The news of a sixteen year old Greek Cypriot boy taking down a Turkish flag and stealing a picture of Rauf Denktaş is not half as exciting a story as some people seem to think it is. Sure, it has provoked some form of emotion among all of us, but I do feel that in many ways a mountain has been made out of a molehill here.
For those unaware, the northern Cypriot village of Lysi in Famagusta hosted a Greek Cypriot church service last Sunday, attended by refugees from 1974 and their descendants. At some point during the day a 16 year old boy broke off from the group and into the village’s primary school, taking down a Turkish flag and stealing a picture of Rauf Denktaş. The taking down of the flag was caught on CCTV and the video has gone viral.
Unlike what seems to be the majority of people, I do not really have any strong opinions of the boy. First of all he is not a hero as some have been saying; his taking down of a flag hasn’t made any difference to anything tangible in Cyprus aside from occupying the week for journalists and opinion columnists.
For better or worse this isn’t the fifteenth century where the planting or removal of a flag determines ownership of the land around it, and personally I’ve always found the desecration of flags to be in bad taste. A flag represents an entire people, and therefore even when planted by a government in a place where it shouldn’t be, tampering with a flag is perceivable as an attack on the people who it represents rather than its government. In less words, there are better ways of going about changing the situation in Cyprus than attacking Turkism, even if that Turkish flag shouldn’t be there.
The boy’s view of what is right and wrong may have been significantly skewed
On the other hand, the boy is also no villain, and I disagree with the arrest warrant that the northern Cypriot authorities have put out for him. Sure, what he did was wrong, but in my mind it was hardly a serious transgression, and there are mitigating factors.
It could be argued (and I would believe) that given the hatred and animosity towards all things Turkish that is present in many households, large parts of the Greek Cypriot education system, and society at large, the boy’s view of what is right and wrong (i.e. vandalism and theft) may have been significantly skewed, especially given his age.
In reality, the boy is as much of a victim in this as anyone else. He is simply a symptom of the situation as it exists. What struck me the most is that given his age (being 16 years old and therefore born in 2003) and the fact that he is presumably a descendant of a refugee from Lysi, it is probable that had the 2004 Annan Plan referendum passed he would have attended the very school at which he took down the flag, and that he would have never known Cyprus in its current divided and ethnically charged guise.
cyprus has failed this boy
I don’t want to bore you with how things could have been different but the fact remains that they could have been, and they should have been, but Cyprus has failed this boy. It has failed him just as it failed Tasos Isaac and Solomos Solomou, the famous cousins who were both killed attempting the same thing in Deryneia a quarter of a century ago. Thankfully no one’s life was taken this time, but what of the next one? The next frustrated young boy who decides to take matters into his own hands may be less fortunate.
With the island and its politics in its current state we are playing with fire in this sense, allowing nationalist rhetoric to take a hold of our youth, creating an environment that encourages young and immature people to take matters into their own hands, and this time being incredibly lucky that nothing happened to him. I fear that the next young boy may not be so lucky, and so of course I think we should try to create a Cyprus in which the circumstances are not as so.
Without wishing to sound like a broken record, events like this will only continue happening until a solution to the Cyprus Problem is agreed and approved. As I have said already, last week’s events would not have been even a remote possibility had the Annan Plan passed its referendum and become reality, and the goal of any sensible government and people in this situation would be to attempt to come to an agreement as to a way forward.
However, I would be lying if I said I was expecting a change soon. As I said at the start, the actions of the sixteen year old were largely inconsequential. Nothing good will most probably come of this, but on the plus side nothing bad will either.