Cycling across Cyprus’ divide

Envisioning a group of cycling lovers roam through the 9,251km2 circumference of the island in the name of physically moving across barriers, I reached out to Andreas Michaelides who now lives some 3,000 kilometres away.

He is a man who epitomises a wholehearted appreciation for the island; a man who, along with Aydin Mehmet Ali materialised the first Cyprus Cycle Across Barriers in April of 2010.

His response to my initial contact with him was poignant. “I’d love to have an interview with the Cyprus Weekly, the paper I have read for years and still read,” he replied. Coming from a permanent resident of London nowadays, I knew we would have no trouble to approach an indirect conversation about barriers and what this year’s cycling route entails.

And although I grasped the philosophy behind the cause as a peaceful one, bringing people together from both sides of the divide to share a 10-day cycling adventure across the island in order to discover its potential beauty and at times most secluded surroundings, Andreas’ last words as we log off Skype jolted the importance of overcoming problems which have been on the negotiating table for the past 40 years.

“Tears come to my eyes,” Andreas says as we promised to meet each other in person when he arrives on the island just in time for Easter.

Founded under the initiatives of the Hackney Cypriot Association in London that was set up after the war (1976) under the pretext of bringing or should I say sustaining both communities together through an advice centre and events, the pioneering cycling tour in 2010 honoured the association’s philosophy.

“There was a number of reasons why we decided to create this event, as a philosophy… we wished to work with both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots after the invasion…,” said Andreas.

“It was when Aydin returned to Cyprus that we wanted to get to know the island again, because we both loved Cyprus and as we wondered how best to reclaim it, we thought that cycling it from one end to the other was the best way,” he added.

On the ground, this is where the physical notion of barriers enters the picture; having crossed different checkpoints to enter the alternating sides in the other three like-minded events that have led to this year’s route, it’s imperative to note that interweaving between the dividing line defines a political reality.

Yet in this case, the dividing line is treated as an artificial one, one which has a stance which suggests a different approach to a ‘never-ending problem’.

“It has always been our hope to encourage many more people living in Cyprus to break out and discover their country. We could have chosen a cycle route that is on one side of the island or the other, but we chose not to. Cyprus is a divided island, but it is an artificial division which, in the long run, benefits no one,” read an announcement on the event.
The aim is not to apportion blame.

“Either for past or current actions for the current wretched situation in Cyprus… A situation where a great number of Cypriots, both Greek and Turkish-speaking are harbouring mistrust, misunderstanding, sometimes hostility and a lack of contact with each other.

“We don’t have to wait to start breaking down our own barriers, and meet the other side. The borders are open; Cyprus is beautiful.”

Cycling Across the Barriers

Crossing the barriers by bicycle is then, first and foremost a physical journey, but as Andreas explains, it’s also about building trust between the two communities.

“We both recognised (Andreas and Aydin), in addition to the philosophy of the Hackney Cypriot Association, that discussions and talking about reunification and solving the problem is of course necessary but the more necessary thing is actually for people to meet each other and build confidence and this can start with something very small like a bicycle ride,” says Andreas.

In 2010, seven people formed the group which cycled from Apostolos Andreas to Akamas.

“The first time we went from Morphou and we then climbed up until Kalopanayiotis up to Kykkos and to Stavros tis Psokas on to my village, Lysos and then Akamas.”

“The second time we went through the new opening, at Limnitis and the third time we did it the other way round; we started from Lysos, went to Kyrenia and then down to Lefkosia, here we met with Costas and Lefki from the Home for Cooperation were we cycled across the border and then we proceeded and went all the way to Lefkara, Zygi, Limassol, Paphos, Akamas and then Lysos,” he added.

Next Thursday (April 16), a group of at least 20 people will begin their journey based on the itinerary that Andreas and Aydin put together in 2010.

“It was lovely to see both sides, both areas, but this year, we’ve been working within the Hackney Cypriot Association as well and decided to make it as a fundraising event for the activities of the association here in London and we will do the 2010 route again, with a couple of new places,” explains Andreas.

“We have found a permaculture garden project in Kyrenia where we will stay. We will not necessarily camp in every place, in some places we will have to camp because there is nothing else there and in some cases we will have to use either B&Bs or hotels because there isn’t anything else…”

“In Morphou for example… because there is quite a militarised zone around it, we couldn’t find a camping site so we will stay in a municipal hotel. At times we will have both options.”

As a core, the group will be moving together towards various stop points which will enable others to join for a single day or more, with people travelling from abroad to join the route. A core group and then others will join on different days.

“We’ve got 15 people travelling from London, the mixture of people is really interesting and lovely, we’ve got four young women who have part of their family from Cyprus and they’re from the south side – Greek Cypriot speaking… they have never been to Cyprus before so they really want to see the island as it is,” says Andreas.

“We’ve also got four or five Turkish Cypriots that live here (in London) and will meet us in the north, and then there are other people from Cyprus and from other countries who are also joining us.”

Looking back, Andreas estimates that for Cypriots and non-Cypriots alike, this is to be “a wonderful journey, cycling across some of the most beautiful countrysides in the Mediterranean, swimming in the turquoise seas of Karpass and Paphos, tasting the authentic Cypriot cuisine at its best, and sharing a coffee or a glass of wine with people we meet on the way”.

That’s what some of us will be doing for the later part of the Easter holidays. Happy Easter.

Should you want to participate in the event or find out more information, you can email hackneycypriotassoc@gmail.com or got to www.facebook.com/HackneyCypriotAssociation

*** Published in the Cyprus Weekly Newspaper

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