Are we ready to bring down "Our Wall"?

This article has been written by Sevgül Uludag, a Turkish Cypriot journalist, for the Cockroaches internet magazine (www.hamamboculeri.org) and was later published in the daily newspaper Yeniduzen in the northern part of Cyprus. It was also published in ALITHIA Newspaper, March 7, 2004.

Israel is building a wall in the West Bank. The whole world is up against it! The activists in Israel and Palestine, who’ve been struggling against this “concrete barrier” and demonstrating against it, connecting with the international peace movement have managed to put it on the “agenda” of the world. They do not want a wall of shame, a wall of hatred, a wall dividing the people living in the West Bank.

What about us?
What about our “wall”? On Wednesday night together with my husband and son, we sat at the Pantheon Cinema in Nicosia, watching the avant premiere of the fi lm “Goodbye Lenin!” Right behind us was Niyazi Kizilyurek, who had done the first ever joint Cypriot movie about “Our Wall” together with Panicos Chryssanthou. I had watched “Our Wall” in a conference in Belfast couple of years ago – Panicos told me in an interview last year that they have not been able to show it on any TV station in Cyprus, including RIK. He felt angry and disappointed.

I wanted to remind him of the Russian saying, “You can’t be a prophet in your own country!.” Back to Pantheon – my son who’s learning German sat between us, virtually translating the whole movie. It was sad and funny at the same time: A woman who dedicated her whole life to DDR has a heart attack and is in critical condition. The doctor says that she is not ready for any sort of excitement, shocking news and so on. While she is in a deep coma, the Berlin Wall is brought down by East Germans. Her children, not quite knowing what to do, create a “cosmos” for her: her own world that does not exist anymore, the world before the fall of the Berlin Wall. While Germany is reunited and DDR socialism is buried, capitalism takes its place – life changes. The son, Alex, desperately seeks the shelves of supermarkets to try to fi nd something produced in times of DDR to continue the selfstyled world he’s creating for her mother. Together with one of his friends, he sits down and  makes “news tapes” on video and shows a new one to confi rm the “old world” each night to her mother. On her mother’s birthday, he’s even creative enough to find kids to dress up as “young komsomol” to sing for her mother, an old friend to bring a basket full of wine and presents allegedly sent from the political party, the only one in power in DDR.

Are we ready?
When the movie’s fi nished we walk back to Ledra Palace in the deserted streets of Nicosia, to cross back to “our side” to go to “our home”. “Our Wall” is still there, with thousands of holes in it, but still visible and concrete: barbed wire, soldiers, check-points, barricades, bags full of sand. The UNFICYP in between. All of this, as though it is separating the future from the past. Are we ready to really break this “Wall” down and to merge as one people, as Cypriots, with different ethnic, political, economic, social and class backgrounds? Are we ready to embrace “the other” that we have been taught to believe for so many years?

Not to “tolerate” but “accept” difference as part of our identity and see this as “richness” rather than an “obstacle”? Are we ready to merge our languages, as though mingling fl our and cocoa while making a cake and not thinking that fl our and cocoa are quite different but rather envisioning the result as a delicious chocolate cake?

Are we ready to send our children to the same schools, to teach them sharing rather than separatism, love instead of suspicion, caution and paranoia like we’ve done for so many years?
Are we ready to bring down the walls inside our minds, implanted in our brains, damaging our thinking, our personalities, our attitudes towards life?

Are we ready to accept and admit the mistakes of the past in order for our children to be able to move to the future, without the burden of the socalled “Cyprus problem”?

Dead end
I live in the area of Chaglayan which is close to the Famagusta Gate, Ayios Kasianos and Omorphita. In 1963, I was only fi ve years old when barricades were being built. We had a construction in our house and had lots of sand – I remember soldiers coming to fi ll bags with this sand and creating makeshift barricades to divide the city of Nicosia. Bullets were being fi red and one night towards midnight soldiers knocked on our doors to tell us “to leave immediately”. We went inside the walled city to fi nd a “safer place” away from our homes. To live in a room for some months with 25 other persons. To sleep on the floor. Of course I could not sleep, I was too frightened. I missed the garden I grew up in, my cat Ugur (Lucky), my toys. I couldn’t tolerate darkness because of gunfi re. I didn’t want to close my eyes. Months later, when we returned to our house, our street was no longer whole: there was a barricade and our street had a “dead end”. These barricades were to be consolidated all over Cyprus in 1974 -a 180 kilometres dividing line, that is “Our Wall”.

People got used to living with this “Wall” and when barricades partially opened last year on the 23rd of April, even though there was no provocative action, no hatred, no bloodshed, the invisible barriers sort of remained between us. Despite the Turkish Cypriots going to supermarkets in the southern part of our island to shop or Greek Cypriots to casinos to gamble in the northern part of our island, still the “suspicion”, the “caution”, the deeply buried “paranoia” about “the other” remains. I ask my friend Maria’s daughter about the reaction of her friends if she had had a Turkish Cypriot boyfriend. She says “Most pro-bably it would be negative.”

Yet, all of this is not surprising because if you were separated from your own sister or brother for 30 years and only heard the worst imaginable news about him or her and never had a chance to sit down and speak face to face for so long, you would be suspicious at the beginning. But for the moment, I see no joint political thin-king, no joint projects for our future: life moves slowly -even though the “barriers” are open, there is no joint “visioning” of how life should be in a united island. The bicommunal movements have entered into the mainstream and meeting “the other” is no longer a “taboo” like before but where’s the fruits of such meetings? Are we foreseeing joint schools, bi-lingual kindergartens, joint women and youth centres? Where are our projects for the elderly whether they are Turkish Cypriot or Greek Cypriot, to share a club, to play cards, read coffee cups, to talk of the old days with good and bad memories? Where’s our plan for joint publications? Joint news agencies, translation of books of poetry, stories, novels?

The other
When I look back now, after so many years, I see that this project of “dividing the island” has been successful: the masterminds of “Our Wall” has in fact managed to build a “wall” in our minds. 30 years of lack of any sort of contact, the selective news, the disinformation campaigns, have managed to make the two communities, “the other” for each other.

Even though we’re moving towards Europe, we still can’t see Cyprus as “our common country” and regard “the other” as “one of us”. We still want to see which part of the puzzle we will hold on to in a solution, rather than putting all the pieces together to see the whole picture as in a jigsaw puzzle. I do not understand what the “bargaining” is for in the offi cial negotiations: I refuse to “understand” it. I know that whatever the “concessions”, no one is taking Cyprus away from us.

We are children of the same soil, we have buried our ancestors on this same soil, we look at the same stars, the same sun, the same clouds. Everything will remain here, on this soil, for our children to enjoy. We will get what we deserve. If we are still foolish after so many years to refuse the chance to build a future together, we will remain stuck in the “curse” called “the Cyprus problem”. If we’ve become wise enough to take the risk called “peace” and take a step towards each other, life itself will give us opportunities to shape it as we want it to be. Nothing remains the same – everything changes over time. Our concepts, our perceptions, our misunderstandings. Even bricks in the “Walls” fall apart, as is happening now, even though we have a long ways from demolishing it completely from our minds.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *