The Foreign Residents in the TRNC (TFR)
Heidi Blankenstein’s Book Review
of: “My Cyprus” written by J. Sartorius
by Heidemarie Blankenstein (translated from the German by Sigrid Martin-Wünscher)
Introduction by Ralph Kratzer: I received a review of a book. I personally haven´t read the book up till now and it is currently only available in German language. The evaluation comes from a year-long member of the TFR, Heidemarie Blankenstein.
But even without having read the original, the review is hence interesting because it describes, inter alia, the one-sided picture of the island of Cyprus, which still dominates in the world.
On the occasion of the Peace and Freedom Day, which is celebrated in Northern Cyprus every year on the 20th July, Heidemarie´s text is a perfect supplement for people in order to form their own opinion.
“My most cherished house is in Cyprus…….. ”
This is what Joachim Sartorius writes in his book Mein Zypern (My Cyprus), published in 2013. It is a compact little book providing a high degree of personal recognition and identification for all lovers of Cyprus and all those who live on the island.
The author spent three summers in Lapta (1984 to 1986) in the former Austen Harrison, now Asil Nadir house, and in Bellapais (Walnut Cottage). In 2012 he returned as a tourist for three weeks and completed his notes from so long ago. “What I am basically trying to do is create a concoction of two eras.”
Joachim Sartorius had just joined the Foreign Office as a young diplomat, aged 28, when his father, the then German Ambassador in Nicosia, experienced the Greek right extremist Sampson coup d’état in 1974 which led to the Turkish intervention. For the next 20 or so years Joachim fulfilled various tasks in the Bonn Foreign Office and had diplomatic posts in New York, Istanbul and Nicosia until 1986. After that he left the Foreign Office and took on leading roles in the DAAD (The German Academic Exchange Service), the Goethe Institute and, up to 2011, was manager of the Berlin Festival.
Although he had lived on the divided island for several years, his vision and opinion appear to have been quite clearly influenced by having his work based in the Greek-Cypriot part of Nicosia, and by his artist friends there. Personally he regards himself as a cultured aesthetic on the fringe; a world apart from the ′Turkish Soldateska”. It is perhaps surprising what little impact his diplomatic past and experiences seem to have had on his analytical appreciation of the Cypriot situation and how there is an apparent lack of willpower on his part in at least trying to find relatively balanced conflict solutions.
His descriptions of a summery Cyprus, its historic and cultural sites are sensitive, intuitive and deeply poetic. One can still feel Sartorius′ emotional energy and engagement in his choice of language, even though some 30 years have passed since his time and experiences in Paphos, Lapithos, Koiklia and Bellapais.
However, as a travel guide for both parts of the island the publication is quite unusable, since Sartorius insists on using only the now obsolete Greek names for Turkish-Cypriot towns and villages. Their Turkish names have, after all, been in official use for almost 40 years. He also refers constantly to the ′Turkish occupied North‘, which unequivocally leans in favour of the Greek side. There is no mention at all of the fact that, in the meantime, a well-functioning, democratic governmental system has been in place in the North and that the Turkish army stationed there – possibly seen as a threat by the Greek Cypriots – acts as a reassuring protector of the Turkish Cypriots.
Only once is there any evidence of a refreshing insight, when he quotes: “I didn’t dare to actually tell my friends that their fierce panhellenism had driven the Turkish minority into a corner. Neither did I dare ask the question, whether this revolt against Great Britain, led by a gangster and a dignitary of the church might not already have carried the seeds for the poisoned relations to follow in later years”.
So, one asks oneself: Why didn‘t Sartorius voice these niggling questions? Was his Greek obsession so strong that he just didn’t dare open his mouth? Or was it a misinterpretation of the concept of ′diplomacy′?
His one-sided, almost slavish, obsession and ambivalent attitude is particularly apparent when he very innocently, and without any sense of wrong-doing, describes his visit to the antique sites of Turkish-Cypriot Salamis and Vouni and how he stuffed his pockets with antique shards, most probably according to the motto: everything here is Greek after all, so I can help myself.
All in all Sartorius creates a colourful picture from his own vision of the island for the reader, and his prose and poems are always best, when they are about his own profound experience of a foreign land. In doing this – being a veritable aesthetic – he tries hard to avoid any political issues, something that is quite impossible in the case of this island, as world history is synonymous with island history, and the daily lives of the people on both parts of the divided island are shaped by this.
For information on the book (in German language) – please click here