Bicommunal Festival

An estimated number of 7000 Turkish Cypriots (TC) and Greek Cypriots (GC) attended the Bi-communal festival for Mutual understanding which took place on Sunday 10th of September 2000 at the United nations controlled Ledra Palace Hotel.

The festival, organized by seven political parties, under the auspices of the Slovak Embassy was marked as a memorable event. Three parties from TC side-Communal Liberation Party (TKP), Republican Turkish Party, Patriotic Unity Movement (YBH)- and four from GC side-DISY, AKEL, KISOS, United Democrats- joined forces to make the festival a successful event.

As I was approaching the Ledra Palace check point I saw a huge crowd waiting to cross over to go to Ledra palace. I could not help asking myself the following question: "Why so many people?...Why are they so interested and eager to gather together with people from the other side?..."

After completing the necessary formalities to be able to cross the check point I was joined with some old friends and walked together to Ledra Palace Hotel. The back yard was packed with people from both sides of the divide. Both my friends and I were delighted to see countless number of people present for this gathering. It was obvious that our political parties as well as some of our non-governmental organizations did there homework well.

I could hear but unable to see a choir singing beautifully. It was the bi-communal choir singing. Cypriots singing for peace. This was followed by a group of children in their traditional costumes performing their folk dances. I moved to a higher place to be able to see. To my surprise a GC standing just next to me informed me that the dancers were Turkish children. When I asked him how he was able to distinguish them from GC children "well..." he said "I happened to see them coming through the entrance that all other TC came" I felt a little embarrassed not to be able to tell whether the dancers were TC or GC. GC providing me with this information looked in his late 30s. He clapped and sang while TC children danced. "Gyuzel...gyuzel..." (meaning, nice) he repeated few times, with the good intention to make me aware that he knew some Turkish words. "nne...nne... bolli gala re arese ce mena..." I responded, meaning "yes my friend, very nice...I liked their dances too..." another GC joined in by making similar comments. He said he was very pleased and took great satisfaction to observe very close similarities between the TC folk dances and GC folk dances (Please refer to my footnote at the end of this article concerning how Cypriot dances were reintroduced to TCs). Indeed TC group of children performed their dances with great enthusiasm. Audience cheered and applauded vigorously with appreciation. It was the turn of a GC folk group to perform their songs. As soon as they started singing the song "Vasilica" emotions ran very high. Hundreds of TCs and GCs joined in and sang this very Cypriot song which is popular on both sides of the divide. "Dillirga" is the TC version of this song. I too become very emotional and joined in singing and clapping. The performance of this group was excellent.

Not only we enjoyed listening to Cypriot music and watching Cypriot folk dances but also enjoyed the opportunity to meet people and have short conversations together. Naturally our conversations circled around a possible solution to Cyprus problem. Some expressed their optimism but some were pessimistic on the possibility of an early solution. The general feeling however was that all expressed the immediate need for an end to hostilities and a solution to ages old problem. It was also pointed out that activities such as this help people to understand each other. Some even suggested that there must be found more effective and fruitful ways of coming together with the objective of eliminating the sense of distrust and perhaps convince the majority of our people and our rulers to work towards a common vision for our beloved island.

I think I can now answer the questions I asked myself at the beginning of my article. "Why so many people?...Why are they so interested and eager to gather together?..."

First, no one can dispute the fact that TCs and GCs enjoy each others company. This is also true for people of Turkey and Greece. Recent rapprochement between the two close neighbours enabled both peoples to come together and it was found that they did not have any difficulty at all in enjoying each others company.

Secondly, We cannot ignore the fact that the two communities shared the same geography, a small island, for nearly five centuries. So it is natural that many TCs and GCs want to realize their humanly desire to come together even though they are compelled to do so in an ‘artificial environment’.

Thirdly, people attending this kind of activities (and it can be seen that more and more people are taking part in these bi-communal activities) are trying to convey the important message that they are ready to forgive and work together towards a peaceful settlement.

It is up to the people of Cyprus to turn their dreams into a real situation. The question is: Are we ready and brave enough to rise to this challenge?

My note on our folk dances:
Turkish nationalism among the Turkish Cypriots goes back to early 1920s. In late 1940s and beginning of 1950s Turkish nationalism began gathering momentum. This was also reflected in National Day celebrations and in theatrical plays. During these celebrations and at the "End of year activities" at schools folk dances of Turkey were performed. These dances were taught by teachers sent by Turkey to Cyprus and later by TCs trained in Turkey. Also, costumes used were the traditional costumes of those regions of Turkey that the dances belonged. On the other hand TC people and especially villagers during the wedding ceremonies continued to sing and dance in a very similar manner to GC people. After 1973, a group of people formed a folk dancing group and managed to organize and perform several Cypriot folk dances. Unfortunately though, they added, changed or invented steps in order to prove that TCs came from 'mainland' Turkey. In 1977 a folk society, independent of the Department of Education and Culture, called Folk Arts Association was formed. In 1981-1982 a group of very enthusiastic young group was elected on the executive board. Together with other interested enthusiasts every weekend they traveled from village to village with their cameras, tape and video recorders and after about 5 years of research and work collected valuable folkloric material and information. Their findings were published as a publication of The Folk Arts Association. Their hard work, findings and activities was a great contribution to Cyprus folklore. It is due to these contributions by The Folk Arts Society that today in all celebrations, festivals and the like, Cypriot folk dances are performed. Cypriot folk dances are also taught in all schools. In 1950s to 1970s school children knew only the folk dances of Turkey. Now they only know and dance their own folk dances. A victory for our struggle to retain our cultural identity. A victory for "Cypriotnes/Turkish Cypriotness.

Soner Arifler
November 2000.

The foregoing note on Cypriot folk dances was based on an article written by Engin Anýl, a member of the executive board of The Folk Arts Society.

Please click here for Engin Anil's article

Two examples from a series of superb photographs taken at the bicommunal festival by Adonis Floridas:

Photograph by Adonis Florides copyright ©2000 All rights reserved

Photograph by Adonis Florides copyright ©2000 All rights reserved

The Festival of Mutual Understanding   

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Last updated: 02/09/2002