Animals get notoriously rough treatment in Cyprus. So much so that a party to protect their rights was recently formed and took part in the euro elections. THEO PANAYIDES meets its leader
Kyriakos Kyriakou has a lot of horror stories involving animal abuse. That’s to be expected, since Kyriakos is the leading light of Animal Party Cyprus (APC), a newly-formed party concentrating on animal welfare that polled 2,288 votes in the recent EU elections. He tells me of the cows forced to wallow in 40cm of their own excrement, of the Limassol man who tied his dog to his car and dragged it through the streets, of the five-month-old puppy battered almost to death in Ayia Varvara. But one particular story comes with a twist – and says a lot about the kind of man he is.
It’s the story of Billy, the stray Cyprus poodle who was thrown into a cardboard-crushing machine by two employees of a beach hotel in Protaras. The incident happened in June, and caused a sensation (the Cyprus Mail article on our website has 570 comments and 1,800 likes!) – and Kyriakos tells me the story primarily to illustrate the role his party might play in such a case. He was with Billy almost from the start, he says, “I phoned the Presidential Palace”, asked for help with the local police, went straight to the clinic, made sure the comatose dog was getting proper medication, talked to the investigating cops, even stayed all night with the animal to ensure there was no “intervention” (he rubs finger and thumb together to indicate a bribe, presumably so someone at the clinic might “pull the plug”). This is a new thing in Cyprus, claims Kyriakos – for an organisation to follow up a case so thoroughly, and at such a high level.
But there’s also something else – “a small detail,” as he puts it. The incident moved many animal lovers to righteous anger (fanned, as usual, by social media), and a protest took place outside the hotel where it happened. “It was Sunday,” recalls Kyriakos, “the demonstration was in the afternoon. I went from Limassol to Paralimni, I went straight to the clinic, I sat with Billy, they briefed me about his situation. And then I went down to see about the demonstration. So I saw all these people there, and I said, ‘I was with Billy about an hour ago. Would you like me to tell you about the Billy situation?’. [But they said] ‘Oh no, we don’t care. We care about what happened!’. They didn’t want me to tell them – what mattered [to them] was the act of throwing the dog in the machine.”
Kyriakos said no more at the time, but now – sitting in the lobby of the Holiday Inn in Nicosia, his lined suntanned face topped with a shock of silver-flecked hair – he muses on the paradox of activists getting so caught up in their cause that they start losing sight of the impulse behind it. “When you’re in this situation, you’re so angry,” he points out in his soft-spoken way. “And I understand them. But you have to remember also that, not far away from this demonstration, an animal was in a coma”. It’s about love, after all. It’s about compassion. It shouldn’t become “a football match” between the hotel and the demonstrators.
Is he right? Had those people lost sight of something important? Maybe they just didn’t want their protest hijacked by a politician – and Kyriakos is indeed a politician, having spent 18 years with the Cyprus Green Party (which he co-founded, with 15 others, in 1996) before starting APC. “18 years, you understand, create a lot of connections in the political system,” he explains patiently. “Omirou, the President, [Nicolas] Papadopoulos. I know these people personally,” and they know he’s “a serious person”, not just a crank. In short, he can get things done. On the other hand, the more extreme kind of activist may dismiss him for that very reason, because he’s too ensconced in the system to really challenge it.
It’s not just the politics, though; it’s his whole personality. Doesn’t it enrage him, I ask, to see and hear the abuses he describes? “Well, I don’t usually get angry,” he replies mildly – and even when he does, “I keep most of my emotions inside, because the way forward is not to show so much anger and hatred, but to try and compromise. Because we honestly try to have a win-win situation.”
Fair enough – but is that always possible? Take, for instance, the story he shares of sitting next to two men (in a coffee shop, I assume) who were talking about hunting. One man described how his dog was “useless”, so he tied it under a carob tree and started “shooting the dog as a target”. Can there really be a ‘win-win situation’ with such mindless cruelty? What do you even say to such people?
Kyriakos sighs. He’s studied some theosophy and spirituality, he says, dabbled a bit in meditation, and it’s helped him understand “human ways on the planet. Probably there are certain humans who appear on the planet and they’re not ready”. It’s like murderers who are found sitting next to their chopped-up victims, he says rather fancifully, and when they’re asked why they did it they have no explanation. They’re not ready. Their souls, if you like, haven’t ripened yet.
He’s seen dogs chained up, he tells me, with only a crust of bread for food. “Sometimes the bucket with water is green, sometimes there is no water. Chained up. And when we ask him about his dog, he says ‘But I love my dog!’.” Such people think that a dog is “like furniture, a commodity”; that it has no feelings. If you explain to them, and try to put them in the animal’s shoes – if you try to educate their unready souls – then they’ll understand, believes Kyriakos. His Scottish wife Patricia, an animal activist in her own right who founded ARC (Animal Responsibility Cyprus) in the mid-90s, sometimes tells him that he’s wasting his time, “but I’ve seen results, because the subconscious starts working”. Once you plant the seed, it takes root; cruel people slowly become less cruel – or, if they don’t, their children do. “And things change by years and years and years, so the generations come and go until we have a better society.”
It’s surprising to see someone so committed (he works “24 hours a day for the party”) being so philosophical – but maybe it comes from his background, as the seventh of 12 children (two more died in infancy) born to a Limassol family in 1956. His mother cleaned houses, his father pushed a cart selling baked goods. They lived in a three-bedroom house on the outskirts of town (the house was actually bigger, but split in two; his aunt and her own family lived next door). There was no bathroom, only an outside toilet. The seven boys shared one room, the five girls another – and, surprisingly enough, they were all quite happy; “life wasn’t so demanding” then, and small things carried more resonance. He recalls his dad waking up at 4am to go to work on a rainy morning, coming to their room and lifting up his pillow, putting 25 mils (less than half a euro) under the pillow for school – a tender gesture of love from a harried parent with 11 more pillows to support.
Maybe growing up in such an environment is what’s made him so patient, almost fatalistic, or maybe he describes his childhood with such forbearance because of the kind of person he is (and of course there’s a third possibility, that he isn’t really so stoical and just likes to project that image in interviews). One should also recall that animal rights aren’t entirely mainstream in Cyprus, indeed at one point Kyriakos gives credit to “all these Europeans, the so-called foreigners, who’ve been working silently all these years” (“and Cypriots too,” he adds, almost as an afterthought); he can’t afford to be overly pushy in such a context. He mentions a diploma course he took at Cambridge once, exploring subjects like ‘Religious Feeling in Animals’. That wouldn’t really fly here.
Nonetheless, he’s accomplished a lot – even within the Green Party, which he finally abandoned because of its focus on “hard politics” (“I saw that 90 per cent was politics and maybe 10 per cent environmental issues”), but especially with ARC, and now APC, and even in his private life. “We save hedgehogs, hares – anything, you name it,” he muses happily.
Do he and Patricia have any children?
“No, we don’t have kids. We have Chihuahuas.”
One of his greatest successes was perhaps the dolphinarium in Ayia Napa – an inherently cruel environment, he claims, because dolphins die in swimming pools. The sonar waves which they use to communicate bounce off the walls and boomerang back to them, making them deaf; the chlorine makes their skin peel off slowly and painfully. All four dolphins in Ayia Napa died (this was around 1999) and Kyriakos was instrumental in the government’s decision to forbid them from bringing more, and indeed banning dolphinariums altogether. The 10-year quest to close down Limassol Zoo was another successful battle (Patricia actually founded ARC because of Julie, the zoo’s sad-eyed elephant). Still, such battles are never really over: the current government is apparently in talks with a Ukrainian firm to build a new dolphinarium, overturning the ban – and Kyriakos is engaged in frantic high-level meetings, trying to fight his corner.
Having a political party, as opposed to an NGO, obviously helps in that regard: one gets listened to much more attentively, especially with 2,288 votes after only four months. Animal Parties are springing up all over Europe; in Germany and Holland, they’ve even elected MEPs. Isn’t it something of a wasted vote, though? Why choose a representative who’ll only represent you on one issue, by definition? Kyriakos admits that many (or most) of their votes probably came from alienated people who wouldn’t have voted otherwise; active voters, even if they care about animals, probably care just as much about the Cyprus problem, or the economy. Still, he says reasonably, “will a political party not be created in Cyprus because of the Cyprus problem? There are six parties which are dealing with that, some of them for 40 years. Go and vote for them!”.
He’s keen to avoid the plight of the Greens, who’ve ended up almost indistinguishable from the six parties dealing with the Cyprus problem; APC have a narrower focus – their most pressing demand being for the creation of a Commissioner for Animal Welfare, who’ll co-ordinate the various departments involved in inspections and handing out licences. Meanwhile, the horror stories continue. Horses kept in terrible conditions in Larnaca, and no action taken until tourists complained. Six dogs in cages with no food, and the five dogs eating the sixth. Four raccoons in a bankrupt pet shop in Paphos, sticking their little hands out of the bars of the rusted cage where they’d languished for three years. “I said to them ‘I promise I will take you out from here’,” recalls Kyriakos with feeling. “I looked in their eyes, and I said ‘I will take you out from here’.”
What’s one man to do, faced with such a deluge of suffering? Maybe just keep working (he’s a graphic designer by profession, but devotes himself entirely to the party), forge alliances where possible – both with local politicians and other Animal Parties across Europe – and hopefully try to avoid the crippling anger of (some of) those protesters outside the hotel in Protaras, the ones who cared more about making someone pay for what they’d done to Billy than they actually cared about Billy. Western society seems increasingly fractious and judgmental, driven by Twitter mobs and self-righteous activists – but animals don’t judge, and those who protect them shouldn’t either. Kyriakos Kyriakou seems to know a vital truth when it comes to animal welfare: the greatest danger facing those who love animals is that they start hating people.
He’s quite spiritual, as already mentioned. Meaning what, exactly? He shrugs: “My simple understanding is that the universe is made of energy. We’re all energy too, the soul is an energy”. Religion doesn’t really come into it (he was baptised a Christian, “but nobody asked me”), yet all religions have something in common, and the “common key in all these religions is love. And love means being able, when you hate somebody, to wake up one morning and go and find him or her, and say sorry. And embrace them. If you can’t do that, then you didn’t understand what love is”. Words to live by.