Interview with Anna Marangou
September 11th, 2017 at 4:30 p.m. in Nicosia
Anna Prodromou (AP)
Anna Marangou (AM)
AP: Anna Marangou, art historian, archaeologist, mother, grandmother. Quite a few identities, individual, social, collective identities in just one person and I’m sure we could add more. Which identity, or which part of your identity, do you feel defines you the most?
AM: Well it’s a hard question, because it depends on the time of your life that you’re going through. At the time being, today was the first day of school for the grandkids, so today was a very important day for me. I got up in the morning, I took the kids to school, I picked them up from school and I cooked a special lunch for them. So this was my day of being a grandmother. However, when they go away, I will sit back into “The History of Maritime Cyprus”, a book I’m preparing now, which should be published sometime in the next few years. So there’s a lot of things, as long as you are an active citizen and as long as I’m sort of part of what’s going on around me, not only in my road or in my area of the city, but in the whole island and in the rest of the world, which I consider to be a part of. It depends, so I think that the more active you are, the more aware and the more conscious you are of all these different roles that make you a real person.
AP: An intersection of identities.
AM: Exactly! So many things that come together and I think everything offers you something unique to your everyday life. Whether that is education or whether that is quality time with your children, I think that what makes a person happy is to be involved in many things, to keep your eyes wide open, to keep your spirit open and to participate in what’s happening around you and definitely not to lie on your couch and watch television every night.
AP: And you are involved in many things in your everyday routine.
AM: I think that’s a gift, it’s a gift in life when you can bring these things together, you have a bit of everything. For example, what I’m doing now is the trips I’m organizing to visit the historical sites of Cyprus. Trips to the occupied part of Cyprus, right? People that join me do not only listen to history. They listen to what is happening, they listen to old stories, and they listen to what this person said or what that person said. I listen to what they have to tell me, which I repeat the next time, so it’s a combination of, sort of absorbing everything that goes on around you.
AP: How long have you been organizing these excursions, these trips?
AM: Don’t call them excursions because, this is an important thing. You know, what I’m trying to say is that guys, this is one island and this is one culture and one civilization, but for the time being it is occupied, ok. I’m going to just give you a phrase that a very dear Turkish Cypriot friend of mine told me. She is an incredible doctor who I spent a lot of time with in my summers and one day we were talking about when, you know, some people say “I don’t want to go to the occupied part”, “I don’t want to show my passport”, “I don’t want this, I don’t want that”, they should be ‘ποτζιή’ which in Greek means ‘over there’ and we should be ‘ποδά’ which means ‘here’. And I’m trying to sort of fight this and say “guys what do you mean ‘over there’ and ‘here’”? It’s one, it’s one entity, its one people, it’s a struggle to get this island together again. And she looked at me one day and she said “just think, if your kid was in prison, wouldn’t you go and see them? Wouldn’t you go and visit them?” And I said “ha ha! You’re talking about a big part of my life. That’s it! A part of our country is for the time being in dire straits. Yes, it is in prison, yes it’s under the Turkish army and what I want is for the Turkish army to get out of this place and the Cypriots to live in peace on their own and we can make it if we want. So, the whole issue is the same, wouldn’t you go and see your child if they were on the other side of what they call the green line today? Of course I would. And this is what forced me into proposing these visits to my compatriots, because I don’t deal with tourists, I’m not a guide. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the guides, I taught in the guide’s school, right? I’m basically an archaeologist dealing with antiquity and the medieval period. I’ve done a lot of work on the actual history of Cyprus as well as the contemporary history of Cyprus and what I want to do is to open the eyes of the people who join me on these walks and talks, because what I do is walk and I talk. I talk a lot, I talk too much to the point where I promise to whoever goes on this trip that I won’t say a word on the way back. They can all sleep after a very tiring day, whether that’s in Solous and Vouni or in Famagusta or in Karpas or wherever.
So, at the beginning it was quite interesting to see the reactions of the people and there are still some that say ‘She’s being paid by the Turks to do that’ or ‘Oh what a traitor to my country”. Ok, you can say whatever you want. What I get from this is that so many people who have been walking and talking with me over the past four years have seen a different Cyprus and if I can say I helped a little bit to overcome their concerns I am happy, because a lot of people told me that they had anxiety or fear inside them when they came, of course where there’s anxiety there is fear. They say “ this is the first time we are crossing over” and I say yes and I’m so happy it’s me that is taking you over for the first time so that you can see your country. It’s your country as well and I know that it hurts very much to know that your house has been taken over by somebody else and I know that is very hard to see all these mosques that have been built everywhere in our country and the place names that have been changed so much that you cannot understand where your village is. The older people that come with me just look around and they say “Μα που ένει;” (but where is it?) you know, where is my house? So, on the one hand, its devastating to go through this experience, which is an experience where at first you’re angry, you feel that I would never do this again, you’re very frustrated, but the second time, you say it’s my country and it’s my hometown and I want to go back before I’m too old, I want to bring my children. That’s what I ask the people to do. I say we were lucky we’ve lived in this part of Cyprus that others have not been able to for the past 43 years. Look at the young generation, they don’t have a clue about the city of Famagusta! What a city Nicosia is! What beautiful landscape we have in Karpasia! Or how important Kyrenia Castle and the Pentadaktylos Castles are, how important Morphou is as well as Ayios Mamas. All these things don’t take away from my sincere sense of belonging to this island and its culture and its civilization, because once you have a full understanding of what has happened from the 20th century BC right through to 2016, you have an overall view of what this island has gone through and what is important, why it was so important - what it is that has put Cyprus on the map.
AP: You said that you have been organizing these talks and walks for the last 4 years. What intrigued you about taking this initiative? Did something happen in your life that changed your perspective or have you always felt this way?
AM: I’ve always thought liked that. Well, what intrigued me was the fact that I lost my job. I was one of the editors for Laiki Bank (Popular Bank). I edited many books for the Laiki Bank Cultural Centre, which went under in 2013, and this also coincided with the death of my sister, an accidental death in Egypt in February 2013 - these two things really sort of brought my life to a standstill. On the one hand, I lost the person who was the closest friend I had, we grew up together and we were very attached to each other, and on the other hand, I said come on, you have to get your act together, you know, what am I going to do? I’ve got children, I’ve got expenses I have to do something, so I did what I had always been doing up until that time. Whenever someone had an official guest, they said “Anna, take this person to Famagusta”, especially after 2004. Anna do this, Anna do that, on a voluntarily basis, right? So I thought to myself, I’m going to do this professionally and really well and take all this knowledge I have deep inside me and spit it out. Because I think that’s what generosity is all about. Because, if you have knowledge, there’s no point in having it unless you give it to other people. So, on the one hand, writing books and sort of keeping up with what’s happening in the world of archaeology and history in Cyprus and on the other hand, trying to convince my people, the people of Cyprus, to understand the real story, because who told them about the Arab raids and how important they were, who told them about what really happened in the Middle Ages? Richard the Lionheart didn’t come here because he wanted to marry Verengaria in Limassol. Richard the Lionheart wanted to leave part of his army here to go on his way to Jerusalem and free the holy land. So spitting out the truth about the Turkish occupation, what happened? When were we the hungriest? When was the worst period of our history? Revealing truths, which are not really my conclusions, but they are historical facts and figures, makes these trips interesting.
AP: You’re referring to historical facts and events that happened centuries ago, but what about our recent history? Do you think we are ready to face our recent history and understand what happened in order to move forward?
AM: We’re not! It’s a very common secret right? I think Nicosians who face the occupation every day when they look at Pentadaktylos Mountain or wherever they walk within the old city – bang! City closed, they can’t go further, they are more than aware of that. If you ask a Paphian or a Limassolian or a guy from Larnaka, yes, there are lots of refugees on that part of the island as well, but the awareness of the occupation is more vivid here, much more vivid and I think the new generation tends to be more ready to receive a change, because what is this? This is a change. Cypriots don’t like change, right? So we haven’t really prepared them for an alternative; for example, what if we don’t have a solution? What if we don’t reunify this island? What’s the option? What is Plan B? Do we have a Plan B? Have we explained to the people that Islam is on our doorstep and this is why all these mosques are coming up? Because Turkish Cypriot people are secular people, they have nothing to do with Islam, right? They follow what Kemal taught them. So the question is, I don’t believe we are ready and I think that this is a horrible period that we’re going to go through now, through these presidential elections, because there is this huge hypocrisy and overestimating and underestimating. I heard somebody, a political leader, saying that the Guteres proposition was really a very dangerous one and you know, you hear things like that. Ok, if we prefer to have 40,000 troops on the island instead of 690 then there is a real issue here and this is what people should do, demand to know what their options are. Other than that, this is going to be a terrible state, a bogus state I think, a bit like North and South Korea. On the one hand, we’re going to have these very rich Turks coming and buying all the land that is now left from Kyrenia to Karpas and all the thieves and money launderers will be hiding on that side, while on this side, we share our island with Russians and rich people, such as the runaways who come and hide in those expensive houses that we have provided for them by destroying our own landscape and heritage. So, I think Cypriots should be aware of their options and most importantly, Cypriots should be aware of what’s happening outside their own gardens, because it doesn’t only concern the politicians - the future of Cyprus should concern each and every one of us as well as our children and our grandchildren in the future. If we don’t want to have the same story again, quickly packing our clothes in Famagusta and running away on the 13th of August in our bikinis and our flip flops, we had better start thinking and Cypriots have actually had a really good time up until now. We have money, you see all this people flying into jail, whether it be mayors or whoever, I think this should come to an end and the government should look at these problems more seriously.
AP: Would you say that initiatives like yours, on an individual level, or any other form of activism, are in any way contributing to create a positive climate for a possible solution. Is there a possibility that a solution will come from the grassroots level?
AM: It’s not going to come from the grassroots, because the people who fight the UNC or my proposition or the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation, who are awarding grants to 50 people who have been working together. These are like a sideshow. I think there must be a central line that says our only option is reunification and I don’t see it and that’s very alarming and upsetting, because we all voted for a certain politician because he believed in reunification and we think now that this is not the same politician, he sort of changed, put another face on for the time being, so it’s a sad situation and I think this electoral period will do more harm than anything else. It’s going to be a really edgy period for everybody and we have to remain sane. I don’t know how were going to do that, but we have to get our act together and think we should have one goal; it’s not only about the natural gas. I hope that the natural gas will contribute to a solution. The solution will be whether we can live with the Turkish Cypriots. Whether we can share our lives with the Turkish Cypriots, not them as our gardeners or as our hairdressers, on the same level, where we can act together, where we can decide the future of this island together on the same basis.
AP: Due to the fact that the Cyprus problem dominates our agenda we very often confine ourselves in the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot binary. We tend to forget that there are other communities on the island, Maronites, Armenians, Latins, as well as refugees and political asylum seekers. Do you think we are inclusive as a society?
AM: No, absolutely not. There’s racism which is really open and overtly expressed on a regular basis and what I see, which is very alarming as well, is that there’s a new generation who have to do their army service, who go through a particular period, and unless these young men have parents that can bring them back down to earth, this could lead to a generation that are very dangerous. I mean the fascists, there are two fascists representatives in our parliament. Cyprus has never had a movement like that. Of course, this is following what the Greeks are doing with Chrysi Avgi right?
AP: Of course, it’s a European and even more a global phenomenon. We see what’s happening in Europe, but also in the US, and that is very alarming indeed, if you think that we are all connected in one way or another.
AM: And I think because we tend to forget how few we are. There is not even a million of us. Very often, when I go up to Athens, I go towards Piraeus and I come up and I think, what is Cyprus? It’s like Kallithea going up Syggrou. So that’s the real reason why we can’t protect ourselves from corruption, because everybody is everybody’s relative or neighbour or ‘κουμπάρος’ (brother in law) or whatever, right? So there are issues like that that are really very important, whoever the government is.
AP: And again, it’s related with inclusiveness
AP: We talked about minorities living on the island and inclusiveness. Do you think Cypriot society is inclusive towards women? Women are the minority at a political level, in higher positions, in the decision-making centres.
AM: I think we are a majority. Women are the majority in the electoral body, we are a majority and I don’t share the fear of the fact that women have issues in the political field or in the economic field or whatever. If a woman is able, she will make it and we now have evidence of women running banks and other institutions. We are the same apart from the physical differences, right? I think this is something that we were brought up with, the stereotypes that a woman can do this or a man can be a doctor. Look at all these women that are now doctors, our best oncologist is a woman, so many gynaecologists that are women; back in the old times, you wouldn’t trust a woman, but things have changed, there are now great female lawyers. Women are everywhere and as I say, in my opinion, the perfect example of a brilliant woman is Stella Soulioti. She was the first Attorney General, which was amazing at a time when all hell was breaking in 1963, right? Under a person like Makarios, with a ministerial body that consisted almost exclusively of men, and she was there right? So women, if they want to, they can get involved, but when they are involved, they have to stop thinking that they could be hindered by the man sitting next to them or perhaps all these sort of complexes that some women have, they emerge when they get a public position. All of a sudden, you feel a sense anxiety that you haven’t done this or that correctly. I think this doesn’t work nowadays. If a woman is capable, she will make it straight to the top. There are Turks also; there is a woman now that is going to fight, who is going to stand with Erdogan in the next elections. There was a female prime minister before that, Tansu Çiller, and look at all the women in Greece as well, stunning women, look at the women abroad. I think there’s nothing that can stop a woman if she is determined.
AP: So you mean that it’s just up to women to see themselves through different lenses and to believe that they are capable?
AM: Yes exactly and to overtly deny everything that doesn’t correspond to the image they want to portray. I was asked to go on a television program, as is the case sometimes, but instead of looking at my program and my propositions, they ask me who was going to be my hairdresser. I looked at them and said excuse me? Why do you have a problem with who is going to be my hairdresser and anyway, I don’t have a hairdresser and I’m not going to come on television and become someone else. I am who I am, I don’t wear makeup, I don’t go to the hairdresser. I speak directly about what I feel, I belong to no one, and nobody is going to patronize me. I don’t belong to any party, this is who I am, right? So if I am to be a public figure, I will not transform myself and become a different person. Show yourself, your real self, don’t try and be something else, right? Just because you want to be a public figure. If you’re good at what you’re doing and you want to have a public life and you want to participate and to offer something to this tiny little island where we are living, go ahead and do it, but do it honestly and do it in the best way you can and don’t let people make you do something that does not correspond to who you are. If you ask me to speak at a public debate on chemistry, I’ll tell you sorry, I don’t know anything about that. The women that decide to go into politics or into public life, they don’t have to know everything. There’s one woman who specializes in medical care and she is very good at what she does and there is another person who’s doing something else. You don’t have to know it all. There’s a wonderful word in Greek called ‘ξερόλας’ (know-it-all person). We don’t have to be ‘ξερόλες’ ok? We’re all good at something, but you don’t put me in a position to run the tourism board, because I’m not the kind of person who can do that or, I can do it very well for the people of Cyprus right, and I’m going to defend the people of Cyprus and say ok, budget wise we want 6 million tourists, but can we do it? We need real voices to stand up for the people of Cyprus, to stand up for the amount of people that are here, to stand up for the realities of the people that are here. We’re not an island that is for sale right? That little bit that we have that has not been turned into an amenity for tourists, I want some of that as well. I want to be able to go to a big hotel in Cyprus. You know, lots of people come to me and say that they want to go to a hotel in Limassol or in Ayia Napa or Protaras, God forbid that I should would want to go to such a hotel, but you call them up and you ask to book a room and they say you can’t book a room for only 2 days, you have to book it for the whole week. This is what I would change. If you make me the Minister of Defense I wouldn’t be able to do it, I would say, thank you very much but this is not my thing. So it’s about honesty and believing in yourself. You know, you think, I can do things in education, yes I can, I can do things in culture, and yes I can. I could not be the Minister of Finance, that’s not who I am, so we have to accept who we are. That doesn’t mean that if you’re the Minister of Culture that you have less value than the Minister of Finance. We’re not just there to look pretty, to be inferior in their belief; because in my belief, culture is much higher than the position of Mr Charis Georgiades right? Culture is probably more important, because that’s why we are still on the map. Had it not been for that, we wouldn’t be on the map right? So let’s preserve why we are on the map and let’s be proud of it. Let’s understand why we are on the map. These are all questions to which you can find solutions, you don’t get any answers to these questions in our schools. We are schooled in a very conservative system of education and bring up young children that know that there was a revolution in 1821, how they hanged Kyprianos in the middle of Seray, but they don’t know what Seray means, they don’t know what that palace means? Whose palace? The Sultan’s palace? The Lusignans’ palace? The Byzantines’ palace? There’s a gap in our history education and this creates a sort of misunderstanding and a misperception, we’re not proud of our country because we don’t know it, because we don’t know its history. Οr there’s that slogan we all grew up with ‘δεν ξεχνώ’ (I don’t forget). But how can you forget something you don’t know, how can you produce maps of the city of Nicosia where you only have one half of the city and the other half, unfortunately for us the historical Nicosia, is on the other side, much to my regret. But that’s the truth, you can’t print a map in 2017 and say it’s inaccessible to tourists because of the Turkish invasion in 1974. That’s a lie, and it’s also a negation of your history, so do I just strike off the other half of the island and say, Famagusta, I’m not talking about Famagusta because would boost their tourism. This is what I am faced with; you know, people say that when you go to the occupied area, you boost their economy. And I ask them whether I am really boosting tourism? With people from Famagusta? Or people from Mesaoria, Lysi, Afania, Assia, Vatyli?
AP: Somehow we’ve come back to the Cyprus problem and I would like to ask you what your suggestions are on the ways to move forward, even on a personal level, because the personal can eventually become collective.
AM: I think this is the most important thing. It’s about everybody who does their own bit, right? For the greater good, I will act, I will do my little bit and someone else will do their little bit and the third person will do their little bit and this becomes a collective effort, as you say. It’s not sitting at home sipping our beer on our couches and watching stupid Greek television that will solve the Cyprus problem. It’s making little movements, slowly, slowly. For example, judging by how my Facebook page has changed, I’ve got so many Turkish Cypriot friends now, I didn’t have them many years ago. My generation used to live in Famagusta, we enjoyed the cosmopolitan lifestyle of that city and of course I know all of the occupied area by heart because it’s my job, this what I did, this is the history I studied, this is the archaeology I studied. I’ll do my bit here, you’ll do your bit in public relations and in the press, the other person will do their bit in, I don’t know, whatever they do in their life. So I think it’s about everybody feeling concerned that it’s not only about what about happens in your own backyard. You can’t throw junk outside of your garden and say that you are happy, it’s not in my garden anymore. It can be in my road, but it’s not in my garden and I’m very happy.
AP: Coming to my last question, are you optimistic or hopeful about the future?
AM: I’m an optimistic person; I don’t see things in black or white. I think that we have to keep going. I think we have to persevere each and every one of us in what we are doing, to balance things out and see what we are going to do in the upcoming elections, to continue everybody’s little bit in this large puzzle that is the reunification of Cyprus and I think in my opinion, that’s my major issue. Corruption and finances and all that will change because our political system will change and it will not be the old families that are running the place again in the same way, with the MPs that are speeding at I don’t know how many kilometres an hour down the highway and nobody can stop them. It’s not going to be changed and people, Cypriots are scared of the word change, and they hate the word change. So people have to be educated so that everybody can accept the good things that change will bring and so they can acknowledge what the alternative option is. That’s where Cypriots will have to use their brains for once.
AP: I thank you dearly.
AM: Thank you.
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