus Hilton the belfries and minarets of Nicosia’s churches and mosques receded across a city of white houses with red tiled roofs. In the distance a range of mountains peaked into an azure sky. Below me, waiters with trays of drinks moved among the sun worshipers basking around a huge marble swimming pool. In spite of the 1974 invasion by Turkey that partitioned the island and the city of Nicosia into Greek and Turkish zones, the tourists were coming back to Cyprus.
Although I knew that movement between the zones was forbidden, I put in a call to Husrev Suleyman of the Turkish Cypriot Information Office, explaining my wish to do a story on Cyprus and asking permission to visit the Turkish zone.
“Come on over now,” he said as casually as if he were inviting me down the block for a beer.
“Do I just walk over?”
“Take a taxi to the checkpoint at the Ledra Palace,” he said. “Cross over from there.”
The Greek-Cypriot checkpoint at the Ledra Palace was staffed by several policemen and soldiers. I approached one of them and showed him my passport and the letter on my assignment.
“You have a press card?”
“No. I’m a novelist. This is a special assignment.”
“You have a Greek name.”
“I am Greek-American.”
“If you are Greek, why do you want to go over there?”
I gestured at the letter in his hands. He shrugged and took down my name and passport number.
“Are you returning tonight?”
“Are you sure?” His mocking tone suggested there were calamities and dangers in the Turkish zone my poor mind could not fathom.
Beyond the Greek checkpoint, a rubble of demolished buildings reminded me of urban renewal wreckage back home. Only the ugly tangle of barbed wire marked the area as a former battle zone. At the United Nations checkpoint I handed my passport and letter to a young sentry who wore the UN sleeve emblem on his uniform. “I am a journalist… a writer,” I said.
He smiled obligingly and shook his head, conveying he could not speak English. He motioned me to sit down on a bench and walked into an adjoining shed. I could see him talking on the phone. Twenty minutes later a jeep drove up. An officer emerged and saluted me snappily.
“You are a journalist?”
He examined my passport. “You are Greek?”
“I am an American. I was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and raised in Chicago. My parents were Greek.”
I waited uneasily while he made another phone call, speaking even more rapidly in French. When he returned, he handed me back my passport and letter with another salute. “You are free to proceed,” he said. “We are sorry for the delay.”
“Do they know I’m coming now?” I pointed anxiously to the Turkish checkpoint ahead.
“We don’t have anything to do with them,” the officer said pleasantly.
I walked on and after a couple of hundred yards approached what I recognized from the war movies as a machine gun pointing at me across a rampart of sandbags. I waved the passport and letter feebly, one in each upraised hand, like symbols of truce. The young, dark-complexioned soldier stared at me for a moment and then, looking slightly bored with my theatrics, motioned me on.
I had arrived in Cyprus, the most easterly of the Mediterranean islands, and forty miles from the Turkish mainland, just the previous day on my first visit to the island. My parents had been born on another Greek island, Crete, where, as young people, they had lived under the foreign occupation of the Ottoman Turks. As a child I listened to their chronicles about the sorrows of bondage, an agony that had driven the Cretans through two centuries of recurrent revolt, until their liberation and union with Greece in 1913. To me, as to other Greeks around the world, the kindling of a similar struggle in Cyprus in the years before World War I was the continuation of a heroic drama that began with the Greek War of Independence of 1821—1830, when, after four hundred years of bondage, the small nation won its freedom from the Turks. With the ravages of slavery so recent a part of their history, freedom to a Greek was a sacred quest.
“What first truly stirred my soul was not fear or pain, nor was it pleasure or games; it was the yearning for freedom,” wrote Nikos Kazantzakis, who grew up in the enslaved Crete of my parents’ time. The words of that great writer haunted every Greek soul.
To the Greek-Cypriot, the island, legendary birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite, is as Greek as the motherland itself and has been since Mycenaean times. But the Turks base their historical claims on having conquered the island in 1571. In 1878 they leased it to England (which annexed it during World War I).
In the Greek-Cypriot agitation for freedom from Britain and union with Greece following World War II, the Turkish-Cypriot minority felt themselves threatened. The independent republic founded in 1959 under Archbishop Makarios was made acceptable to the Turkish-Cypriots only by the veto powers conceded to them by its new constitution. President Makarios’ attempt in 1963 to revise that constitution and the succeeding ten years of sporadic, often savage, fighting and fragile periods of truce, policed by a small United Nations peacekeeping force, were regarded by Turkish-Cypriots as a struggle for their own survival.
The 1974 invasion displaced some 200,000 Greek-Cypriots, three-fifths of their total population, driving them in waves to the southern half of the island. But Turkey claimed it had been forced to act to protect the 116,000 Turkish-Cypriots by a coup in Nicosia the previous month. The coup, coupled with an attempt to assassinate Archbishop Makarios, was plotted by the fascist colonels’ junta then in power in Athens. Turkey’s response was to invade the island. The threat of war between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus caused the collapse of the colonels and brought a democratic, civilian government back to Greece. President Makarios returned from exile to head the Greek-Cypriot government again, but the island remained partitioned. In the three years that had passed since the invasion, hopes for accommodation and territorial adjustments would appear in the world press, but each time the attempts would deadlock and fail.
In the sanctuary of my Midwestern home, as I read the stories of the suffering refugees from Cyprus, read the denunciations and accusations of Greek and Turkish leaders, I knew I had to visit the island myself, see the faces and hear the voices of its Turkish-Cypriots and its Greek-Cypriots. Only in that way might I come to understand whether they could live together in peace if the Turks withdrew. As I made plans for my journey, I also understood I would have to come to grips with something ancient, not easily altered, in my own heart.
The Public Information Office in the Turkish sector of Nicosia was austerely furnished. Waiting, I studied the photographs on the walls and recognized the hero of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Husrev Suleyman came into the room, a man in his middle-thirties, as dark-haired and olive-skinned as any Greek. We shook hands and a porter brought us coffee.
For the next forty-five minutes Suleyman spoke vigorously of Greek deception, connivance, and intrigue. He scoffed at my suggestion that the Greek-Cypriots had renounced union with Greece.
“We have been hearing that lie for years. But we have recorded speeches of Archbishop Makarios and his followers stating that Cyprus has always been Greek and must someday join Greece.”
I asked about the 200,000 Greek refugees. He showed me a Turkish information bulletin placing the number at 56,000.
“Even if that figure is too low, 90,000 would be closer to accurate. But 200,000? Ridiculous. Greek propaganda.”
He was silent for a minute. “When our villages were attacked and burned in 1963 and 1964,” he said, “25,000 of our people became refugees. They lived wretchedly as refugees for eleven years. Where was the world’s concern for Cyprus suffering then?”
I asked, finally, if we could make a trip through the Turkish-Cypriot zone.
“Do you want to go now? We can go right now.”
“Monday or Tuesday would be better.”
“Come here at ten o’clock on Tuesday. I will take you anywhere you wish to go, north, east, or west.” He shrugged. “Of course, you understand, I cannot take you south.”
“Perhaps I can take you south,” I smiled.
Suleyman laughed amiably at my whimsical invitation.
I had been escorted to the Information Office from the Turkish checkpoint by Hassan, a Turkish-Cypriot who had learned English at the American school in Nicosia. He had sat in on the meeting, and now escorted me back.
“America is like a father with two children,” Hassan said gently. ”Greece is one child and Turkey is the other child. Sometimes the father seems to favor one and sometimes the other, but both children are loved and both should understand that the father is trying to be fair.”
He spoke with sympathy, as though in deference to my feelings. We shook hands warmly, and I walked back to the Greek-Cypriot zone.
At the hotel that evening I was picked up by Maria Hadjipavlou, a young Greek-Cypriot writer in the Greek Public Information Office. She was a slender, comely girl with large, compassionate eyes. Much of her work involved the refugees, and as we drove to visit the first of the camps she told me what had happened after the invasion.
When the first thousands of refugees swarmed into the south, some crowded in with relatives and friends. Others were taken in by strangers, sleeping on the floors in basements and attics. Tens of thousands camped under trees, in parks or vacant lots, building shantytowns of sacks, boxes, and crates. Toilets were holes dug into the ground, plugged up when they were full. Great quantities of soup and beans had to be prepared and distributed to avoid starvation.
As tents were shipped into the island, tent cities sprang up. But they were little protection against the dampness and cold of winter. The refugees suffered from pneumonia, dysentery, and an epidemic of scarlet fever that struck the children.
By the beginning of the third year, refugees were moving into thousands of tract houses built by large aid grants from the UN and the United States. The conditions of those remaining in tents and shanties, while improved from the beginning, were still, Maria told me, wretched by any human standard.
We drove into the refugee camp along a rutted roadway, between two rows of tents. Twilight darkened the pyramids of canvas, some of them lit by the glow of candles and lanterns. A fragrance of spring fruit scented the air. There were people sitting on chairs and benches under the trees, staring at us as we passed. When we stepped out of the car, some of them recognized Maria and came to greet us.
“Kalos orisate… welcome… welcome…” Two women kissed and hugged Maria and offered their hospitality.
We entered a tent belonging to an old farmer and his wife from a village in the district of Kyrenia. He was short, with thick white hair and ruddy cheeks that made him appear a diminutive Santa Claus. His wife was a stocky younger woman, with an unnatural pallor in her cheeks that contrasted with her brown, strong hands.
“How are things going, Grandfather?” Maria asked. He shrugged. “They could be better, they could be worse.”
A votive candle threw a wavering light on the icons of the saints, with their brooding visages. Beside them was a photograph of the robed Archbishop Makarios, Ethnarch of Cyprus. (He had suffered a heart attack but was, at that time, still alive.) The tent’s meager furnishings were neatly placed, with laces and fringed cloths spread over them in an effort at adornment.
“Have you heard when they will move you into a house?” Maria asked.
”Sometimes they tell us one month, sometimes three months,” the woman said. “Most of the families with children in this camp have already moved, or are getting ready to move. That is the fair way, and the old man and I will wait our turn.”
“If we just had a little more allowance each month,” the farmer said. “The coupons they give us stay the same, but the price of food goes up.” He motioned toward his wife. “She needs medicine too.”
“She is diabetic and needs insulin,” Maria said to me. She made a notation in her notebook.
“What are you standing around for, woman?” the farmer asked his wife gruffly. “Give our guests some coffee or juice.”
I thanked them, saying I didn’t care for anything, but they joined in heated protest, insisting that we have a cup of coffee, or fruit juice, or a sugared loukoum. I smiled sheepishly at Maria, admitting my naivete in thinking that I could enter any Greek dwelling, even a refugee tent, without accepting that philotimo toward strangers, the hospitality that Greeks everywhere venerate almost as a religion.
A second tent, furnished like the first, was occupied by a shepherd and his wife who had lost their nineteen-year-old son in the 1974 invasion. The boy had resisted the Turkish soldiers and had been shot to death.
Resignation haunted their faces and shadowed their words. When Maria asked when they would be moved into one of the houses being built for the refugees, the shepherd said quietly they could share whatever became available, since they no longer need the room they had required when their son was alive.
A larger tent, connected to a shed covered by metal siding. Here the atmosphere was less somber because a child had only recently been born. The adoring glances of the handsome young mother and the sturdy grandmother never strayed far from the ebullient baby that kicked up its feet on the bed. The father and grandfather were away, having been fortunate enough to find work in Nicosia.
“We are not afraid of the future,” the grandmother said. ”We must be patient, grateful for God’s blessings and the protection of his Beatitude, our revered Archbishop Makarios.” She raised the baby lovingly from the bed. “And my grandson will see our land again. In my heart I know that to be true.”
Another tent, and a taciturn man who regarded me with constrained hostility as a representative of the great power that he felt had allowed the Turks to retain the areas their armies had seized.
“Tell your President Carter I don’t want his wealth,” the man said as we were leaving. ”I want his help only to regain my house, my patch of land, and the graveyard where my dead are buried.”
We were walking back to our car when a young woman paused to speak to Maria. Even in the gathering darkness I could see she was a lovely girl, with almond eyes, and a face that recalled the melancholy beauty of the actress Irene Papas.
“She and her young man, also a refugee, will be married soon,” Maria said, after the girl walked on. “They have jobs in the city and are saving money to rent and furnish a little apartment. In that way they will not have to begin life in the camp.”
“There is a sorrow about her,” I said. “As though she were a character in an old tragedy.”
We got into the car and closed the door. “She was raped by the Turkish soldiers who took her village,” Maria said. “She became pregnant, and the doctors aborted the embryo.”
Back in my comfortable hotel room, I found it hard to fall asleep that night. The faces and voices of the men and women in the camp kept returning to me.
“When I go back to my land…”
“In my home were the possessions my mother had left me.”
“You could see the sea from our terrace…”
“I made bread in our oven on that feast day . . .”
“When we watered the apricot trees in the twilight, such a smell of sweetness rose from that fruit…”
The last thing I remembered before falling asleep was a strip of moonlight glistening between the drapes.
An overcast day. Clouds like gray bunting trailed over the rooftops of Nicosia. The pool area below me was deserted, the cushions stripped from the chaise lounges. A few birds skimmed over the tranquil water.
Maria picked me up early. We drove to one of the new housing settlements, a huge tract of stucco and concrete blocks, hundreds of buildings completed and hundreds still under construction. Tiny plots of flowers in circles of whitewashed stone and sprigs of basil and marjoram in tin cans on the windowsills softened the depressing and monotonous surroundings.
Hearing of a woman whose husband was among those still missing, we knocked on her door. She was in her fifties, tall, strong-bodied with wrinkled temples and cheeks. She was dressed in black, and her black hair, streaked with gray, was tied back in a severe bun. Looking as if she were a visitor herself in her sparsely furnished and antiseptic rooms, she invited us to sit down. Seated across from us, she spoke in a low and mournful voice of the day the Turkish soldiers had come to her village.
When the villagers first saw the planes overhead and heard the thunder of the guns, they were confused and then afraid. Her daughter was sent away with other village girls to be hidden but she remained with her husband who would not leave their house and land. Many of the neighbors locked themselves in their houses, as though the Turks were a storm that would pass over them.
Soon afterwards the Turkish soldiers entered the village and battered down the doors. They dragged people out, cursing the women and kicking and beating some of the men. The village priest suffered the most abuse, his cassock torn off, his beard and hair pulled until he shrieked and bled. Finally, the rings pulled off their fingers, separated from the men, the women with their children were locked in the church.
There they remained for three days, fed only bread and water. A friendly Turkish-Cypriot slipped them messages from their men, but he was caught and beaten, and the messages stopped coming. On the fourth day United Nations soldiers came in buses and took the women and children to refuge in the south. But the hundred or so men of their village remained behind. These are among the two thousand missing persons the Greek-Cypriot government says have never been accounted for by the Turks.
In spite of the years that had passed since the attack, she recalled the hour and the weather, the wind carrying the rumble of the guns, the batterings and threats and blows. She remembered the terror of the women, their pleas and prayers, as twilight darkened the church and some of them lit candles. She recalled the whimpering of the small children, the smells from the incontinent old women, the burdened passage of time until dawn.
The story took her an hour to relate, a grim and meticulous recital. Yet I could understand that for three years she had thought only of those days and nights, every sight and sound explored in her frantic hope that her husband might still be alive. Until, in the end, her grief and sorrow had knitted the memories into a dark spread that she clasped like a shroud.
By the time we reached the Stavros refugee camp it was hot and sunny, and the aluminum shed where the kindergarten class usually met was steaming. The teacher assembled the children on benches outside, shielded from the sun by a thatched roof.
The children, brought in by bus from one of the housing settlements, were a handsome flock, their dark eyes sparkling above their glowing cheeks. The girls were dressed in flowered frocks or jumpers, and the boys wore turtlenecks and shorts that exposed their tanned legs and nettle-scratched knees. They recited, argued, and wrestled with each other while the teacher made a valiant effort at discipline.
“Spring makes them restless,” she apologized.
She called for some materials from the shed and a half-dozen children leaped forward, waving their hands to be chosen. An aggressive scamp in a maroon turtleneck offered his services in a hoarse, confident voice.
The teacher admonished him, “Christos, sit down.”
When I took pictures during the playing of some makeshift musical instruments, Christos leaped forward again, obstructing the other children, mugging unabashedly for the camera.
“Christos, sit down!”
The children had made cut-outs of paper pigeons, addressed to the Turkish-Cypriot children across the Attila Line.
Deer Cypriot Turkish Children:
We, Greek children of ”Mana” kindergarten in the refugee camp of Stavros, send greetings of love to you. We pray and hope that the pigeons of peace will remove the Attila Line and bring back peace, friendship and happiness to our beloved country, Cyprus.
The children held up their drawings of the island, of the sun and the mountains and their homes, while the class sang.
My little house.
My beloved house,
How I wish I could
Come back to you soon.
If I find you in ruins,
I’ll rebuild you again,
I promise I will.
Little house that I love.
Once again Christos strutted forward, his voice growing louder. When another boy pushed him from behind in disgust, Christos whirled indignantly, small fists clenched and black eyes flashing.
“Christos, sit down!”
Giggling at his agitation and chagrin, the other children straggled through a few ragged bars, until their voices joined in unison again.
Another year has passed.
We are not yet in our homes,
But the flame to return
Burns on in our hearts.
For if we lived enslaved
We still hope and dream
For freedom to return
To our lovely Cyprus again.
Watching their vibrant faces, hearing their zestful voices singing the song of exile they might not really understand, I was stirred. Yet I could not help wondering if the laments of exile, the songs of estrangement, would not produce an irresistible momentum. As the children became young men and women, reminded ceaselessly of what had been lost, would they remain content with reciting poems and singing songs? Or, led by the bold and spirited Christos, would they be driven to regain by force what force had taken from them?
In this way generations pass to generations a chronicle of violence that compels violence, so stern and circumscribed a legacy that the young are unable to deviate from their deathward drift.
As Maria and I left the camp, the children sang:
Old year, hurry away now,
With your bitter memories.
A new year is coming,
And we will go home this year.
Sitting at a table in the darkened recesses of the Nicosia Taverna, Maria and I had dinner with Mando Meleagrou, daughter of the Cypriot novelist Eve Meleagrou, and of Dr. loannis Meleagrou. In a larger, adjoining room a wedding party was in progress, the guests erupting in laughter and toasts.
We ate mezedakia, the delicious assorted appetizers, and drank freely of the island’s good wine. The girls recited the poetry of Cypriot poets, arguing amiably when they disagreed on their abilities. A few members of the wedding celebration formed a circle for an island dance, whirling like apparitions in the misted shadows.
During dinner I had noticed two young soldiers in United Nations uniforms at a table near our own, staring at Mando and Maria. As we waited for fruit and cheese, emboldened by wine, one of them came to our table. His face was flushed and he greeted us in fragmented English.
I motioned for him to sit down and he pulled out a chair. The other soldier stared stiffly away from us.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
The soldier grinned and shook his head.
Pointing to the girls, I said, “Cyprus.” Then, tapping my chest, “America… United States.” I gestured at him.
“Finland!” he said jubilantly and motioned at his companion. “Finland!”
We waved the other soldier to join us. He came timorously to take a chair at our table. We found he spoke no English at all.
Both youths appeared no older than nineteen or twenty, and extremely handsome, their blond hair and fair complexions radiating like miniature suns in the candled taverna.
“When will you go home?” I asked the youth who spoke some English.
“Home! Yes!” he nodded fervently. ”Home…”
He smiled and winked at his friend as if to show he was making splendid progress.
“Yes, home!” he said. “Home… beautiful!”
He looked admiringly at the girls.
“Do you live near the mountains?” I asked.
“Mountains! Yes!” he said. “Mountains! Home!”
The other soldier permitted himself a guarded smile at Maria and Mando. We shared our fruit with them, toasting one another several times, utilizing gestures and laughter in place of speech. The bashful soldier began to smile with less painful shyness. When we rose, finally, to leave, both waved their disappointment.
“No! No! Please!”
“We have to go,” Maria said firmly. “It is late.”
I shook hands with them and Maria and Mando granted each one a final, warm smile. In that moment, I thought sadly, they were exiles too, young men set down between warring camps on an eastern Mediterranean island that must have seemed to them distant as the moon from their own northern homeland.
As we started for the door, I looked back one last time. The young soldiers stared after the girls with a wistful longing, not desire alone but simply a human need to share laughter, joy, and a promise of love.
On Sunday morning I was picked up by George Tsigarides of the Cyprus Tourism Organization. Tsigarides was also a refugee, one of the thousands of white-collar professionals who had fled from their homes, with perhaps a car and a few articles of clothing, during the 1974 invasion. We drove south. Along the coastal road from Limassol to Paphos, the majestic rocks and pounding surf reminded me of Monterey and Big Sur in California. We stopped briefly at some splendid tourist resorts and passed a number of spacious hotels under construction.
Tourism has always been an essential part of the island’s economy. It accounted for 19 percent of the gross national product in 1972 and 23.8 percent in 1973, a year when 276,000 tourists visited the island. When the Turkish army invaded the northern area, 82 percent of the island’s tourist accommodations were occupied. In 1975 tourism stood at only 5 percent of the GNP. Yet, so energetic and innovative have the Greek-Cypriots been in reviving the industry in the area left to them that some 180,000 tourists visited the south alone in 1976, and the 1977 total was expected to be close to the pre-invasion level.
Sitting in the sun-splashed terrace of a seaside hotel near Limassol, I considered the paradox of Cyprus. Tourists came to escape the stresses of their own lives. They had to be provided with tranquility, satisfying food, comfortable accommodations, recreation facilities, visits to antiquities.
No mention, in the travel folders, of refugee camps, or of villagers longing to return to their homes. Only the reminder that Cyprus offered the best travel and tourist buys in the sunny Mediterranean.
On a Tuesday morning, back in Nicosia, I crossed to the Turkish zone again. Husrev Suleyman was waiting for me, and we drove north. The churches we passed on the road to Kyrenia were locked for security reasons, Suleyman told me, the icons and other sacred artifacts removed and stored for safekeeping and a complete list submitted to the United Nations. The Greek-Cypriots I had spoken to claimed the churches had been looted, the religious objects shipped back to Turkey to be sold. All I could tell was that the exteriors were not damaged or defaced.
We paused at the lovely thirteenth-century Gothic cloister of Bellapais, once, a long time ago, called the Abbey of Peace. The monastery adjoined the village where Lawrence Durrell had lived and written Bitter Lemons in the early fifties, a fine and affectionate memoir of his years on Cyprus. The gardens about the Abbey were in luxuriant bloom, flowers ringing the trunks of fruit trees. Against a stunning sky, rooks cawed through the clear air above the cypresses that loomed like regal sentinels.
At Kyrenia the harbor was dominated by a seventh-century castle, which the British had used as a prison and which still had an aura of brooding menace. Beyond the castle, across the water, the Pentadaktylos mountains rose like a ghostly landscape out of the sea. From a row of brown and white houses with latticed windows edging the water came the lament of a Turkish song.
Later that day, after stopping for lunch at a roadside cafe where we ate kebab, a dish of spit-roasted lamb slices served with raw onions, tomatoes, and yogurt, we drove on and I asked Suleyman to stop at one of the villages I sighted off the main road.
The settlement had about a score of houses, ramshackle dwellings lining a dusty street. As we emerged from the car, a gaunt and mangy cat stared balefully at me and slipped away. A woman with a black scarf over her head appeared in a doorway, a barefooted child tugging at her skirt.
We crossed the street to a coffeehouse, a roofed porch occupied by about two dozen villagers, sitting at dilapidated tables. As we sat down at a table in a corner, some of the men stared at us curiously, while others avoided showing any interest. Their Turkish sounded gruff and guttural to me, accompanied by brusque motions of their hands. Most were older men, dark-skinned with wrinkled and weathered cheeks, dressed in shabby jackets, worn trousers, collarless shirts, caps and boots. A pair of men near us wore shoes without laces.
Suleyman took out a pack of cigarettes and offered it to a man at the table next to us. The man wiped his rough brown hands, with their ragged nails, on his trousers before accepting the pack. He pulled out a cigarette, lit it deftly, and grimaced with pleasure as a few wisps of smoke escaped from his nostrils.
Suleyman had told me that many of the older Turks spoke Greek, and I began speaking to them. The men answered a little stiffly in the beginning. Some among them reminded me of tuskless, aged bulls, slumped and withdrawn, with only an occasional flicker of the eyes to show that they were not asleep. Then, under prodding, one after another, the men began to talk.
They told me of the years of terror since 1955, when EOKA, the Greek-Cypriot guerrilla organization dedicated to winning “Enosis,” union with Greece, by force, began its campaign of bombings and shootings. In 1958, 1963, 1964, 1967, one murderous eruption followed another. Even during periods of relative order, there were harassments, indignities, and cruelties perpetrated against them. One man told of trying three times to harvest his carob crop and three times being stopped and beaten by Greek-Cypriot bands. Another told of hauling a load of melons to market and being stopped by Greek auxiliary policemen, who, on the pretext of searching for hidden weapons, stabbed the fruit with their sticks, making a shambles of the load.
“Then they told me to take them to market,” the old man’s face trembled with fury. “After they ruined everything, they told me to take them to market!”
“Why would they do such a thing?” I asked.
“To torment us,” said one man.
“Because they are devils,” said another.
The young men sitting at the edge of the group watched us silently. The older Turkish-Cypriots had learned Greek during earlier, amicable periods. In later years, when conflict between the two communities increased, contacts were broken off and the young on each side were limited to their own language. If young Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots could no longer talk to each other, I thought, what hope was there for the island they had to share?
“What is the main problem here?” I asked the older men again. They responded in brief, resentful phrases, one after the other:
”Union… always harping on union… “
“I don’t want my family joined to Greece.”
“We are Cypriots, but they have always thought of themselves as Greeks first.”
“They never admit the island is our home, too.”
“They hate us.”
“Do you hate them?” I asked.
“Yes, I hate them!” exclaimed a man who had kept out of the conversation until then. “The only thing the filth understand is the sword!” He made a slashing gesture with his hand.
Several of the others protested, embarrassed by this show of bloodthirstiness before a stranger and guest. But when I asked if they could envisage living with Greek-Cypriots in mixed villages again, they shook their heads grimly, muttering objections and proscriptions. One hawk-featured old man with skin like flaking bark spoke for them all. “Does the mouse go to bed with the cat?”
Suleyman and I rose to leave. A hopelessness possessed me. As if to reassure me that he was not my enemy, the hawk-like man rose and extended his hand, big fingers like raw, cracked knuckles. We clasped hands and I felt the gritty stone of his palm.
Then the other men rose, coming from their chairs and tables to crowd around me, extending their hands over the arms and shoulders of those in front. The young men, uncertain of the reason for the handclasps, joined in. For a flurried moment, shaking one hand after another, seeing the men threadbare and poor but persevering in their struggle to wrest a small yield from the land and from life, I felt an impassioned friendship for them all.
The pattern of that conversation was repeated at several other villages along the way. Some Turkish-Cypriots were less hostile than others toward the Greek-Cypriots, but most of them had embittered memories of being driven from their villages in the 1964 fighting. Those who sought to return after the cease-fire agreement of that time found their houses looted or burned, their fruit trees felled, their livestock stolen, and their wells filled in.
By the spring of 1964, all chance for reconciliation had been dissipated, as the fighting between the two communities grew more intense. The outnumbered Turkish-Cypriots gathered for protection in fortified enclaves. Crowded together, denied access to their possessions and their land, dependent for utilities and services on Greek-Cypriots, they lived a wretched life. Those who chose to remain in their villages were at the mercy of Greek-Cypriot irregulars, whom even Archbishop Makarios could not control.
When I inquired about the long-term economic and social effects of partition, most of the villagers seemed unconcerned. They were interested only in survival, from one day to the next. A few hoped the time might arrive when some commerce and communication with the Greek-Cypriots in the south could be restored. But I did not meet a single Turkish-Cypriot who was willing to return to things as they were before the 1974 invasion.
The city of Famagusta. The street scenes, movements and sounds reminded me of a dozen Greek-island cities I had seen. Staring at the people, looking for characteristics that would identify them as Turks, I was struck by their resemblance to Greeks. They seemed the same sober old men and somber old women; young men in shirtsleeves; barelegged young women in worn print frocks. Even a swarm of sun-browned children, shrieking and waving their thin arms like sticks in the air as they played, were disturbingly familiar.
The section of Famagusta surrounding the magnificent hotels whose reputation had once rivaled Miami Beach was cordoned off and guarded by soldiers. The owners and staff had fled during the 1974 invasion.
So for three years the once-teeming tourist complexes, their doors and windows shuttered, had lain like castaways—abandoned hulls picked clean as bones by the wind and sun. The sandy beaches below the balconies and pavilions, undisturbed except for the tide that lapped at the tracks of swallows and gulls, had become the silent playground of an eerie, dead preserve.
On the way back to Nicosia, Suleyman took me to the sites of three Turkish-Cypriot villages whose inhabitants, he said, had been murdered by Greek-Cypriots during the 1974 fighting. At each of the villages, Aloa, Maratha, and Sandallaris, a monument had been erected to the victims—more than two hundred names, all told, from a twenty-five-day-old baby to an eighty-nine-year-old woman.
I was suddenly resentful and suspicious. Were the memorials an elaborate facade to deceive journalists and tourists and to counteract the charges of Turkish atrocities that had been lodged by the European Commission on Human Rights? Finally, whether the monuments and graves were authentic or not, I mourned the names before me as a true memorial to all the innocent men, women, and children who had died on the island in the long and bloody years. Living together peacefully for extended periods, a time arrived when they became rapacious to butcher one another. Then, God help Moslem and Christian.
For generations, both sides have made accusations and protestations and offered explanations and rationales. None of these moldering arguments can obscure the iniquitous truth that, over the centuries, six times as many Greeks and Turks have been murdered by each other as the number— 500,000 Greek-Cypriots, 116,000 Turkish-Cypriots—that populate Cyprus today.
Back in Nicosia, on the morning of my last day in Cyprus, walking up the stairway into an elegant sitting room, I met the stately and imposing Ethnarch, whose black-robed figure and bearded face were a familiar sight in newspapers across the world. He was not as tall as I had imagined him to be from the photographs, but he was strong-bodied, with a grave and courteous manner.
Archbishop Makarios had agreed to see me briefly despite his recent heart attack. He began our conversation by speaking about his illness, which had struck him while he was conducting an Easter mass in church. He had, he said, always been on guard against external foes, he had survived attempted assassinations, but he had never been ill, and this fluttering of the heart over which he had no control was an alien and disquieting experience. “I am not anxious for myself,” he said quietly, “but for my people and for our Cyprus.”
He had long proven his devotion and love for his people and his island. At the age of thirty-seven he was elected by popular vote to become the youngest archbishop in the history of the Church of Cyprus, and for thirty years he had guided his island’s destiny. His struggle against colonialism, his exile by the British and his triumphant return in 1959, his stamina, courage, and faith had made him a deity for the Greek-Cypriots. As I had seen in the tents of refugees, in houses, shops, and offices, photographs of the archbishop shared the shrines of saints.
Yet, to the Turkish-Cypriots, the archbishop’s shadow was ominous and omnipresent, every humiliation and pain they had to endure attributed to his personal direction.
I thought of some of these things as he talked to me of the island’s suffering, the calamity of partition, his conviction that the island could not survive dismemberment. He spoke of the jubilation among the Greek-Cypriots the day President Carter was elected.
“I cannot describe to you what it was like,” he said. “Our joy then because we thought that the president’s campaign pledges, his assertions of friendship, his declarations on human rights and the justice of our cause, all would prove true. But now, with the United States endorsing a billion-dollar military aid program to Turkey, replacing the weapons and ammunition they used to kill our people, we feel betrayed.”
I tried to suggest that disillusionment might be premature, that major powers tend to move slowly and along contradictory paths. After a moment, I hushed, feeling like a fool lecturing a king.
As I left the sun-splashed and tranquil sitting room, passing an adjoining room, I glimpsed, through a partially opened door, a white-jacketed attendant, perhaps a doctor, keeping vigil beside an oxygen tank.
(Soon afterward, back in America, hearing the news of the archbishop’s death, I experienced a strange and pervasive sense of loss. I imagined the grief and devastation of his followers. I had asked one of them in Cyprus what the Greek-Cypriots would do if the archbishop died. He had answered, “We would pray.”)
Departing for the airport later that afternoon, and my return flight to Athens, Maria and I were joined by an American-Cypriot writer and teacher, Tellos Kyriakides. We made a brief stop at a refugee camp in Larnaca. The camp, Maria told us, had just been settled a few months previously by refugees from the north. These were among the ten thousand or so Greek-Cypriots who had chosen to remain in their villages under guarantees of safety from the Turks after the 1974 invasion. Since then, according to word in Nicosia, they had undergone persecution, denial of medical services and lack of educational facilities for their children. All but two thousand of them had left their villages and were now refugees in the Greek-Cypriot zone. Maria was godparent to a child who had just been born a few weeks before in the Larnaca camp.
The mother, Flourenza, a small and sinewy woman of thirty-seven, led us into a hot, windowless shed. The infant had been sick for two weeks, she said, but now seemed better. We found the infant’s swollen body covered with thick gray scales, overgrown with scabs. Shocked, we took the baby to the hospital in Larnaca. In the children’s wing, a crowd of mothers and children jammed the doorway to the doctor’s office. While Tellos and I waited outside, Maria and Flourenza carrying the baby, were taken directly inside. The doctor diagnosed the illness as a serious viral infection, often causing premature blindness if left untended. The baby would have to remain in the hospital for two to three weeks.
Flourenza seemed unable to relinquish the infant, until Maria, soothingly and consolingly, managed to separate them. After the nurse left with the baby, the mother stared after them, her hands raised stiffly and awkwardly to her breasts, as if still holding the child.
We drove her back to the camp and proceeded to the airport, riding in silence, the three of us aware, I think, that our chance visit to the camp may have prevented a child from going blind. That alone, I thought gratefully, was sufficient reason for my visit to Cyprus.
The writers of the old Greek tragedies have revealed to us that there is a wisdom which comes with suffering, a knowledge wrenched from sorrow. One does not have to be a king like Lear or Oedipus to enjoin this meaning. Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots, villagers and townspeople, can come from their crucible to understand that while hatred and vengeance remain temptations, restraint and compassion can become their links to survive.
The people of Cyprus deserve to survive. I will never forget the old refugee farmer and his wife who were the first to say that families with children should have first call on the houses being built for the refugees; the women who retained their dignity and hospitality in the bleak, diminished surroundings of the camps; the Turkish-Cypriot farmers talking grimly of grievances and persecutions, and yet not allowing me—a Greek, in their eyes—to leave without shaking my hand; the man who wanted only his house, his patch of land and the graveyard where his dead are buried; the young Turkish-Cypriot guide Hassan describing Washington’s dilemma in terms of a family problem; the lovely girl with her fearful memories, still working for a home and new life.
Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots have lived together in harmony before, if not with the pristine affection some Greek-Cypriots now would have us believe existed. Before the colonial period, they had shared celebrations, and intermarriages were fairly common. The coming of the British, and then the Greek-Cypriot campaign for union created profound strains; still, for a long time, the two communities lived in peace and with tolerance for their differences. After the 1974 invasion, many Greek-Cypriots told of being befriended and protected by Turkish-Cypriots, sometimes hidden from mainland Turkish soldiers until they were able to escape. That awareness of their bond as Cypriots could help heal the wounds.
Perhaps the Cypriots will not be given a choice. From their sixteenth-century bondage, goaded by internal zealots, driven by external influence, their history has been a record of disorders. The proximity of the island to the rich oilfields of the Middle East suggests even greater pressure ahead. In the strident exchange of threats and claims over the Middle East, who will guarantee the independence and territorial integrity of Cyprus?
There is an old Greek-Cypriot proverb that if the stone falls on the egg, alas for the egg. If the egg falls on the stone, alas for the egg. Cyprus is the egg in an avalanche. Three years of partition may be only the beginning of a much longer displacement, as with the refugees of Palestine; these years may also be the mold for restless and uprooted generations, such as those that nourish internecine warfare in Northern Ireland. The prospects are gloomy and filled with foreboding.
My plane rose from the airport at Larnaca. An anthology of Greek-Cypriot poetry lay on my lap. I opened the book and reread some lines by Theodosis Pierides I had come across the night before:
I sing of the human beings who will come.
I sing of the human beings who will have
as nourishment in their lungs, our
wide sky free — who will have
all this soil of ours free
for them to stride upon as masters.
I sing of the human beings who will have
much to reap each year,
much to dance upon the threshing-grounds
and much to utter their joy,
in a thunderous voice, to sing of it.
A poet’s faith defies hopelessness and gloom. Held that moment by his spirit, looking down on Cyprus, resplendent with its mountains, forests, orchards, and sea-washed coasts, seeing the land as it had been sculpted by God, man’s partition invisible, I had a vision, momentary and yet compelling, of that night-haunted island redeemed by peace and light.