SUNDAY STAR TIMES
An Island Apart
...this book fits nicely next to Laurence Durrell's Bitter Lemons and Colin Thornton's Journey into Cyprus.
On the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus , live about one hundred ex patriot Kiwis. Among them are, the UN representatives to Dame Ann Hercus, artist Michael Owen and the author of Cyprus - An Island Apart, Seamus MacHugh.
Over three years, MacHugh (a former resident of Gisborne) has absorbed the history of the island, visited many of the superb Prehistoric, Classical, Byzantine and Medival archaeological sites, drank the wine talked the talk and danced the dance. He has managed to meet a lot of the local people including President Cleridis' daughter, whose wedding reception he gatecrashed, and traveled throughout most of the Greek South and the Turkish occupied North.
As someone who has grown up in the inter-religious strife of Ireland MacHugh is probably more than most, equipped to comment wisely on the current political impasse in . However in mentioning the events that lead to the UN intervention in 1963 it may to someone who doesn't know modern Cypriot history give the impression that was when the animosity between Greeks and Turks started. I am not disputing that ethnic cleansing may have been on Grivas mind then, but the defining moment when the ethnic card was played actually happened five years before. As Dudley Barker comments in his book Grivas - Portrait of a Terrorist, "On Saturday, 7 June, 1958 a bomb was thrown at the Turkish information office in Nicosia . Nobody was hurt, but the bomb (blamed on the Greeks) set off the most hideous two months of massacre, riot and arson had suffered..." Just over twenty years later, Mr. Denktash, the current leader of the Turkish Cypriots, admitted on a BBC documentary series, that the day after the bombing a Turk, terrified by the consequences, confessed to him that he set the bomb off to give credibility to the Turkish cause for "partition". The irony off course of all this is that, like in Bosnia, most of the Cypriot Turks are Greeks who during three centuries of Ottoman rule, first became "crypto Christians" to avoid the onerous tax burdens, and later were assimilated by Islam. A research study published in 1997 on The Origins of the Turkish Cypriots and the Cyprus Problem by K. Hatzioannou presents convincing evidence for this.
Also it seems that MacHugh has got a very good grasp of the myths and legends of Cyprus. However he mentions that Adonis the lover of Aphrodite was gored by a boar in the Paphos forest in the island's west. If he approaches from the south the ancient central plain city of Idalion, which dates from the Bronze age, a road sign tells travelers that this is where according to legend the famous toy boy had his fatal meeting with the infamous hog.
Although I wished at times that there was an index, I enjoyed Seamus MacHugh's - Cyprus, An Island Apart for the new information, an objective and intelligent view of the Cypriot problem and also its lucid prose and wit. It will fit nicely on my book-shelf next to Laurence Durrell's Bitter Lemons, and Colin Thornton's Journey into Cyprus.
A book review in the Sunday Star Times, published on Friday 22 December, 2000.