Cypriots are united in cyberspace

NICOSIA – Making music may be no big deal in other parts of the world but producing a cross-cultural CD against the odds on war-divided Cyprus is currently in tune with the island’s newfound political harmony. But the fact that Turkish and Greek Cypriots had to contact each other via the Internet to achieve their goal is a sign of how far there is yet to travel. A group of Cypriot poets and musicians united in a groundbreaking UN-funded project to prove that despite 28 years of isolation, hurdles can be overcome on a person-to-person level. Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey seized its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered military coup seeking to unite Cyprus with Greece. Last Wednesday, the heads of the two communities, internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and the Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, who governs the north, met for a new attempt to resolve the Cyprus problem. The bi-communal collective known as Vira Vira produced the four-track «Weeping Island,» a CD fusing Turkish, Greek and English lyrics and sounds. It is based on a selection of poems taken from a bi-communal book of the same name. Although not widely available in record shops, the maxi-single is getting airplay on both sides of the ceasefire line where bicultural rhythms are practically non-existent. The feat is considered more remarkable as most of the Greek-Cypriot contributors did not meet their fellow Turkish-Cypriot collaborators and vice versa. «It is a unique effort; we haven’t funded anything like this before,» Thore Hansen of the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) told AFP. «We thought it was an interesting project because people were trying to bridge the divide without physical contact and set up a group of artists and poets all over the island,» he added. But with the contributors unable to cross the Green Line – the Turkish-held north is a no-go zone for Greek Cypriots and unrestricted bi-communal contact is discouraged by the Turkish-Cypriot authorities – cyberspace came to the rescue. «My only regret was not being able to join in the recording sessions personally,» said Zeki Ali, a Turkish-Cypriot poet. His lyrics were set to music by Greek-Cypriot musician and producer Haji Mike. «I still haven’t met my cyber friend Haji Mike. We exchanged letters and ideas by e-mail for months and became very close friends,» said Ali. What the pioneers of the CD said they all had in common was «trust,» something lacking in the divisive politics of Cyprus. «We had to trust each other with the lyrics to show that cooperation was possible, no matter what the barrier,» Haji Mike told AFP. He said that Greek and Turkish Cypriots mixing together was treated as «taboo» and viewed as «dangerous» by nationalists on both sides. «The CD’s very existence challenges the perceived wisdom that we can’t live together. There is a blending of cultures which extremists on either side don’t want to see.» Haji Mike also wants to make an important point about the overriding hegemony of Greek and Turkish music on the island to the detriment of grass-roots, homegrown Cypriot talent. «Turkish Cypriots aren’t heard anywhere, not even on their side. In fact, Cypriots have to go to Ankara or Athens to get noticed,» he said. Nevertheless, singing from the same song sheet is not the island’s strong suit. A concert scheduled two weeks ago by the bi-communal choir in the UN-controlled mixed village of Pyla was canceled by the UN last July for «security reasons.» Greek-Cypriot members of the choir turned up at the square, while their Turkish-Cypriot counterparts were prevented from attending in the wake of threats from extremists in the north. A previous stab at promoting peace and reconciliation, in May 1997, ended in unprecedented acts of vandalism as Greek-Cypriot youths went on the rampage, fighting pitched battles with police in south Nicosia. The violence erupted during a «friendship concert» held by popular Greek singer Sakis Rouvas and Turkish-Cypriot star Burak Kut in the UN-manned buffer zone. While the two sang John Lennon’s «Imagine,» all hell broke loose at an anti-concert protest less than a kilometer (half a mile) away. There has been little attempt to repeat such events, but the new climate of good will could change that. To cultivate a productive climate for last week’s talks on UN land in Nicosia, Clerides and Denktash had engaged in «dinner diplomacy.» Clerides traveled to the Turkish-held north on December 5 to dine with his counterpart, Denktash repaid the compliment when he visited the Greek-Cypriot south on December 29. The two leaders in last week’s talks agreed to hold three meetings per week – open-ended and «with nothing decided until everything is decided.»

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