Cypriots Cross Virtual Green Line on Penn Web Site

There are no borders in cyberspace, no armed guards to check your papers as you pass from one computer to another. Which is why people seeking to bridge divisions between peoples and reunite divided lands have taken to promoting their efforts on the Internet.

One of these divided lands is Cyprus, where for over two decades ethnic Turks and Greeks have been separated by a "Green Line" of barbed wire and hostility. Not even the love of their country that both groups share has been able to overcome the collective mistrust between the two groups.

But that hasn't stopped some Cypriots from trying, and for those Cypriots living abroad, the Internet has proved to be fertile ground for their efforts.

Take Turgut Durduran (C '97), for instance. The Science and Technology Wing (STWing) student and Turkish Cypriot has taken advantage of Internet resources to create a place on line where members of both Cypriot communities can meet and find information.

The son of a prominent Turkish-Cypriot politician, Durduran discovered the Internet shortly after arriving at Penn his freshman year. His initial participation took the form of e-mail discussions over a distributed mailing list, Cyprus-L, devoted to intercommunal exchange and discussion of political and social issues in Cyprus. Durduran took over operation of the list when its founder, a Turkish Cypriot studying in the United States, graduated and asked him to assume the job. Durduran thought the list's management should reflect its bicommunal nature and brought in two Greek Cypriots as co-sysops (system operators). Until recently, the list server was based at Penn, but heavy traffic has forced it to relocate to the University of Rhode Island. (A second mailing list for Turkish Cypriots which Durduran started, Geyik-L, is still based at Penn.)

From there, Durduran took his efforts to promote intercommunal harmony onto the World Wide Web. As a member of STWing, part of the 21st Century Project for the Undergraduate Experience developed under President Judith Rodin and Provost Stanley Chodorow's Agenda for Excellence, Durduran was able to take advantage of the space offered STWing members on its host computer, force.stwing.upenn.edu. He constructed the Cyprus Web Page in the fall of 1995. Word of his site -- the first devoted to Cyprus resources and intercommunal activity on the Web -- spread quickly through the international Cypriot community, and since then, several other Web sites have been created that address Cyprus issues, including some from an ethnic-nationalist perspective; Durduran's page has links to several of these.

The page also includes information about Cyprus' principal towns, historical and cultural information, information about bicommunal activities and events, and a searchable bibliographic database containing over 1,000 references to books and to magazine and journal articles.

One of the featured items on Durduran's Cyprus Web Page is "Crossings," described by him as "the only bicommunal Cypriot journal on the Internet." The journal, co-edited by him and Antony A. Koyzis, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and a Greek Cypriot, is one of a number of efforts aimed at reunifying Cyprus politically and culturally and building bridges between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. First published in May 1996, the journal includes essays, poetry and fiction by members of both communities.

Durduran explained that "a Greek Cypriot friend and I [on Cyprus-L] thought it would be a good idea to start a newsletter" with short calendar items and brief items devoted to intercommunal communication and thought. "Koyzis thought we should start a bicommunal journal [with essays, fiction and poetry] instead" -- and "Crossings" was born.

The journal is also available in a print version; problems with funding for the print edition have delayed the release of the second issue. Plans also call for "Crossings" to be translated into Greek and Turkish for distribution within Cyprus proper.

One reason intercommunal contact among Cypriots has flourished on the Internet is because the obstacles to such contact are non-existent, in contrast to the situation on the island itself. "It is possible to physically cross the Green Line if there are events to which you have been invited," Durduran said, "but it takes about a month to get the necessary permission." More commonly, intercommunal activities within Cyprus itself take place in the Ledra Palace, a hotel operated by the United Nations peacekeeping forces located in the neutral zone separating the Turk-controlled northern third of Cyprus from the largely-Greek republic in the south.

The current situation in Cyprus has its roots in the period of British colonial rule. Like Bosnia, Cyprus had a long history of different ethno-religious groups -- the Orthodox Greeks, who make up about 80 percent of the island's population, and the Muslim Turks, who account for the rest -- living side by side in peace. But after the Second World War, there was a rise in nationalist sentiment among some Greek Cypriots, who called for the island's independence from Britain and eventual unification with Greece. In response to this, according to Durduran, "the British used a 'divide and rule' strategy, using the Turkish Cypriots as "police" to put down nationalist demonstrations.

The agreement among the British, Turkish and Greek governments that led to Cyprus' independence in 1960 included guarantees for minority representation at all levels of government, but this did not defuse the rising tensions between the two groups, fed in part by the larger rivalry between Greece and Turkey. U.N. troops were sent to the island in the mid-1960s as peace keepers, but nationalist agitation within both communities continued. Things came to a head in 1974, when the then-ruling military junta in Greece sponsored a coup that toppled the government of Archbishop Makarios. In response, the Turkish army invaded the island in the name of protecting the ethnic Turks, eventually taking control over its northern third and declaring a "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" in the territory it held.

In the years since, pressure to reunify the island has increased both within and outside Cyprus. Some of that pressure comes from the international community-- only Turkey itself recognizes the northern republic, and the Cyprus issue stands in the way of Turkey's bid to join the European Union -- but even more has come from Cypriots living abroad and communicating over the Internet.

"Discussions [about how Cyprus can be reunified] are taking place every day on Cyprus-L," Durduran said, and within Cyprus, "leaders of both communities have agreed to a bicommunal federation, but there is still much discussion over details." Also at issue is whether the confederation should be a strong or a weak one.

Although access to the Internet is still spotty in Cyprus, news of Durduran's activities and other bicommunal efforts on the Internet has spread throughout the island. The response to his Web site, he says, has been generally positive, although "a couple of nationalist newspapers have called it a threat."

Currently, tensions are high again between Greeks and Turks on Cyprus, in the wake of the killing of a pro-reunification journalist last summer and subsequent border skirmishes that have brought bicommunal activity on the island itself to a halt. But Durduran remains optimistic that reunification will happen, and soon--within the next five years, he feels, thanks to growing internal and external pressure. "The recent events have increased the nationalistic voices on the island," he said; "however, they have also led to the realization of the importance of a solution immediately."

Originally published on January 21, 1997