Friday, October 12, 2012

Cypriot or Greek?

By Charalambos Constantinides

In our existence we perceive our world in three dimensions. Time is something that we can hardly understand yet we accept it. We talk of the passing of time, we devised instruments for its measurement and introduced in our languages scores of words nouns, adjectives, adverbs, relating to time. When we look back into the past we often go astray by thinking we are viewing a two-dimentional picture. So we can see on the same frame all people who lived, created and passed through Cyprus.

Archeological finds in our Island reveal the existence of man on this blessed land for more than 8 thousand years. Archeologists called those primitive inhabitants of unknown origin, "Eteokyprioi". Without a doubt in this "gene pool" we call Cyprus, some genes have been inherited from these inhabitants. As various people colonised the world in the centuries that followed, our Island had also been colonised. Historically we are certain of the Phoenician colonisers, to a smaller extent, and the Greek colonisers to a larger extent. They were the ones who enriched our so called "gene pool" and left their biological and cultural mark on the Island. Others who passed over the island as rulers, (Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians) had their local vassals governing on their behalf and collecting the tributary tax mostly in the form of copper and raw timber or ready built marine vessels. Their rule lasted for short periods and their mark on the Island had been less than, let us say , that made by Britain in India, in over 300 years of British rule.

The advent of the Phoenicians and the Greeks to the sparsely populated island may be viewed by some as an invasion, but it is reported that Eteokyprioi had been accepted as inhabitants into the urban centres created by the newcomers and we can therefore safely assume that there was a mixing with them. One such example cited is Amathus.

In the light of the above let us accept that a Cypriot, from a biological point of view, carries genes from the Greeks, the Phoenicians and the Eteocyprians.

Culturally, is a different picture. The oriental influence on arts in Cyprus is evident from the finds in various archeological sites . Yet the overall trend of art was based on Greek models in sculpural art as well as pottery manufacture. Greek civilisation and culture, being of a markedly higher level than that of any other contemporary people, was bound to attract and gradually assimilate the Phoenician element of the Cypriot population. The Stoic Philosopher Zeno of Citium was a Cypriot of Phoenician extraction who studied in Athens and had become the founder of the "Stoa" School of Philosophy.

Thus, Greek Culture and language prevailed in Cyprus. As from the 4th century BC, following Alexander the Great's conquests, Greek had anyway become the "lingua franca" of the world.

Now, let us examine the term "Greek". Since in antiquity there was no state called "Greece" the name Greek was a notion of sharing with others, (who went by the same name), common culture, values, language, tradition , mythology and religious beliefs. That did not stop any Greek from going by any other additional name indicating provenance.

The Athenians, the Lacedaemonians the Ionians, the Aeolians, the Samians, the Rhodians the Cyprians all shared some common values.

During the Roman period, "the glue", so to speak, of the empire was the common citizenship (not ethnicity). All citizens went by the name Roman, a term continued later on by the Byzantine empire (Romios). But when the word Romioi had lost its association with Rome, it became synonymous with "Greek speaking" population. The Church had been hostile to the use of the term "Hellene" because they associated it with the Dodecatheon religion, so they avoided it and felt content with the use of "Romioi". To this day most feel quite content to be referred to by this term.

When in early 19th century, Greece became an independent state, the name Greek returned to the country, this time meaning not only an ethnic provenance but also citizenship of the state of Greece.

Britain under Gladstone had ceded the Ionian islands to the newly established Kingdom of Greece simply because the inhabitants were Greeks. This did not go down well with the Conservatives in Britain who were against ceding any territory of the Crown. It however, raised hopes in Cyprus that one day it could have similar fate with the Ionian islands. These hopes became expectations, when Cyprus passed from the hands of the Ottomans to British in 1878 , albeit as part of an agreement in the form of an open ended lease. The British policy on Cyprus, however, soon was manifest by a series of endeavours by the first British Governor of the Island, Sir Garnett Woolseley , to bring to Cyprus Turkish settlers or Moslem refugees from Bulgaria (as a result of the Russo-Turkish war), in order to balance out the Turks of the island with the majority Greek population, so as to preclude any demand for the Island to be ceded to Greece on the same grounds as the Ionian Islands. Woolseley was one of those who a few years earlier vehemently objected to the ceding of the Ionian Islands to Greece. His plans failed, only because neither Britain nor the Sultan were prepared to meet the cost involved in this transfer of Turkish settlers to Cyprus.

After the annexation of Cyprus by Britain at the beginning of WW1, when Turkey sided with Germany. but more so after the signing in 1923 of the Lausanne Agreement, and the declaration of Cyprus into a Crown Colony in 1925, the Cypriots remained under the impression that Cyprus would be ceded to Greece. That of course did not happen.

The plebiscite of January 1950, organised by the Church proved that the overwhelming majority of the Cypriots wanted union with Greece a demand which Britain chose to ignore. The rest is recent known history.

It is obvious that the majority of Cypriots regarded themselves as Greeks and they considered Union with Greece a natural development.

In the light of the above, I would say that those of the Cypriots who feel that they are Greeks, in the sense of participating in the Greek language, culture and values, are entitled to do so, as are those, who feel that they are anything else but Greek.
We all know that a lot of Turkish Cypriots draw their descend from the Rums , (to avoid saying Greeks), of Cyprus. If however, they want to be regarded as Ozturkler (Genuine Turks), who is to question their desire or belief.

No one can deny that our language, is a dialectical form of Greek.
We use , however, some words that cannot be etymologised from any known language. Such words may be remnants from the Eteocyprians, who knows ? For example, we use the word "landa" which means "a relatively small and shallow hole in the ground with water in it". For decades I have tried unsuccessfuly to etymologise this word.

Personally, I feel that I am a Greek (not a Greek citizen) in the sense that I value and admire Greek culture and civilisation and I share Greek education. I am a Cypriot and proud of it, and I could go down to neighbourhood level. One often hears comments like "we Limassolians are different to people from Nicosia" or even comments like "you in that street, you think you run the world". Even a neighbourhood may be regarded as a "nation" if there was the will to do that. Look at old Yugoslavia. Once there were only "slavs", from the Latin word "sclavus", from the Greek word "σκλάβος". Then they were called "Serbs" from the Latin word "servus" ie Servant. They were then split on religious grounds into Slovenes and Croatians (both Catholic) and the rest Serbs (Christian Orthodox plus Moslems). Further splitting created Bosnia Montenegro Serbia, FYROM , Kossovo. Of course that is not the end of the story as there were newly created "ethnicities" like Bosnians, Montenegrins, "Macedonians" Kossovars. So from a single Slavic ethnic group today there are Seven Countries with purported seven nations three religions with four purported languages and three alphabets and we are supposed to look forward to a European Integration.

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