The Crying of Lot 49 Cyprus

The Crying of Lot 49 – Who will Cyprus belong to? The bitter auction of an island that has been going on for 43 years… Who will win the lot? Those whose voices are not silenced, of course… He who has command over words holds the power. Can you tell which side this is from the map?

Oedipa Maas is the heroine of The Crying of Lot 49, a novella written by Thomas Pynchon in 1966. It is about her quest to unravel a centuries old dispute between two mailing companies: Thurn and Taxis and The Trystero. Oedipa inherits this mystery after her former lover dies and leaves her his estate. Thurn and Taxis is an official mailing service as opposed to Trystero, who has been forced underground and  continues to operate secretly through waste bins rather than mailboxes. It’s acronym W.A.S.T.E stands from ‘We Await Silent Trystero’s Empire’, and its symbol is a stoppered posthorn, an icon  indicating silence, or suppressed communication.

With silence as a theme, the style of the novella is also naturally cryptic. The story has many dead ends, and Pynchon structures it so that you feel as if you are getting somewhere, only to have it fall from reach: a truth teetering ever on the periphery but never coming into view. Oedipa Maas never gets to the bottom of this. Instead, she wrestles with a terrible gordian knot that is constantly changing, writhing and evasive.

For me, the dilemma of Oedipa Maas is strikingly similar to my own. I too must write a novel about a centuries old dispute with the Cyprus problem being an unavoidable subject. I too must separate false echoes from real voices and the way is fraught with thorns, a political minefield. Moreover, the truth is bitter, very bitter, but the question is do I coat the bitter pill to make it easier to swallow? Or do I expose all in the unbearable starkness that I know it to be? The former will allow my voice to carry further, because the sharp edges of truth would have been blurred and blunted by the semantics of diplomacy. It would demand tactical omissions that would mute my own annoyance and inner rage at having my people and their suffering seem second rate in comparison to the south of the island. The latter however would be all bones and sinew, an unpalatable truth, hard to listen to, as impossible to swallow as the spiny prickly pear that is a native cacti-fruit of Cyprus.

Most people only know about the events of 1974, some possibly may have some idea of the events leading up to it, but over half of this war has been fought silently on paper, in the form of maps, political speeches and sly semantics designed to sedate and smooth over the ugly truth. Let me explain…

The south of the island for me is symbolised by Thurn and Taxis, the mail company that still runs as normal. As a result, Greek Cypriots have enjoyed a fairly normal existence, have a more stable economy than us, have benefitted from the unwavering support of various alliances (the biggest of which is their religious compatibility with the European Union). This was their passport to being accepted by the world as the ‘official’ side of the island, despite the overwhelming evidence that the Megali Idea (the big idea) for the unification of Greek lands to Greece (Enosis – union) meant culling anyone in their way, including the British Army at the time. But like I said, religion is a great unifier, and things are forgotten when your gods share the same name – don’t believe me? Just watch the European Song Contest…

Thus, the south has enjoyed uninterrupted communication of its ideas, thoughts, free speech and above all, it has convinced the world that they were the ones hard done by.

The north on the other hand is represented by Trystero – a country whose voice has been muted, silenced, stoppered by the powers that be. Despite there being a presence of Turkish Cypriots on the island since the Ottoman Empire, our existence has been mysteriously scrubbed from maps. The attempt to silence and sabotage our existence, our language and our culture can be evidenced with a simple map. For decades after the war, the north side of the island was a blank, or simply labelled the ‘occupied area’, with no signs to show that villages even existed. For me, there is no other explanation for this other than a remaining inner desire to eliminate a people: the EOKA genocide plan went from physical slaughter to one one fought on paper.

Of course, these are things I gradually became aware of as an adult, when I learned how powerful words could be and the way world leaders use them to reach their own selfish goals. But this didn’t mean that as a child it didn’t effect me. I had the misfortune and luck to grow up in a predominantly white neighbourhood. People in the 80’s were ignorant of other cultures – people presumed I was either an Arab or Pakistani.  When people inquired out of curiosity, I said I was from Cyprus and people always assumed I was Greek. I have lost the number of times I have had to correct them by saying, ‘no, I’m from the north side’. This was sometimes met by stares of incomprehension and often I would sense an imperceptible withdrawal, as if I was an anomaly, an alien species that they should quickly do away with, because (unknown to me then) to the world we were the aggressors, we carried the gene of the ‘Hun’ and were a threat to European values.

As a child, I was naive and didn’t think much of it – but as time goes on you become aware of such things, the way people address you, the begin to question the underlying nature of their questions, the look in their eye; it belies not just a curiosity, but a secret desire to have you, with our own words, assume or admit the role of ‘other’. The older I get, the more I rail against this. Maybe this is why writing this novel is so important – it is our story, on OUR terms, free from the condemnation and the vilification of hundreds and thousands of other voices that has been waged on us for decades.

Some people still don’t know that a North side exists – such was the power of the political maps even then. The Greeks harboured a terrible grudge against the Turkish Army for saving the muslim population. The map was their revenge against the fact that their Megali Idea had been spoiled – their genocide, interrupted… it was a sort of death for us to deny us a place in history books, on maps even international sports events and tourism exhibitions.

Even Google Maps, until recently, depicted the north of the island as empty, with only Nicosia, Famagusta and Kyrenia as the only places of civilisation. It beggars belief that such ignorance could have continued on so many platforms for so long. And we have fought and fought and fought, often with very little to show for our efforts, because ours is a voice that is deliberately ignored, and worse, this is a worldwide conspiracy.

The maps weren’t the only things however that the Greeks managed to control. Below is a well-known image used by Greek Cypriots for decades to depict Turkish Cypriots:

A famous Greek Cypriot poster used to express their opinion of the Turkish Army’s peace operation in retaliation to the genocide that was quietly taking place on the island. These are still used and so-called ‘United Cyprus’ fairs. The semantics are interesting as well as the depiction of the North side. Peace talks anyone?

The leaflets here were given out at the 2018 Cyprus Wine Fair that took place in London, which I became aware of through T-Vine, a media outlet dedicated to giving voice to the Turkish Cypriot community. This propaganda for four decades has been used to condemn Turkish Cypriots as bloodthirsty barbarians and is recognized officially as a representation of the conflict. This is how Greek Cypriots see us, only the north side is coated in blood, only the north are the people who are to blame.

No one speaks of how the Kykko Monastery in Paphos had been turned into a slave camp holding thousands of Turkish Cypriots by the EOKA soldiers as prisoners of war, who were often women, children and the elderly. Moreover, no one acknowledges the heinous crimes committed by General Grivas and Nikos Sampson, the latter of which was a journalist who secretly murdered his own people and reported it falsely as crimes committed by the TMT (a paramilitary organisation founded by Rauf Denktas, President of North Cyprus, to fight against the EOKA and EOKA-B Greek junta).

The poster of the bloody Cyprus map at its core is racist and an insult to Turkish Cypriots everywhere whose struggle for survival was obtained at the eleventh hour when Bulent Ecevit, prime minister of Turkey at the time, secretly gave the command for Turkish troops to storm the island and save hundreds of Turkish Cypriot communities from certain genocide, my own family included. How these posters could have found its way to a wine fair is beyond me…

For years I have watched peace talks fall to pieces, come to nothing, mainly because the voice of one side of the island is preferred over the other. Turkish Cypriots have long spoken out against the propaganda of the south, but their voices have been silenced, or ignored. The north suffers from a Trystero syndrome, and our voices can only be heard through obscure channels which are never official nor are they loud enough for all to hear.

This is why the planning period of this novel has been so long and arduous. It is not merely a novel, it is a quest to find my own voice as writer and a Turkish Cypriot. It is a quest to find the right channel, the right medium so that I can remove the stoppered posthorn that has been handed to us again and again when it was OUR turn to speak. It may even be the chance for North Cyprus to finally have its voice heard by all – and dare I say it, finally be acknowledged as legitimate.

As James Baldwin once said,If there is no moral question, there is no reason to write.’ The novels produced abut Cyprus so far have never truly examined the moral question of those dark years… and this is something that I lose sleep over. It maddens me when I think of how novels like Bitter Lemons of Cyprus by Lawrence Durrell and The Cypriot by Andreas Koumi (both voices by other cultures), who take the Cyprus Problem and dilute, change and trivialise the suffering of us during those years. Romeo and Julieting the Cyprus Problem as a ‘Greek boy falls in love with Turkish girl’ is an insult and not a very imaginative metaphor for what happaned. It only shows a lack of imagination, and only dances around the issues of what really happened during those years. The Cyprus Problem is not a forbidden love story…

Novels like these so far have only served to skirt the ‘problem’. When I look at it, I still see the gordian knot there at the core, one strand strangling another.

Today, the Cyprus problem manifests as an ugly auction, where the side with the loudest, most confident voice takes all – and this is where the problem lies. We as Turkish Cypriots are not interested in taking all, we simply want our voices to be heard, our stories to be acknowledged. We want to FIND our missing dead, in whatever shallow grave they have been flung into and learn in what awful method of torture they surrendered their lives.

We also suffered, but we have not thrown mud at the neighbour.

Our nursery rhymes do not consist of calling them ‘dogs’ and ‘swine’.

A unified Cyprus does not mean a Cyprus without borders – it means a Cyprus where         both sides enjoy equal rights.

And most importantly, if there is still a presence of the Turkish Army, then it
indicates how deep the mistrust goes with the south.

I for one, cannot look at the smiles, when the daggers hidden in the paperwork.

Our opinions have been placed in the waste bin by the international community, but waste is also fertile. From there, our ideas will grow and bear fruit. It’s not long now…  we will march with words…

…We Await Trystero’s Silent Army