TAKING BOTH SIDES BEARS BEAUTIFUL FRUIT
In an area where fear was palpable, former neighbours found themselves on opposite sides of a hostile divide. Land that had once nourished a mixed and vibrant populace was barren. There had been no irrigation for two years with the water supply commandeered by one side, and the pumping station wrecked.
Hundreds of wonderful trees – like the villages that surrounded them – appeared dead.
But not to Roy Calvocoressi, our founder. He decided to do something positive about the situation – and so began a story that has been told continuously for over 50 years.
Roy gathered together a small international team who settled in one of the abandoned villages at Kalohorio Lefka. They repaired and rebuilt the pumping station, and began to care for the abandoned fruit trees. Turkish Cypriot groves in Greek Cypriot areas (and vice-versa) were gradually nurtured back to health.
One of the groves belonged to Hussein, who worked for the Turkish Cypriot administration. Roy negotiated a water supply with Yannis, a neighbouring Greek Cypriot. After three years, the trees began to bear fruit, and Roy took a sackful of grapefruit to Hussein in Nicosia. As Roy opened the boot of the car, the sun shone down on the glorious golden fruit. Hussein took a lot of persuading that the fruit was really his, but finally, he beamed a similarly sunny grin. It was the first time Roy had seen him happy in three years.
Several months later Hussein was persuaded to visit his garden. He helped Roy and the team with the first irrigation of the summer, and more importantly met with and thanked Yannis. They talked and talked like long-lost friends. By the third irrigation, Hussein said he could manage on his own.
Roy’s involvement in the citrus groves was of course about much more than a reconciliation between Hussein and Yannis. They both had many friends, and the story soon spread. Attitudes on both sides of the Cypriot divide were challenged, and changed.
As well as the citrus trees some of the CHIPS volunteers moved in to the abandoned Turkish Cypriot village of Kidasi. We invited those who had fled to return, and helped them rebuild their homes. Established as an open village, it welcomed people from all sides. There were no military roadblocks on the approach roads to it, and no guns were allowed in the village.
Roy’s early work in Cyprus told him in clear terms that his approach worked. He took sides – both sides – and brought together communities hitherto divided by mistrust and hatred.
Ultimately though, the wider conflict in Cyprus overtook us. Although CHIPS was the only NGO remaining in Cyprus by 1972, our visas were revoked at the end of that year. By 1974, Turkey had invaded.
Years later, Roy returned to Cyprus and shared with friends in the north his sadness over the failure of the Kidasi project following the partition of the country in 1975.
On suggesting it was all a waste of time, a schoolmaster from a nearby village responded quite sharply. “No,” he said, “you should be ashamed even to think like that. You won the hearts of the people and that should be enough for any man.” Another said, “You gave those who returned the best years of their lives, back in their own village, in their own houses, cultivating their own land.”
Wars come and go, people get displaced, land grabbed, homes destroyed. But friendships made with and between the people themselves can survive when hearts have been melted, and attitudes changed. When, as Roy used to say, “you have turned an enemy into a friend.”
Over 40 years later, friendships survive across the partition. There is now an annual “Intercommunal Picnic” which takes place alternately on the Turkish and Greek side, attended by all ages from 9 to 90 years of age, where these friendships are renewed, cemented, and new ones made. They have never given up hope.