Athena. I’m sorry I have just been obsessed with…

Tim Hakki is a Londoner of Turkish Cypriot and Guyanese descent. He lives two floors below me, and studies at Oxford University. Amongst the many conversations we have, the Greco-Turkish conflict in Cyprus is a central interest to him, and as I am of Greek and Anatolian descent, we have been analysing the situation, in view of new governments, regional investment initiatives and international cooperation. The following article is Tim’s thesis on the issue, followed by my response.

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Athena. I’m sorry I have just been obsessed with Greco-Turkish history since I told you I began to study it. I have formed my conclusions based on a fuckton of new knowledge.

I love the Greek people and the Greek culture but that church is a real dirty piece of work. I just wanted to get them to stop dehumanising Muslims through their propaganda. It’s obvious that they don’t see them as humans but as infidels.

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The same can be seen in many Islamic fringe groups today, but the difference is that the majority of Islamic religious authorities denounce the use of violence. I have never seen any effort on the part of the church to do the same with their leaders.

The man who divided the Cypriots was archbishop Makarios. A man with three jobs. He was the leader of the Christians in Cyprus, he was the president of every Cypriot, and he was the commander of a large private army of ultra-nationalist Greeks. At one point, instead of my writing my novel, I told myself I wanted to understand, truly understand, what happened in Cyprus, rather than relying on the account of my family or the various Cypriots spewing lies at each other on various forums in a never-ending ethnic battle.

I watched documentaries made by Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots and British filmmakers and tried to get the most comprehensive view I could. It’s a very sad story what happened to the Cypriot people. The political context of these events was British rule. My grandmother grew up in a British dictatorship. It was a very efficient dictatorship. In the end, they made the island the fastest growing economy in the region.

The troubles started when the mainland church suddenly got expansionist ideas. Through Makarios, they convinced the Christians of the island that they belonged to Greece. Britain tried cracking down on dissent by hanging Cypriot youths who were encouraging Enosis. The murderous rage of the nationalists just grew and grew. Soon Cyprus was crawling in random acts of brutality towards its British citizens. The Muslim Cypriots at this point were not in the equation. They were viewed as a silent minority. Until Britain assembled an anti-terror force comprised exclusively of Turkish Cypriots. When the Christians saw their community leaders being arrested by Muslims they decided that they now had two enemies. Cue the massacres, rapes and ethnic cleansing of the island by Makarios’s private army EOKA. This, in turn, provoked Turkey to invade cuing massacres and rapes of their own by the occupation forces.

The biggest tragedy of Cyprus is how little control the Cypriots had over their own destiny. If Cyprus became a part of Greece then Britain would potentially lose their military bases there. This was a land grab by Greece which became an excuse for a land grab by Turkey. The Greeks were in the pockets of the Russians and the Turks were being backed by the British because of Cyprus became a part of Greece they would lose their military bases on the island. The Americans were backing both horses. At the end of the day, Cyprus happened because five nations that had nothing to do with the lives of the Cypriots saw the island as a giant fucking aircraft carrier. This has been to be of the most profound courses of study I’ve ever embarked on, and it’s really shown me the sickness of nationalism and its myths.

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Their point about the lives of Jesus and Muhammad took me a very long time to come back to. Though we can’t pretend to know the details, it’s generally accepted that Jesus was a pacifist and Muhammad was a war leader. 

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The big thing now is reunification. Both sides of Cyprus want it. But they have no idea what it would look like. I believe the best answer is a federal government, with two zones, north and south. Both Greece and Turkey have occupation forces there.

If I’m dead next morning it was the Eastern Orthodox Church that did it.

Tim

 

My response:

The diplomatic dynamics in the region will not volunteer discussions on reunification.

In Turkey, Erdogan is strengthening his political power with human rights abuses, effectively distancing his government from the prospect of European cooperation.

In Greece, you have a far-right state pushing orthodox Christianity as a fundamental representation of Greek identity and anything Muslim (including the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Syrian refugees) as a threat. The days of Nobel Prizes won by greek islands for their humanitarian work in the refugee crisis are long gone. The current government is shrinking the state like any populist conservative government does, reducing the role of education, institutions, health and welfare in development, whilst pointing the finger of blame to those outside the power held by political elites, or power to influence or inflict any damage in corrupt undertakings.

The last positive diplomatic action in the region, between North Macedonia and Greece, under the centrist-left governments, saw Tsipras loose the elections (albeit by a close margin) because Greeks were sold the lie the Prespa agreement signed-off their land over to Macedonians, and at risk of losing their national identity too.

The Road and Belt investments in Eurasia are being too China and Russia-centric for Europe and the Brits to feel comfortable with. The loaning conditions to fragile European and African economies are a point of  contest, and reinforcing China’s soft power diplomacy.

I don’t think the British, or Europe, will allow Greece (even if Greece was in a position to ie. under a politically different government) to sign-off a reunification deal. Turkey wouldn’t want it too. As recent as 2018, tensions quickly grew on the identification of sources of gas near the island. Turkey was not shy attempting to claim it. 

If you really think about it, the island itself has little value to economies, so its population is worthless to politicians too. Not big enough to produce anything at scale (apart from Haloumi cheese the Chinese love and have been ordering by the ton).  Yet it has a geopolitical position of importance, and in combination with the potential of natural resource explorations and the  further tensions arising from common pool resource governance debates, it is very unlikely either side of the diplomats would bring up the idea of reunification.

Because at the end of the day, even under miraculous conditions, a local leader/President/PM will still need to identify with either of the two main religions to even stand a chance of being listened to by either camp. Likewise, any extractive generated wealth will need split between one, or another camp, to serve the interests of the political donors.

And more so, how likely is that, for a post-colonial little island surrounded by strategically positioned near dictatorship run neoliberal governments aspiring to Thatcherism structured on theological approaches to socio-economic development inspired by Adam Smith’s mythological ‘Invisible hand of the economy’ economics?

Unless of course, they ban religious representations.

But really, how likely is that in a place that has been defined by religious conflict ever since it went into conflict with itself?

Chances are slim.

Love,

Athina

 

Tromso, a guide to Arctic Norway’s far north.

This enchanting Arctic city is exceptionally easy to get to since Norwegian and SAS fly there. Tromso airport is a mere twelve minutes on the commuter bus from the city centre.

The airport is much smaller than you may have imagined. Think of a greek island kind of set up. Just a few more doors between the outside and entrance lobby to keep the heat in and cold out.

I booked a waterside air bnb on the northern outskirts, in gorgeous Kroken, and the connecting bus took just over fifteen minutes from Tromsø sentrum.

Night view of Tromsø from Kroken in winter

Voila, I was, in what felt like the countryside, on the frozen seaside, with the sound of crisp lapping waves surrounded by the warm neighbourhood feel.

Making navigation easy, ie avoiding waiting for a bus for more than five minutes in the Arctic cold, I recommend downloading the following two apps from Google store. Tromsmobilett will store your ticket or travel card which you can purchase through the app. Troms Reise is the local bus departure/arrival and bus planner app.

Northern lights safaris are very popular but on clear sky nights, you really just want to be keeping an eye out to the sky, and walking away from the street lights. The cable car is open until 11pm in the winter, so you could add an edge to your experience, for a fraction of the cost of a safari.

Northern Lights from the coast

Whale seeking is also popular, however as much as I would love to see them, I am not sure of this relationship dynamic so maybe I will be lucky to pass them coincidentally at some point in my life.

The snow here is different. Given you take a trip outside Tromso, you will notice the difference. It is different to the snow in Oslo or anywhere else for that matter. I can only describe it like white glistening gold.

Winter dusk in Tromso

When the northern lights, or aurora borealis, start their wild and unpredictable dance, my first thought was that of water colour paint soaking the paper, or a gymnast’s cord following a complimentary flow.

Going up to the mountain on the cable car is really worth the 190nok. I am not one for a tourist’s gimmick, and almost skipped that. Having done it, I couldn’t have asked for a more splendidly arctic experience with the option of being back in the cradle of the Tromso town within half hour. One tip, to avoid any confusion, although cars run every half hour. If you get there at a busy time, try queing up as they only sell tickets ten minutes before boarding. The views from the top towards the mountains are lunar.

The view towards the north from the mountain behind the cable car in Tromso

Tromso island and the fjords between the mountains are a feast. Try getting there in the morning and by lunchtime for the most dramatic light effects as the sun is just about caressing the tops of the mountains, at midday in the winter. It is the experience of a lifetime.

Tromso is super safe and cute. Don’t be afraid to walk endlessly to the outskirts.

My super cozy self contained air bnb by the water in Kroken meant I didn’t need to spend hours on an aurora safari and could pop out every hour or so after 10pm to look out for the lights, going back for a cup of hot drink and a snack, before returning back to the outside, even really late into the night.

At 10pm, on the dot, the northern lights or aurora borealis would come out and put on their mesmerising dance. It only required walking to the end of my street past the glare of the street lights to absorb it at its the best. Plus being near the water and walking alongside a snowed over beach is something out of this world in itself and something I had not experienced before.

Aurora Borealis in Arctic Norway

Back in Tromso, a warming coffee and bagel, are to be had in my favourite cafe, Lugar 34. I just hoped the coffee was served in a bigger cup. Tip, head for the upstairs and let the surroundings warm you up from times past. I could have spent all afternoon there but things to see and do.

If you are on a budget or only there for a couple of days and have limited time, take the commuter ferry from Tromso to the fjords and islands. In the winter it is worth waking up for the really early morning ones, so you can see the most of the fjords for 240nok. You will be back in Tromso in a couple of hours which means you still have time for the cable car, the art museum and a cafe or pub or two.

Ferry port, Tromsø

For budget nordic household design pieces head to Kremmerhuset where you will find ceramics and home furnishings in affordable prices. Plus it is in a mall in the centre which means you can use the bathroom and warm up. There is even a restaurant with bay views at the top but didn’t have the time to see for myself.

Out of the two Kaffebonas you will get the best views looking out to the Arctic Cathedral, the sea and the mountains beyond, at the one on Stortorget.

For more views, and dramatic architecture, do visit the Arctic Cathedral. I also recommend walking the length of the bridge for an amazing perspective through the fjord. Warning, although you are caged in the bridge does rattle and creak which may not be for the fainthearted. I am particularly bad with heights however got used to it after a few minutes, and a lot of internal reasoning.

When I went to the Art Museum there was an exhibition on surrealism. I loved the curated text and really chimed with contemporary politics. It basically said something along the lines of… ‘in our times of fake news and misrepresentation, surrealism is more true than it has ever been before. Does that mean that our reality has never been this surreal?’

The story of the northern lights is that they are particles which have been charged through a solar storm, and lit up because the north and south poles are the least protected areas on the globe.

Maybe that explains why in a small place like Tromsø there is a lot of enlightenment, let it be in the tiny yet well represented religious communities, the honest portraying of the Sami people and their portrayals of the intruding scadi people, in art old and contemporary, to the apparent open mindness and chilled out attitude of the modern Tromsøeans.

Here is a short video from the airplane taking off

I really hate goodbyes especially from places that unlock iconic moments on the way my brain works and heart ticks.

Tromso in one of the coldest places on earth, makes it for one hell of a warm welcome.