Cyprus: is it possible to tear down the wall with a round ball?

Just wonder how many thoughts pass through an average man’s mind in 41 years.

In the Cyprus island many years have passed since that traumatic division, still the main thing for the ones living in Nicosia, where the buffer-zone allows the communication between two sides of the same face. Two strong, counterposed identities, too often divided between whatever is Greek and whatever is Turkish.

As Homer’s narration suggests, a famous apple caused curiously one of the first wars in the Aegean Sea history. As that apple, Cyprus has been one of the unsolved riddles of the Twentieth Century. Challenged, divided, split in two parts.

Football makes no exception. Since the split of the island there have been no opportunities to establish a national league, something that maybe could have helped the idea that, at the end, Cyprus may just be a single thing. For UEFA and FIFA the question was solved with a compromise, of course sustaining the island’s south, following the UN’s decisions. The international embargo, imposed on the so-called Turkish part of the Island of Venus, was completely applied in all the sectors, from politics to football.

Northern Cyprus was cancelled from the whole world’s maps, as if it didn’t exist. The magic round ball, however, kept running as everyday lives.

Not many people know that there’s a Northern Cyprus football championship: dominated last year by Yenicami AK, the league has strong identities. Just to say it, 6 clubs in the first division have ‘Turk‘ in their name. It could not have been different, when you rely completely on Ankara’s help. The league’s level is not even comparable to the Southern Cyprus championship, that has the possibility of bringing their clubs to UEFA competitions. So, the split between North and South became wider year after year: necessarily Southern Cypriot football took benefits from the TV-rights revolution. The symbol of this metamorphosis is APOEL Nicosia, arrived to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals against Real Madrid.

Kakà, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo in Cyprus. Of course, South.

2011, APOEL built their tiny miracle. Olympique Lyonnais defeated in the eight-finals, even if by penalties, finally brought the Island of Venus on Football’s maps. With those yellow-and-blue kits that, thinking about it, explain everything: Greece‘s blue, the one that became legendary on Dellas, Karagounis and Charisteas’ skin in 2004; Byzantium‘s yellow, briefly everything being in today’s Istanbul before Islamic ethnic group’s arrival. APOEL supporters however prefer wearing orange kits, honouring the ultras PAN.SY.FI group, with the #79 t-shirt number reserved by the club; a strong identity, after some years a stable reference point. In fact, the club’s first main aim was, back to its foundation in 1926, bringing Cyprus to the Greek nation. The APOEL identity is shared by the Greek-Cypriot men, the ones who did not only feel invaded by Turkish troops in the Seventies, but by something deeper too; that immense emptiness of the ones who lost their homes, tradition and freedom.

Italyan rum casusu çikti“, is the title of an album published by an Italian band (Elio e Le Storie Tese). Its meaning is “Now we know that the Italian was a Greek-Cypriot spy“. The sentence is a summary of another story of tension and war: in 1991 Italian photographer Massimo Rana was arrested due to some ‘suspect’ snapshots took in Cyprus. In spite of the funny lyrics of Elio e Le Storie Tese’s work, there’s nothing to laugh about: the Cypriot atmosphere from the Seventies to the Nineties looked like an unsolved puzzle, a bloody division that brought many families away from their home. Marks of that suffering days still remain in APOEL’s culture, symbol of the Greek-Cypriot men that don’t want to forget the dread lived in the split years. There are also those who don’t want the Cypriot reunification, as a respect sign to the past wounds. In the Island of Venus football and politics melt since the beginning, when the “soccer and athletics club of the Greeks of Nicosia” saw the light: literally, in Greek, APOEL.

By the way, times change. Years pass, many Cypriot people want to row towards the same direction.

North and South are necessarily closer, with many joint ventures and agreements between the Greek and the Turkish part of the island. The cheese halloumi/helim, the tourism opportunities on the Northern shores: there are many reasons to recreate a community divided 41 years ago.

#TearDownTheWall, #ReUnifCy: on Twitter the younger generations are writing, and dreaming.

A first signal, maybe inspiring the current leaders, was given by football on the 7th of November, 2013. A revolutionary request: the Northern Cypriot football association asks to enter the (Southern) Cypriot FA.

A complete reunification: not possible yet, for some reasons. But a first shy step, anyway.

The football issues yet to be solved are many, starting from the very different levels between the leagues. On the Northern side (see: photo below), the championship is almost amateurish yet; on the Southern shore European football is already a reality.

By the way the will of an agreement is undeniable: the machine was set, ready to get on the track. So, on 30th March 2015, the Greek Cypriot football association (CFA) announces to have received an official affiliation request by the Turkish Cypriot FA (CTFA): everything is ready, sent to UEFA and FIFA. Ideas keep on going from North to South, communications intensify. And in the Turkish part of the island the elections bring Mustafa Akıncı as a new leader. His political main focus is just one.

Reunify the island.

At least seven public meetings with the Greek Cypriot leader Anastasiades are a vital statement, a message to the island’s future under the same flag. The UN monitor and approve the recent developments, while in the football world the reunification idea clearly moved up before any political step. The wall is now under pressure. Being all “Cypriots” is no more an unaittainable hope.

Starting again with the same round ball, on the green fields of Nicosia, Limassol, Mehmetçik and Esentepe, realizing the dream of an entire generation.