Although it has been a few months since our exploration of Northern Cyprus, our consideration of what we saw there continues to be a daily source of discussion. The Karagöz puppets who inhabit my head, in particular, have much to say, so let me let them speak to you today:
Celebi, the modernist puppet begins the discussion: “The woes of Cyprus. Yesterday, today and tomorrow. These days, people focus on the crisis in 1974 when Greek groups attempted to annex Cyprus to Greece and the Turkish military ostensibly came into protect the scads of ethnic Turkish Cypriots who had lived there for centuries side-by-side with Greek ethnic Cypriots. So says one part of the story…” Sighing, he rubbed his head for a while before continuing.
“Many we have met here say that the Greeks were just as bad as the Turks – killing and disappearing many Turks – but the Turks were also bad to the Greeks - doing just the same. The incident in 1974 goes down in history with Turkey being the bad guy – that’s not a new role for us is it – but the fact is the Greeks were bad too – both were bad it was awful and it is still awful.” In an unusual fit of frustration and hopelessness, Celebi pounds a glass of single malt and keels over, drunk as a skunk.
Hacivad Bey, the learned Sufi elder puppet steps in at this point (or rather over the drunken, passed-out body of his overwhelmed colleague). “But, my dear friend Celebi – oh – he can’t hear me – well – anyway – there is some sense of a way forward. Between United Nations efforts to reunify the island through a peace process, some small steps have been made. Of course, there was the most recent referendum on the merger of the northern and southern parts of Cyprus. A majority of people on the northern side of Cyprus favored reunification well the opposite was true on the Greek side. A sad situation indeed, despite nascent hope gleaming on the far horizon.” Sighing deeply, he stroked his beard and a tear dribbled down his cheek.
Yehuda Rebbe puts his arm around his teary comrade-in-arms, and takes his turn, saying “Hacivad Bey, let us focus on another aspect of this situation – what we saw on this trip. Overall, our sense of Northern Cyprus was that it was a relatively secular place without too much of the growing Islamist movement we have observed in Turkey over the past decade. That said, the shiny new mosques built in small towns in rural areas felt a lot like the projects we have seen in the more rural areas of Anatolia – perhaps an effort to distribute what some would refer to as “the opiate of the masses.” So what is Yehuda Rebbe getting at here? Well, as I see it, it relates to what M. and I have noted across Anatolia, funding for new mosques may-just-may correlate with voting patterns leaning towards the AKP government. But who are we to say but mere human observers with no hard data to stand on?
Wishing to move the conversation out of Internet censorship-worthy territory, Safiye Rakkase steps in with her usual flourish. As she is the expert fashionista amongst the members of the puppet troupe, Safiye Rakkase interjects her unique lens of opinion at this point: “Of the men and women in religious Islamic garb we came across (versus traditional Turkish dress often mistaken for religious Islamic dress), we felt that none had accents that were Cypriot – they were from Kars, Van, Antep and other cities across Anatolia. That place was more Turkish than parts of the Western Aegean coast in high summer!” Wow, that’s just about as serious as we’ve ever heard from the vainglorious dancing girl puppet, the well-known stomper-of-flamenco-feet, Safiye Rakkase.
Esma, the hippy puppet who is ever interested in the underdog gracefully stepped in front of Safiye Rakkase at this moment – she hoped, you see, to steer the conversation away from potential commentary on fashion in Northern Cyprus. Pressing her most earnest face towards the crowd, she, takes over the commentary from here: “and while we were happy to see that people from Anatolia had opportunity in Cyprus, albeit funded by Turkish government relocation programs, this effort has clearly and nearly wiped out the unique Turkish Cypriot culture – not to mention the remaining Greek Cypriot cultural enclaves on the northern side of the island for the most part. At times, I felt it might as well have been any province in Anatolia. All the children the human spoke to plan to attend university in Turkey, Turkey was the bright shining star of their future.”
At this point, all of the puppets began to speak (in a big hubbub as they are wont to do) of the almost ever-present Turkish flag seen across the island. As you will note in our header photograph for today, the Turkish Cypriot flag is to the right of the Turkish flag. According to Turkey, technically, Turkish Cyprus is it’s own country. Of course, Turkey is the only nation that recognizes Northern Cyprus as such (maybe North Korea??). Therefore, what the rest of the world sees is that Northern Cyprus is indeed an add-on to the Turkish mainland (it is, after all, encompassed in the zip code for the southern coastal city of Mersin). Some might even say it is a neo-colonial entity.
And the neo-colonial feel in Northern Cyprus was egged on by the fact that there were numerous statues, plaques and billboards depicting Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic. While we “love us some Mustafa Kemal over here at Slowly By Slowly,” we feel it vital to note that he did not, by the way have anything to do with the founding of Northern Cyprus as all of that happened WAY after his death. Troubling. Very, very troubling.
Of course, Karagöz, the agent provocateur puppet, had something to say as well, so we might as well let him speak: “all I have to say,” he squeaks with glee, “is that clearly the Turkish government has f*d Northern Cyprus! What a beautiful country gone to rubbish, smog, poverty & controversy!” And while we do agree with this sprightly and oppositional puppet to some extent, we wouldn’t extend our views to the realm of cursing.
To leave you on a positive note, Mercan Bey steps in as Karagöz is pulled out of the way by his protectors (as in – “get off the stage immediately you oaf!”). As you know, this well-traveled puppet, originally from the Arabian Peninsula, trades spices all over the region. His interests normally fall in the realm of food – And in this case agriculture. Indeed, he has engaged in many conversations with various Cyprian puppets (as the Karagöz puppets do not converse with humans other then M’lady) during his visit, and would like to share the findings of his queries.
Holding his hand up to silence the rest of the puppets, he claims the last word, and it is a positive spin. Clearing his throat, he begins “as you know, recent developments in the ongoing saga of the accession of Türkiye by the European Union has required that trade relations see. Of course, there appears to be a significant and thriving black-market, however this has had a positive impact on the environment overall. As northern Cypriot agricultural products cannot be exported, the nascent nation has decided to only produce that which it needs. This has the odd effect of contributing to a country in which poverty is clearly present, but no one appears to be hungry. Additionally, this has meant that many of the chemicals used to foster agricultural development in other countries are not used here – thus the lovely organic fruits and vegetables – not to mention meet – that we have sampled here.”
So there you have it, the last word is a positive one. Overall, the puppets recommend visiting this interesting country/neo-colonial outback especially if you’re interested in observing a current manifestation of Turkish – informed controversy and sociopolitical intrigue. And of course, don’t forget the joy of delicious natural northern Cypriot cuisine and the quiet breezes on the Karpaz peninsula.