With the World Picnic Tour we arrive in Cyprus, in the capital Nicosia, to meet activists for peace and union on the island. It is surreal to go in a few kilometres from the beauty of incredible beaches, to the drama of division, to the ‘buffer zone’ that splits Nicosia in two. Cats, rats and snipers live there, amid piles of rubble remnants of a glorious past and barbed wire.
Right here, however, there are a few places open to hope, wedged between two areas separated by years of pain. One is the Franciscan convent, where a single monk barricaded himself in 1974, had managed to keep the church open. The other is the Home for Cooperation, built on the site of clashes and shootings.
Picnic at the Home for Cooperation in Nicosia’s buffer zone
The history of Cyprus is extremely complex. Its beauty, wealth and strategic location have always been the cause of invasions. Today Cyprus is like honey to bears, an attraction for foreign interests, ready to plunder and exploit. It is no coincidence that we choose the Buffer Zone in Nicosia for the 7th stage of the World Picnic Tour, to meet people who care about peace and unity, in spite of the divisions.
We are in a military zone, so it is difficult to shoot and even food takes a back seat. We will then return to the traditional festival of Farmaka… Joanna Xenidis, a young artist committed to building peace, leads us. Her father’s family is a refugee, they lived in Famagusta, the now ghost town. Her uncle was killed, and her grandfather died of grief. Joanna speaks to us with an open heart about Nicosia, ‘the last divided European capital’ and the hope of living together one day.
Director Mine Balman, who is presenting her most recent work ‘Olivia’, also hopes for peace: “Although I was born years after the conflicts and war, as a peace builder who was grown on a divided island, I always feel the responsibility to reunify my island and help people to heal to move forward.”
Keeping the ‘cultural’ gates open
Famagusta architect and activist Andreas Lordos had to flee as a child, leaving everything behind: Andreas Lordos: “The Mediterranean island of Cyprus presents unique opportunities for the region and the world. The island’s multicultural history enables it to be the link between all the countries of the east Med, enabling far-reaching benefits: regional political stability and dialogue; a successful social coexistence model; interfaith understanding; financial growth, along with hydrocarbons ethic exploitation. These can only be achieved through peace building, and the naturally hospitable and friendly people of the island are for long waiting for their leaderships to give peace a genuine chance. The ghost city of Famagusta is the single location where the peace process can start, and it deserves the support of all stakeholders.
Peace and reconciliation in Cyprus start from civil society
Kemal Baykalli started a podcast to give voice to Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, and he does not stop on his path of cultural diplomacy, the real one. He recalls the years from 1974 to 2003, when the closure was total, no one could cross the border. Even today, however, there are forces trying to close the border again.
Andreas Fterakides’ stories open our hearts: after years of protesting every day in front of the barbed wire, he was the first to cross ‘to the other side’, to return to his home, now inhabited by other families.
Uniting takes longer than dividing. Union and peace in Cyprus
Birgül Kılıç Yıldırım is a teacher who seeks concrete solutions starting with education: “We live side by side on the same island. Putting emphasis on language education for two communities would be a very important contribution to peace efforts. Both sides should learn the language of the other. As an educator, I feel that this is important.”
Her husband, Cemal Yıldırım, is a film director committed to telling the stories of encounter, of unity, and he does not turn off his voice: “Politicians have destroyed our hopes for a solution and reunification. We no longer trust them. From now on, as two communities, we must create the environment of peace ourselves with bicommunal collaborations and events. In turn, politicians will have to follow along”.
We hope to have soon a huge symbolic picnic in peace, in coexistence, in unity.