One of the criteria for European Capital of Culture (ECoC) – Pafos2017 is to forge links of understanding and cooperation between the estranged Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.
But divided for more than 40 years since 1974 when the Turkish army invaded and occupied the northern third of Cyprus following a Greek coup, a lack of trust is one of the biggest obstacles to progress.
Psychological wounds on both sides of the divide and a peace process that has been stopping and starting for decades has led to the gulf between the two communities widening.
In spite of this, the creative and administrative team behind Pafos2017 are determined to use the platform of art to develop connections focusing on common roots and the celebration of diverse culture. The town had a significant Turkish Cypriot community. Many fled to the north of the island in 1974 as refugees.
“Pafos2017 aims to bring the two communities into a dialogue that overcomes the division, highlighting their similarities, common elements, values and to show new ways of mutual trust and collaboration,” Artistic Programme Director Georgia Doetzer told The Cyprus Weekly.
It sounds like a noble calling but is it feasible? Some might see the programming of bi-communal events under the Pafos 2017 as slightly mercenary – a means simply of fulfilling part of the title criteria. After all, what was stopping the local cultural services and municipalities from supporting bicommunal cultural events before the town officially gained the title two years ago?
Is the will truly there and what makes Pafos2017 different from several other bi-communal cultural and environmental initiatives – often poorly supported by local authorities – which have taken place during the past ten to 15 years?
“I can’t say what others should have done,” Doetzer said. “I can only stress that Pafos2017 ECoC is a chance and a platform to deal with the unsolved gap which hinders both communities from embracing their future.”
To this end, events have already taken place while more are planned. Two Cypriot films dealing with themes related to the national problem were screened in October and December last year: ‘Pyla’ by Greek Cypriot director Elias Demetriou and ‘Shadows and Faces’ by Turkish Cypriot director Dervis Zaim. A series of theatre performances from the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities dealing with issues of loss and war trauma will follow.
Doetzer acknowledges that challenges remain, one of the biggest being lack of mutual trust. “The communication between the two communities is not easy and this gap makes the undertaking of common actions difficult and sometimes complicated. We are trying to find ways to avoid bureaucracy and establish direct contacts with the Turkish Cypriot community.”
Problems with red tape were illustrated recently when the play ‘Missing’, scheduled to be performed at The Markideon Theatre in Paphos on March 29, was postponed due to complications over transporting the stage. Organised in collaboration with the Cyprus Centre of the International Theatre Institute, the play by Turkish Cypriot writer and director Aliye Ummanel, deals with common grief and the trauma of losses connected to 1974.
“Initially, it was planned that the play would travel from the Turkish Cypriot community in Nicosia directly to Paphos. After a short-notice invitation to perform it at the Peo Theatre in the capital on March 23, the director informed us that the stage set needed to come directly to Paphos the next day,” explained Doetzer. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to put up the stage set in the Markideon Theatre before the day of performance.
After the set returned to north Nicosia after the Peo show, it was too late to apply for new customs permission to get it out. We were told a minimum of seven working days were needed. The director didn’t agree to our suggestion to keep part of the stage set outside the Markideon, therefore the play was postponed.”
Doetzer said Pafos2017 hoped to reorganise performances in coming months. A bi-communal project that has been realised is ‘Living History’. It seeks to expand the dialogue between the two communities in Cyprus through encompassing art, performances, discussions, film screenings, storytelling and tours to villages which used to be inhabited by both communities.
A walk took place around Choulou village in February with Kritou Terra next on the programme in the summer. “The aim of the bi-communal programming is to expand and strengthen the dialogue between the two communities, to deal with and highlight the recent history of the island and support the European identity of the two communities.”