Cypriot Maronites caught in middle

Centuries ago, there used to be tens of thousands of Cypriot Maronites – but now they’re fighting rearguard action just to keep their identity alive

Photo by: TRT WORLD
Photo by: TRT WORLD

Cypriot Maronites.

Centuries ago, there used to be tens of thousands of Cypriot Maronites – but now they’re fighting a rearguard action just to keep their identity alive.

Community leaders say there are still about 6,000 on the island, but only about half are able to speak the language – which is a version of Arabic.

And they’re now scattered to all parts too. Many fled to the Greek Cypriot side in the aftermath of the fighting in 1974.

But since the relaxation of border controls, many are returning to their properties – even if they are just using them as holiday homes.

The old Maronite church in the centre of Kormakitis.

When Cyprus gained independence from the UK in 1960, its new constitution gave a number of minorities – such as the Maronites and Armenians – special rights.

That included representation by an MP in parliament.

That constitution is still effectively in operation in Greek Cyprus.

And that’s why Antonis Roussos, who features in my report, is working as their MP, even though his family home is actually in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

The community leaders we spoke to said that when Turkey staged its military intervention, its soldiers largely remained outside their villages because they knew they were Maronite.

An orange grove in Kormakitis.

But it has affected access to two of the four Maronite villages, where Turkey has military facilities.

Antonis Roussos says the Maronites would like full access back – as part of confidence-building measures leading up to a deal.

“In order to protect ourselves, we want a return to our villages so we can administer ourselves where we can maintain our culture and traditions.”

If there is an agreement, its likely that Cypus will have a federal government – with central institutions overlooking two Greek and Turkish Cypriot parts.

Under the 1960 constitution, the Maronites asked to come under Greek Cypriot administration – because they mainly spoke Greek and both shared a Christian faith.

It looks likely that the Maronites – who are also keen to stress their good relations with Turkish Cypriots - will be asking for the same again this time.

Author: Andrew Hopkins