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Yup, still in Nicosia


The day did not start well. After a hot scratchy sleepless night I woke to find that I had been eaten alive by beasties and not just a few. It was my first ever serious episode of bedbugs, readily identifiable because they tend to bite many times in neat rows and the bites hurt and itch like no other. The bites exceeded 3 figures and I was a sorry red mess. I was not impressed.

With ever more incentive to get out of the place, it was another museum fest with a lot to try and cram in. I zigzagged through the twee tourist district and on through ramshackle backstreets until I came to the Makarios Cultural Institute, a complex of impressive buildings which had been the seat of power during Cyprus' initial period of independence under Archbishop Makarios. A very large statue of the bloke stood outside. A lot of damage had been inflicted on the complex in the '74 invasion but it had been repaired to original condition and now housed a series of museums and governmental offices. First I made my way around the Byzantine Museum which was primarily dedicated to safeguarding medieval church frescos, many of which had been recovered from around the world after being looted in the north. It gave a history of the archbishopric and had most notably of all Makarios' paraphenalia, his ceremonial robe, mitre and staff. Lots of gold leaf and encrusted stones. The church in the grounds outside was full-on iconoclasm too, made to be as fancy as a multicolour weddıng cake. A steady stream of numpties wasted their lives with inane gestures and kissing paintings and stones. In its crypt lay the original tomb of St. Lazarus, reputedly brought back from the dead by the man himself Jesus. His remains had subsequently been pillaged several times and were now in Italy. So much for resting in peace! Curiously, there were also a series of what can only be described as giant yellow jelly babies and that was perhaps not so far from the truth . There was no explanation but at a guess I would say they were infant deaths preserved in wax, most bizarre.

More interesting by far though was a visit next door to the Cyprus Struggle Museum. One had to preconsider it would undoubtedly be one-sided, but it was excellent all the same. It basically gave a history of the ethnic troubles on the island, and these could be traced back to at least 1921 when still under British control, when there had been an unauthorised referendum of communities. It took place on the hundredth anniversary of Greek independence and concerned the issue of Enosis, that is union of the island with Greece. Being an illegitimate ballot however it was not acted upon. Later there was a brief insurrection in 1931 when the Greek flag was briefly raised over Kyrenia. Under Makarios another full referendum took place in 1950, again without British sanction, and the signatures were compiled into 30 large volumes, Turkish Cypriot names being amongst them. 95.7 per cent of Greeks signed in favour, over 80 per cent of the islands' population as a whole and the petition was handed to the subordinate puppet president of the day.

The British however did not want to listen and so a radical group EOKA was formed under the command of a boy named Dhigenis. In its written acts of foundation (on display), Makarios' name topped the list of signatories. They inaugurated oaths of allegiance for new recruits and even had a battle hymn written. Unfortunately I didn't manage to get out to it but near Pafos, preserved inside a small specially built church, lies a small caique (boat) the Ayios Georgios, which was used by the fighters to ferry arms across from Greece. Makarios was subsequently served with an arrest warrant in 1956, destined to be held captive in the Seychelles of all places. The warrant issued by the Secretary to the Government somewhat disingenuously closes " I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant". Yeah right. But the guerrilla war continued unabated. A proclamation was issued that it was the duty of every Greek to execute Sir John Harding the big cheese of the day. It reasoned that no reward would be granted since one vulgarity should not be followed by another, but the victors name would be entered in the pantheon of national heroes. Mass resignations of village authorities created further disorder and also crippled the justice system. The Brits reacted ruthlessly and there were arrests, trials, torture, and hangings. Many personal effects of the fighters were on display includıng home made grenades, a sten gun and a curious revolver style rifle. There were even the bullets which had killed some of them.

True to form, the Brits employed tactics of divide and conquer, and initiated ethnic clashes by deliberately playing the Greeks and Turks off against each other. And what a surprise, the Yanks had a hand in it too. To cut a long story short, America feared they would lose their NATO bases in Greece and so favoured Turkey and the ethnic Turkish Cypriots. With their support there was an inevitable Turkish backlash, and so the cycle of violence escalated. Unfortunately I had arrived too late to take in all that the museum had to offer but had got the general idea.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Cyprus

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