On Cyprus, force against force

Gwinn Owens

July 31, 1991|By Gwinn Owens

LAST NIGHT I dreamt I was back in Paralimni. This little village in eastern Cyprus seems never to leave my thoughts. In my heart I am still there, looking across a misty valley toward a magnificent, silent city. I watch a lone shepherd driving his flocks along a narrow road, a puff of dust hovering above them. I say to myself: I hope he knows how far he can venture into that valley without being shot.

The shepherd is Everyman. Raising sheep is his living, he has a GwinnOwensfamily to feed. The soldiers with the guns at the ready were put there by politicians whose lust for power transcends the lust for living of the shepherd; they live in parallel and uncomprehending universes.

The iridescent towers on the shepherd's horizon shine with the light of death, like a dead fish on the beach by moonlight. The city is -- or was -- Famagusta, the opulent pride of the island republic of Cyprus. Its inhabitants were Cypriots for 2,000 years and its visitors were sun-seeking Europeans. Then the Turkish ,, invaders came. Now its inhabitants are rats and its visitors are sea gulls.

At the back of the shepherd driving his flocks are soldiers, presumably protecting him. Before him, nearer than Famagusta, are opposing soldiers, presumably threatening him. In between are neutral soldiers of the United Nations, charged with keeping the opposing guns silent -- force against force against force.

One of my companions, as we watch the shepherd fade into the distance, is facetiously defiant. "This is ridiculous. What would happen if we all just start walking toward Famagusta?"

"I wouldn't," says our Cypriot adviser.

Indeed, Famagusta seems so near, while existing in another world. It is as if we are really on the moon and it is brought to us only through a powerful telescope. Almost close enough to touch, until we are confronted with the reality. That space between is as far as the distance between war and peace, or madness and sanity, or cruelty and kindness.

There are other cities, but they are over hate's horizon. Yulika, my friend in Nicosia, came from Kyrenia, lovelier, some say, than Famagusta. The bombs started falling one hot summer night in 1974 and then the soldiers from Turkey came. Yulika's father piled the family into his car and they escaped to Nicosia.

She is bitter now. "Why was the world willing to defend Kuwait, but not Cyprus?" I try to explain the facts of life. Turkey is our ally. NATO and all that. Oil.

She is defiant. "Someday I am going back to my home. Some day, I tell you."

They intervened in Cyprus, the Turks say, to protect the Turkish-speaking people of Cyprus (one sixth of the population) from the army of mainland Greece seeking to annex the independent island republic. Maybe the Turks were right -- at first -- but they had barely gained a foothold when the jingoistic Greek dictatorship was overthrown, the legitimate Cypriot government was restored and both asked for peace.

The Turks didn't stop; with their American-made NATO weapons they overran more a third of the island, scattering nearly 200,000 people. Thousands were killed, hundreds, perhaps thousands, were raped. The Orthodox Church strictures against abortion were suspended.

Power feeds on hate. Yulika says for years the Turks in Kyrenia were her friends. "We played together, ate together, sometimes lived together." When Kostas, another friend, was driven from his house in Nicosia, some neighboring Turks said they would see that his belongings were not disturbed -- assuming he would soon be back, and indeed, the battle line stalled in the middle of the city. Now 17 years later his house is just a few minutes away, but may as well be a light year distant. He lost everything. It took politicians to persuade the Greek and Turkish Cypriots to hate each other.

In the area they occupy, the Turks have besmirched and violated the Orthodox churches. The priceless ancient mosaics have been ripped off, some hustled into art's black market. Once, traveling in the Greek-speaking, Christian south with my friend Eleni, we came upon a mosque, untouched. "We don't disturb their mosques," she said. And, she added, all private houses in the south once owned by Turkish-speaking Cypriots are held in trust for their return, someday, when the island is reunited.

Propaganda? Perhaps, but that really begs the question. What happened in Cyprus is as old as the human race. The innocents are victimized by the powerful, the builders by the destroyers, the tender by the cruel.

A shepherd walks into the valley of the shadow of death beside a ghostly city, seeking only to live out his days in peace. Some of us are still naive enough to believe that he deserves exactly that. How long, O presidents and politicians and international strategists behind large desks, must he wait?

Gwinn Owens is the retired editor of this page.

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