There is a dilemma with being Cypriot that only those married into Cypriot families can understand. Because of historical and political conflict, the identity of Cypriots has been torn apart and you are forced to take up one side or the other.
The Cyprus divide
Without getting into too much detail (frankly I don’t know a lot about Cypriot history), Cyprus is ethnically divided between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Historically the tiny Mediterranean island has been the stomping ground for many different ancient civilizations and modern empires including Egyptian, Roman, Hellenic, Arab, Persian, Ottoman and British (not in that order).
The history is actually quite complex and probably a bit boring to most people. What you need to know about modern-day Cyprus is that the tiny island nation is divided by ethnicity, language and religion. The northern 1/3 of the island is occupied by Turkey and is known as Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The southern 2/3 of Cyprus is the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus.
So here’s the dilemma
This is where our dilemma with being Cypriot comes in. For some reason the longest-lasting cultural, religious and ethnic tie has been with Greece. That means most Cypriots speak Greek, identify with Greek culture and follow the Greek Orthodox church. This is why you hear most Cypriots say they are Greek Cypriot.
However from a government perspective, both the Turkish and Greek influences are supposed to be respected. For example, the Turkish language is an official language of Cyprus (along with Greek). In fact, you’ll see both Turkish and Greek on everything from money, driver’s licenses and official documents.
My husband’s family is ethnically Greek Cypriot. This is why my children and I are learning to speak Greek and participate in Greek celebrations. But this doesn’t sit well with me. Why don’t we also learn Turkish and celebrate Turkish culture? It’s just as much a part of Cypriot culture and history…isn’t it?
I want my children to know and accept all parts of Cypriot culture. Lately I’ve started to think that means embracing both Greek and Turkish cultures. This is easier said than done. Most Greeks and Greek Cypriots learn from an early age to dislike Turkey and Turks. No really, it’s true.
On rare occasions, my very liberal, London-born, American-educated husband sometimes falls into the subconscious blaming of Turks for anything that goes wrong in Cyprus. If you get him to talk it through logically he’ll be the first to say it’s a ridiculous notion. But this dislike of Turkey was ingrained in him from birth and it’s taken him a long time to slough it off.
Now some may say I should have no opinion in the matter as I am not Cypriot. But I want my children to grow up with open minds and hearts. For me that means accepting all Cypriots regardless of what side of the Green Line they live on.
I’ll probably upset Cypriots from both sides of the Green Line by saying this. But in my heart, I believe you are all Cypriots (not Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot). The dilemma with being Cypriot is that there is no Cyprus without Greece or Turkey. Cypriots haven’t reclaimed or identified who they are for themselves.
This makes it difficult for third culture families like ours because there is no clear cut lifestyle to follow. Do we stick with Greek Cypriots to keep family traditions going or do we open ourselves up to Turkish culture as well? I guess it’s just another thing thrown into our third culture life that makes things interesting.