Friday, July 04, 2014

Cyprus Resettlement Project

I was a member of an international peace initiative called 'Cyprus Resettlement Project' in 1972. The project envisaged restoring harmony between Greeks and Turks in Cyprus and resettling refugees from both the communities in the villages they were forced to abandon following large-scale communal violence immediately after the island nation gained independence from the British. 

The Island nation of Cyprus had a population of over 600,000 and the size of a medium Indian district - 180 km long and 80 km wide. The population of Greek, who are orthodox Christians, was nearly 80 per cent while the Muslim Turks were 15 per cent, similar to the demography of India, in a way.

Both the communities looked at each other with suspicion though they inter-mingled during the day and would retire to their respective quarters at night. Every village had at least one Cafe where men would drink endless cups of black coffee and play cards and checkers.

The Turks knew Greek, but the Greek did not know Turkish. Like any majority community in the world, the Greeks could afford to be liberal, while the Turks were a closed community.

Being in my early 20s, I befriended the youth of my age, spending my time in Cafes and playing chess with them. On weekends, we would go out on picnic with both Greek and Turk young men and women.

During our stay in Cyprus, not a single incident of communal tension and violence was reported from any corner of the country. Our team had managed to convince members of both the communities to accept the refugees to come back to their own villages. A list of such refugees was prepared in consultation with the villagers.

However, we had to wind up our project all of sudden when the regular army from Turkey, which is just about 30 - 40 nautical miles across the Mediterranean sea, invaded the island and occupied half of it.
There was also an extremist orthodox Greek group which wanted Cyprus to be made a part of mainland Greece. But, Greece was several hundred nautical miles away from Cyprus.

Left to themselves, without the intervention and interference of political leaders and extremists, the Greeks and the Turks would have lived happily like good neighbors.

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