This week’s blog is written by International Fellow, Ashley Johnson. Last week PeacePlayers-Cyprus held its annual Spring Basketball Tournament at the English School of Kyrenia, a British school that sits on the northern, Turkish-Cypriot, side of the island. The tournament not only united Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot children, but brought parents and family members together. For some, it was their first time returning home since the conflict nearly 40 years earlier.
Imagine, a young child forced to leave the only home they have ever known, not knowing if you will ever return. It’s tough to see life through these eyes. This is the experience of displaced people all across the globe and the personal experience of countless Cypriots. When the island was divided in 1974, Turkish-Cypriots living in the south of the island were whisked away to the north, while at the same time Greek-Cypriots living in the north were forced from their homes, some within the span of just a few hours. The two communities suffered greatly, their youth nothing but a fading memory. Children could only visit their their old playgrounds when they closed their eyes at night to dream.
Now, imagine you are this individual.
Open your eyes. Forty years have passed from the day you were forced from your home and suddenly you find yourself in an unfamiliar setting. In 2003, the UN administered Green Line which completely separated the north of Cyprus from the south, was opened up for the first time, finally making it possible to pass from one side to the other. Now, 10 years later, you have returned to the village of your youth, but the scene you are seeing is one you would never have conjured, not even in your wildest dreams.
You can’t trust your eyes just yet, so you attempt to take it all in with another sense, and you listen. What you hear are kids laughing, basketballs bouncing, whistles blowing, voices chatting Kalimera, Guniden, Goodmorning. Unable to put together what it is you are experiencing you open your eyes. The backdrop of your childhood sits before your eyes, the foothills of the Kyrenia Mountains, at your back the hills drop gently into the Mediterranean Sea. This is an image so beautiful it could never leave your mind even if you could only visit it when you shut your eyes.
Yet once again this very image, just meters in front of you, seems so out of place, that you close your eyes again. This time you open them just in time as a basketball comes flying out of bounds and into your lap as you sit watching from the sideline. Forty years have passed since you have left this village and suddenly you are back, in some ways as if no time had passed at all. Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot children are playing and laughing with one another just like it used to be – only this isn’t your childhood, it’s your child’s, a new generation ready to bridge the divides of the past and create a united future.