A TEXT WRITTEN BY BLOGGER VASIA MARKIDES
The Cyprus “problem” as it is known, affects young Cypriots on a very deep level. The language of opposition runs through every fabric of society. You’re not this, you’re that. You live here, not there. You have this, not that. You feel this, not that. There is no room for grey to exist, which makes it difficult for young people to think outside the box. Their feelings have been shaped and molded by external forces since the day they were born. Whether by the parents, the schools, the media, or the military, they have been told what and how to think from the beginning. For this reason, many of them have accepted the status quo of division and moved into the realm of apathy. The quick wealth which came to Cyprus in recent decades (before the recent bank crisis and economic downturn) has created a generation whose majority is more interested in money, clubbing, coffee, cigarettes and gossip, rather than getting politically engaged and developing themselves creatively and intellectually. Lack of good leadership is also largely to blame for this. Corruption runs deep in the society.
Because of this, most of the bright, ambitious and intelligent young people want to leave Cyprus. A perpetual sense of mistrust is predominant. Not just mistrust in the “other” but also in those supposedly working towards “solving” the problem, year after year, decade after decade.
My mother always said we can only do the work we do from abroad, and now I understand why. A certain distance from it all is required in order to maintain optimism and motivation to keep working. It has also allowed me to develop a love and commitment to Cyprus that has not been affected by the bitter forces of negativity at play on both sides. Another good thing about growing up abroad is that I’ve never doubted my power as a woman to affect change. I never felt that my role in society was limited.
The exciting news is that a new crop of young people is emerging that realizes that the status quo is unsustainable and they are taking matters into their own hands. They cross to the “other side” to meet their fellow Cypriots and form unlikely friendships. They form their own opinions and forge bonds that cannot be broken through political and social manipulation. They question, debate, organize and celebrate with each other. Only when the youth join forces and create new histories that expose all sides of the story, will Cyprus be able to heal. By constantly playing the victim, you remain a victim. We get what we ask for in life.
It’s this new sense of rebellion and energy that fuels the work I do. My hope is that the Famagusta Ecocity Project can bring together the island’s best and brightest to not only contribute to solving the decades-long conflict, but to also sharply direct people’s attention to the much more urgent issues facing not only our island, but our whole planet: The unwavering, uncompromising, and unfiltered destruction of the earth and its natural ecosystems which human life depends on.
New York and Nicosia based Founder & Director of The Famagusta Ecocity Project, 35 years old Filmmaker, Artist and Video Journalist. Vasia turned to filmmaking in 2003 when the Turkish army slackened the checkpoints separating the north and south parts of Cyprus. In 2008, she completed “Hidden in the Sand” as her Master’s thesis project, a chronicle of her mother’s hometown under Turkish occupation, which now remains off limits within the six square kilometer fenced off ghost town of Varosha.
The Famagusta Ecocity Project
In 1974, a coup backed by the Greek military junta instigated Turkey to invade the nation of Cyprus. They captured almost 40% of the island and displaced its residents, both Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot. The Greek Cypriots fled south, the Turkish Cypriots were pushed to the north, and the two communities have been divided to this day.
Varosha, which was once a tourist district in the city of Famagusta on the east coast of Cyprus, was occupied and all its Greek-Cypriot residents fled their homes. Since then, Varosha has been encircled by barbed wire and kept under surveillance by the Turkish military, which uses the territory as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Cyprus government. Its citizens are still forbidden to return. Over the last 40 years, Varosha went from being “Cyprus’s Riviera”, to a dilapidated ghost city; its former inhabitants watch their houses decay from outside the barricades.
Any reopening of Varosha, if and when that occurs, presents a unique opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past and rebuild for a better future. Yet it comes with significant risks. Without careful planning, it could become just another unsustainable development in an already crowded Mediterranean tourism market, while cementing Famagusta as the second divided city in Cyprus.
Rebuilding Varosha in the context of a model ecopolis promotes peaceful coexistence amongst all of Famagusta’s inhabitants, embraces the latest ecocity technologies and thereby becomes a center for peace and sustainability within a troubled region. The Famagusta Ecocity Project aims to ultimately turn all of Famagusta into Europe’s model Ecocity. The project will be a multi-track approach to environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and peace building.