Cyprus in Israel and Israel in Cyprus

I am proud to say that my soon-to-be alma mater, Arcadia University, is the best school for study abroad in the USA. And one of the privileges of attending such a school is that I’m going, in just under three weeks, to study abroad for 8 days in Cyprus. The course I’m taking is called Divided Cities, referring, of course, to the capital city of Nicosia being separated by a wall, and deals with what is called the Cyprus Problem. Cyprus is a complicated and frozen conflict, though in certain ways, more stable or even comfortable than what one would see (or has seen) in Northern Ireland, Turkey (with the Kurdish PKK militia), or Israel & the Palestinian Territories. It doesn’t get nearly as much media coverage as other conflicts, especially Israel. Nevertheless, the UN has been involved in trying to reach a unity deal for many, many years, and there are numerous NGOs dedicated to reconciliation and unity between Turkish-Cypriots and Greek-Cypriots.

While in class, there are frequent comparisons between Cyprus and Northern Ireland (due in part that another, similar class offered involves a trip there), but I can’t help but think of Israel when studying the Cyprus Problem. Perhaps this is a bit strange due to the overarching difference in what a peace deal would entail for each country. For Israel, a peace deal would ideally reach some sort of two-state solution and separation from the Palestinians. In Cyprus, the goal is generally though to be a unified country. That being said, there are some commonalities to both countries and their conflicts. Refugees, displacement, security concerns, minority concerns, a narrative of occupation, and historic ties to the land, are both cited by Cypriots of both communities, Israelis, and Palestinians. So while the peace process of Northern Ireland is influential on the peace process attempts for Cyprus, I also think that the peace processes in both Israel and Cyprus can influence each other in a helpful way.

Earlier in the semester, one of my professors made a comment about how students in the class sometimes gravitate towards/sympathize with one side more than the other in the Cyprus class (generally the minority Turkish-Cypriot population, in a “root for the underdog” case). And yet for me, I can sympathize equally with both, perhaps given my political stance towards Israel and my Jewish background. Greek Cypriots were often forced out of their homes in the north of the island (now considered occupied by Turkey), with little–if anything–to bring with them, and they became refugees on their own island. Many were murdered or raped by Turkish soldiers who intervened in 1974, after a Greek-backed coup attempt. While initially one might compare this to Arabs who were expelled or fled their homes in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine in 1948, this narrative also applies to the 1 million Jews of Arab lands (and also, to a lesser degree, post-revolutionary Iran) who were forced to flee or were expelled after Israel’s establishment. Furthermore, some Greek Cypriots cite their older presence on the island, and its role in Greek history and mythology, as another reason to oppose bizonality, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus independence/recognition, or even annexation of the north to Turkey, for fears of their historic presence being erased. These are similar arguments to those made by Jews in Israel, and elsewhere, over their reluctance to let go of any part of Jerusalem or Judea & Samaria, the cradle of ancient Jewish civilization, and hand it over (at least in part) to an Arab population that is not even indigenous to the Levant.

On the other hand, as a Jew, I can also sympathize with the Turkish-Cypriot minority on the island. Turkish-Cypriots were mistreated by the ethnically-Greek majority of the population. The Turkish intervention in 1974 provided something of a safe haven for them, in a similar way that the re-establishment of Israel provided a safe haven for Jews that had been persecuted for generations in the Middle East and Europe. Just as the Turkish-Cypriots desire to rule over their own people, and not the Greek-Cypriots, for fear of becoming a minority once more vulnerable to discrimination, most Israelis are opposed to a one-state solution that could lead either to endless civil war or becoming a minority in their own homeland, while also not wanting to continue the “occupation” in the West Bank. And just as Israelis are unwilling to embrace a “right of return” for Arabs who left the Mandate during the 1948 war (once more, for fear of becoming a minority in their own homeland), and are willing to partially compensate instead, the Turkish-Cypriots believe in compensation to displaced Greek-Cypriots, rather than a full right of return.

One can find similarities between both communities on Cyprus and the Palestinian narrative as well. Like the Greek-Cypriots, the Palestinians declare their cause to be one of human rights, including the right of return to places they once inhabited, despite the demographic changes and the fact that it’s been decades since they lived there. Also, they cite the injustice of living under occupation, and demand it end immediately as a way for reconciliation. And like the Turkish-Cypriots, the Palestinians cite historic oppression as well, while also saying that even if they lack the same longstanding ties to the land that Jews do (putting aside the myth embraced by many Palestinian leaders and citizens that they were “the original Jews”, that Jesus was Palestinian, and that Abraham was Muslim), that doesn’t change the fact that they’re here now and deserve independence.

Israel’s growing closeness with the Republic of Cyprus, in part due to Turkey’s recent shift away from Israel (even with improving relations as of last year), shows that the two countries have quite a lot in common beyond being popular holiday destinations in the Mediterranean or being cradles of ancient civilizations. Both countries are in frozen conflicts that show no sign of being resolved anytime soon, even with the urgency the international community places on Jerusalem and Nicosia to resolve the situations. To be sure, there are differences between the conflicts. For example, there aren’t rockets flying from one side of Nicosia to the other. And there is a substantially-larger Arab community living in Israel than a Turkish-Cypriot community in the Republic of Cyprus. And of course, the influence of the peace talks to end The Troubles is welcome for the Cyprus Problem. But given the numerous similarities and burgeoning ties between Cyprus and Israel, it would behoove the international community to examine each case of conflict and apply similar trust building or negotiating measures from one country to the other in order to resolve their respective conflicts. In this sense, Nicosia and Jerusalem are intertwined.

About the Author
Dmitri Shufutinsky is a graduate of Arcadia University's Masters program in International Peace & Conflict Resolution. He is an ardent Zionist and a supporter of indigenous rights, autonomy, solidarity, and sovereignty. Dmitri currently lives in Kibbutz Erez, Israel as a Lone Soldier in the Garin Tzabar program, and is drafting to Michve Alon on 15 December.
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