NEWS

Will a unified Cyprus stop schools from teaching conflicting propaganda?

NICOSIA (Reuters) – A Cypriot proverb says you will hear the truth from a madman and a child. While the first may hold true, the hoped-for reunification of the island via a new UN peace plan will have to battle through layers of propaganda that has mercilessly targeted the island’s children for decades. Greek-Cypriot children as young as 8 were herded into schoolyards last week and told to shout «Turks out of Cyprus» and «This land is ours» to mark November 15, 1983, the day Turkish Cypriots celebrate the independence of their breakaway state. Meanwhile, Turkish-Cypriot schoolchildren on the other side of the rusty border fence vowed to stay put. While Cypriot politicians continue to pore over the nitty-gritty of the complex UN proposal for reconciliation, the island’s children will still be focused on the textbooks which often foster precisely the opposite. «The interpretation of history on both sides is absolutely atrocious,» said a source close to the Cyprus peace process. «Reconciliation must start through the education system.» But first, the two sides must reach some sort of consensus on at least the historical events which tore Cyprus apart. At the moment, both communities are in denial. Turkish-Cypriot children study a book called «The History of the Turkish-Cypriot Struggle.» The cover has a picture of the beach where Turkish troops landed in July 1974 for what the Turks called a «peace operation» and the Greek Cypriots termed an «invasion.» «From what I have read in the book, what the Greek Cypriots have done is barbaric and they are described as bloodthirsty, while what the Turks have done is covered only briefly,» said a Turkish-Cypriot history teacher who declined to be identified. «The torture and attacks by Greeks are described in detail, while the Turks are described as angels.» Greek Cypriots are taught that July 20 is the darkest day in their history and marked the start of the Cyprus problem. The Turkish Cypriots are taught that it was the day it ended. The inside sleeve of a Greek-Cypriot textbook – «I Won’t Forget and I Will Struggle» – uses pictures to relay its message of their community’s suffering. An elderly Greek-Cypriot woman weeps over a grave, a toddler holds up a picture of his missing parents. «We were taught that before 1974 Greeks and Turks were friends,» said Mari, a 12-year-old Greek Cypriot. Mari can recite the number of Greek-Cypriot refugees and missing, but was not taught at school that there were also Turkish-Cypriot refugees before 1974 who were pushed – or retreated – into enclaves after a constitutional crisis in 1963 which prompted the dispatch of a UN peacekeeping force a year later. That period is known as «Bloody Christmas» by Turkish Cypriots. A must in their curriculum is a visit to the Museum of Barbarism where militant Greek-Cypriots killed two women and three children in December 1963. Greek-Cypriot books gloss over that period, while one textbook in the Turkish-Cypriot curriculum makes no reference to the other sides’ refugees. The dividing line which physically splits Cyprus is also a mental one. «The dead zone has divided everything,» said Yiannis Papadakis, a Greek-Cypriot assistant professor of social anthropology at the University of Cyprus. «A dead zone means there is no common ground, anyone who ventures into an attempt at understanding the other side can automatically be considered a traitor.»