By Constantinos Psillides
IT’S NOT every day that you hear people in traditional Cypriot coffeehouses talk about fire jets, bombing runs and military exercises. That is, if you don’t live in Akrotiri village, right by Britain’s RAF military base, a base now in the global media spotlight following the UK’s decision to bomb Islamic State (IS) strongholds in Iraq.
The UK began bombing military positions in Iraq for the first time on Tuesday, escalating its earlier role of dropping humanitarian aid for refugees fleeing the atrocities of IS fighters in Iraq and Syria.
But while the world watches intently, hoping that an all-out war doesn’t break out, the Akrotiri residents carry on as usual. Even British Prime Minister David Cameron’s surprise lightning visit to Akrotiri on Thursday night barely raised an eyebrow.
“Couldn’t care less if they are launching their attacks from here. Actually, it’s quieter than when they are having their military exercises,” said 56-year-old Rodosthenis, owner of a restaurant in the Akrotiri area. “The jihadists get what’s coming to them for the things they did. And in the end, if the government green-lighted the British to go ahead with using the base, who are we to say differently?”
Rodosthenis talks while serving a table of three English women having their morning tea. Two stern-faced, well-built men with shades and crew cuts are standing in queue waiting for their chicken sandwiches. No one says they are military but that much is obvious.
“The bases keep local businesses alive. They bring customers in our restaurants. About the bombings, I don’t care much. I guess I’m scared in the same way people in the countries actually bombing the jihadists are scared. But other than that, I don’t care,” he repeats.
The 56-year-old’s pragmatism isn’t shared by all. Costas, a 85-year-old retired car salesman, says that Cyprus is placing itself straight in the jihadists’ sights.
“These people are dangerous. They could kill us all in a moment’s notice. One missile, that’s all it would take. One missile and the whole village, along with the bases will be obliterated,” says Costas, turning his head and gazing at the road leading to the base, as if expecting the imaginary missile to hit at any moment.
But the pensioner still believes Cyprus is on the right side of this fight. “We should help the British against the jihadists. This is the right thing to do. If we can help kick all of them out of their countries, then that’s what we should do.”
Costas takes pride in the fact that he is an Akrotiri man born and bred and explains that he supports the base usage by the British. “These are good people. The people stationed here. Never caused a problem, always getting along with the locals and they bring plenty of business,” says the 85-year-old, nodding towards the direction of the nearby butcher shop that his son owns.
The road leading to the Akrotiri air base is filled with restaurants, a couple of pubs and general goods stores, despite the fact that Akrotiri is a relatively very small village.
Giorgos, a 59-year-old unemployed man, nods in agreement at Costas’ nightmare scenario. “Yes, missiles are a threat and if one strikes here everything will be gone,” he offers.
Giorgos highlights another problem. “The jets could fly to the sea directly and then over to Syria and Iraq. I wish they wouldn’t fly directly overhead. Listening to a fighter jet taking off is deafening. Most people in the area have hearing problems you know and young kids jump out of bed terrified,” said, before adding that action against ISIS was necessary.
While the two older men have no qualms over the use of military action, 29-year-old restaurant owner, Antonis, is torn between his self-proclaimed pacifist nature and the need to see IS pay for the mass killings and executions.
“I’m against war because it always brings far more problems than it solves. But, on the other hand, the jihadists brought this upon themselves, with all these brutal killings and public beheadings. Maybe this is better,” he said, referring to the gruesome videos depicting ISIS jihadists beheading American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff along with Briton David Haines. All three of them were beheaded in separate occasions over the last two months and video of their beheadings were posted online.
He admits that he is a little worried about security. “We might find ourselves in hot water with the jihadists without intending to,” he says.
Andri, the 25-year-old waiter at Antonis’ restaurant doesn’t share her boss’s ambiguity over military action or his concerns over the safety of the region.
“Of course we should aid in the battle against these jihadists after the way they behaved,” says Andri. Andri doesn’t worry about retaliation either, explaining that she feels safe in the shadow of the RAF military base. Like the others, she views the bases in general as beneficial for the local community.
The broad support for Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides comments on Tuesday, regarding the ISIS bombings and Cyprus is evident.
“It is our duty to participate in this battle, as the rest of the international community does, because our civilisation, our freedom are in danger as a result of this ‘sickening mentality’ of the jihadists,” Kasoulides said, denying claims that Cyprus will become a target because of its participation. “We are becoming a target anyway as Christians,” Kasoulides explained.
But while Cyprus’ support is without doubt, no other official statements followed. A high ranking government official, who wished to remain anonymous, explained why. “It’s one thing to lend our help to the fight and another to shout that support from the rooftops,” said the official, adding that advertising that support is not in the country’s best interest. “We publicly positioned ourselves along with those bombing jihadists and we actively help where needed. Let’s leave it at that.”