Thursday, October 20, 2011

An Occupied Bear

(... or a Tale of Two Cities)

I'm back! - and with less than a month between posts which is much much better than my last gap of one year plus. I will tell you though that this probably won't be a super long post - for reasons which will become painfully evident. And, once again, please bear (!) with me as I start this off with a short history lesson.

Many years ago, there was an island nation called Cyprus. Over the years it was invaded and occupied by lots of foreign powers (because you humans are never satisfied with what you have - I mean, give a bear a cave and some berries, and we're happier than clams), but finally, in 1960, it was officially made The Republic of Cyprus after its Greek Cypriot community agreed to halt plans to unite with Greece and the Turk Cypriots agreed to stop their plans to partition the nation. Nicosia (or Λευκωσία, or Lefkosia, as the locals say) was made its capital. But just a few years later, tension & hostilities began to bubble to the surface between these two 2 communities.

Now it gets icky.

Nicosia was essentially divided in half with Greek Cypriots on one side and the Turk Cypriots on the other by the "Green Line" - so called because the UN official who carved up the city on a map used a green pen. Then, in 1974, there was an attempted coup d'état by Greek militarists who wanted to unite Cyprus with Greece which was really very silly because Greek Cypriots had agreed not to do this back in 1960. Turkey sent in its troops on the pretext of restoring the previously agreed upon constitution, but they did more than that. They effectively invaded the country, taking 37% of the island. Reports indicate that 4,000 Greek Cypriots were killed (killed in their own country!) - 4 times the number of Turkish Cypriots killed, and it is estimated that 1/3 of Greek Cypriots (200,000) were essentially made homeless and refugees in their own land while about 1,000 Turkish Cypriots found themselves on the wrong side of the line.

In 1975 the Turkish Cypriot community declared the creation of the "Turkish Federated State of Cyprus" on the part of the island occupied by Turkish forces, and 8 years later they proclaimed themselves the independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

Of course, the TRNC is totally illegal and not recognized by the UN or pretty much anyone else. No country flies into Occupied Cyprus apart from Turkey as the TRNC has no legitimate status in the world. It makes me sad that almost half of the island is occupied by a foreign power. Maybe, back in the 70' s, if Cyprus had been overflowing with oil, the world would have cared. (The UN cared: and sent in International Peacekeepers, but really - what's changed?)

Needless to say, the Bipedals and I were in a quandry about visiting Turkish Nicosia. Would we be condoning the illegal occupation of a foreign power by crossing the Green Line? After all, I had my reputation as a Freelance Goodwill Ambassador to consider. In the end, we decided to visit Real (i.e. Greek Cypriot) Nicosia, and decide once we got there. As you can see from the very top photo, peace is something valued highly in Cyprus. The peace mosaic and bench (an excellent place for engaging in deep thoughts) sits on the Greek Cypriot side of the checkpoint. That made me happy and sad at the same time.

We decided to cross because my bipedals realized they had Turkish lira on hand and my Male Bipedal wanted a beer. These days, it's quite easy to cross the Green Line - you just need a passport (or UN credentials in my case), but the Turks are not allowed to stamp it. Because they are not a recognized sovereign nation (except by themselves), the TRNC police stamp a piece of paper which you have to hold on to. Of course cameras are a no-no at the checkpoint, but here I am (photo, right) on the Occupied Side, which doesn't look a whole lot different from the south side, except it's in really rough shape with lots of bombed out and derelict buildings.

There are a few places to see on the northern side: namely beautiful churches since converted into mosques, Turkish baths, small neighbourhood mosques (and some very nice Ottoman architecture), and lots and lots of photos of Atatürk, but you'll not see photos of any them in this post because *a certain someone* forgot to recharge her camera battery the night before, so our photo-taking was done very very selectively - in other words, photos with Yours Truly were vetoed. (Anyone interested in applying for the position of Female Bipedal Attendant, please e-mail me at I got one throw-away photo (above left) - a milk sop really - at a small tavern where we stopped so I could get my bearings (bearings!). Notice I'm the one with the map.

I would add that on the way back into Real Cyprus, where our passports where checked by internationally recognized border guards, there was a UN sign that stated that some 100,000 Greek Cypriots are still missing, their fates unknown. Turkey has been asked to assist families in locating (probably) the remains of their loved ones - but Turkey has refused to comply. You humans disappoint me.

As a parting note, I'd like to direct your attention to the photo, up to the right: as you can see, it's a flag painted on the Kyrenia mountains. Well, it's a bit more than that. In fact, at 74,824 meters squared, it's the biggest flag in the world (as in the Guinness Book of World Records big!), and it's also the flag of the Turkish Republic of Cyprus which overlooks the Greek side of Nicosia. At night, the Turk Cypriots even light it up. You can imagine how much the Greek Cypriots love that! Talk about salt in an open wound (or a big permanent middle finger in the air as my Female Bipedal observed, but I'm not that crude). But really? - a giant in-your-face flag of the Occupying force? - honestly, there are times when I don't think you humans can suck any more as a species - but then you surprise me *again* and *again* and *again*.

Monday, September 26, 2011

GB Rises from the Dead

... well not really dead. More of an involuntary hibernation.

I can't believe it's been more than a year since I've last posted, and as much as I'd like to blame a certain "some one" (well, maybe I will ...), I know that it's been a tough year for that certain "some one". That along with a few misadventures along the way have conspired to put my correspondence on the back burner. For a brief period I began looking for a replacement - not for my two bipedal attendants as attendants per se - but for the one who claims to be a writer. It turns out that the work ethic in these parts make her look like a Puritan, so I'm stuck with her for the time being.

In any case, last month I took my bipedals to the island of Cyprus (this series of misadventures regarding the female bipedal did make me feel a tidge sorry for her - bears are nothing if not compassionate). As a Canadian bear (I started my career as an International Fashion Model with Canadian designer Alfred Sung), I always think of Cyprus in terms of the Turkish invasion of the island in the 70's and their occupation, as well as the Canadian peacekeepers who went there. It must be the freelance Goodwill Ambassador in me, but I'll save that for another post.

West of Syr
ia, east of Greece, north of Egypt, and south of Turkey, Cyprus is only an hour and a half or so from Kurdistan, so it was the perfect getaway for me and my attendants. But humankind (and bears) have been mucking about Cyprus - the 3rd largest island in the Mediterranean (my favourite sea!) - for over 10,000 years. It's also been invaded, conquered, and ruled by foreign powers such as the the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Persians, the Venetians, the Ottomans, the British, and the Turks, to say the least. In fact, independence didn't come until 1960. Why you humans can't be satisfied with what you have and insist on taking what isn't yours defies logic. You'd never catch a bear doing that.

Cyprus has several famous sons but one of the best known is Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha (just to distinguish him from the other Lazaruses). I guess he isn't so much a famous son as a famous ex-pat (like me). Legend has it that after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Lazarus decided to pack up (probably lots of nasty associations with his home town, being dead and all for four days) and move to Larnaca. I can't say that I blame him. he became a bishop and eventually died (again) and was buried in the church which took its name from him: Agios Lazaros (that's me at the church, top left). Some 1200 years ago, his tomb was found and on it was written "Lazarus, Bishop of Larnaca. Four days dead. Friend of Jesus." That pretty much sums it up, don't you think?

We spent some of our time hopping about the
island, but today I'll just talk about Larnaca. Embraced by white sands and turquoise water, Larnaca - the 3rd largest city on this 3rd largest island in the Med - is also very close to a salt lake, and if you're lucky, you can coordinate your visit to be with the flamingos that winter there. We weren't so lucky. But we did find some in town (above, right) although I'm pretty sure flamingos aren't normally blue and purple and yellow, but as a former international fashion model, their sense of colour and panache were quite pleasing to my eye.

Because Larnaca is a former Ottoman (the empire, not the footstool) town, there is a mosque near the Turkish quarter known as the Grand Mosque (Buyuk Camii, above left). Like lots of Ottoman mosques, it used to be a church (Latin Holy Cross Church in fact) but was converted into a mosque. Some 5 kilometres outside of town is the tomb of Umm Haram who was the Prophet Mohammad's foster mother. She apparently died there while accompanying the Arab invaders in the 7th century. We decided not to make the trek out there because we wanted to go to the beach that day. We pretty much went to the beach every day. The female bipedal was pretty fragile.

Next to the mosque stands a fortress (above right) which looks over the Mediterranean. If I were to build a fortress – or a tree house for that matter – that’s exactly where I’d build it. Guidebooks will tell you that it was built by the Ottoman Turks in 1625, but ask a Greek Cypriot and they’ll tell you that it was actually built more than 200 years before that by Jacques I de Lusignan (who would go on to become the sort of King of Jerusalem) and rebuilt later by the Turks. The British used it as a prison and we saw the execution chamber where people where hanged. It made the grey felt on my arms stand on end. Although there isn’t a whole lot to see, you can wander about the inner garden and look at menacing cannons that probably killed a lot of people.

As I mentioned earlier, we spent a great deal of time at the beach. For 6 euros a day, you can rent two beach beds (I had to share) and an umbrella, and swim, sunbathe, or watch the three thousand planes landing or taking off (the airport is only 4 km. outside of town). My favourite beach bed provider was George’s (below, centre). If you go there, tell him Grey Bear sent you.

Across from the beach are dozens of bars and restaurants and most will deliver to the beach. It was so wonderful being back in the land of customer service. My favourite was a hole-in-the-wall kind of place which made excellent tzatziki and served very cold beer. Life doesn’t get much better than excellent tzatziki and very cold beer. Unless you tossed in world peace and respect for the environment and the acceptance of not wearing white after Labour Day. My male bipedal was thrilled to try two Cypriot beers: Leon (as in lion – grrrr!) and Keo. Interestingly, last year, Keo was featured in an American porn film, much to the consternation of its largest shareholder - the Orthodox Church of Cyprus. What I want to know is how did the Orthodox Church of Cyprus find out?

In fact, I found that a cold Keo helped in mapping out our time in Cyprus. I have much more to talk about and now that I've (velvet-)whipped my female bipedal into shape, it shouldn't take a year to keep everyone posted. As a closing note, it bears noting (bears!) that I need to thank everyone for all of your e-mails, letters, cards, text messages, and skype-calls. You're all so kind to be concerned about me, but as you can see, I have resurfaced from hibernation mode - risen from the dead like Lazarus !