By Agnieszka Rakoczy
AMIDST the heated discussions that have been triggered by the Turkish Cypriot authorities’ recent decision to tax the humanitarian food aid the Republic of Cyprus has been sending north for over 40 years to the enclaved Greek Cypriot community few are as well informed about the potential impact and consequences of that taxing decision on the intended recipients as Andreas Sinainou.
For the past two years, 27-year-old Sinainou has been driving around the winding roads of Karpasia that link Rizokarpasso, where he was born, Ayia Triada and Yalousa, tending to the special needs of 100 elderly Greek Cypriots, all of whom require regular medical check-up visits.
He is a qualified nurse, paid for by the Cyprus government. Twice a week he does the rounds of his elderly clientele, working in tandem with another local nurse, who is employed by the Turkish Cypriot authorities.
“Among my patients, at least 30 are diabetics with special dietary requirements that up to now were being supplied and sent them from the south,” he notes.
“I have people who cannot walk any more — either permanently or because of injuries such as a fall. Then there are cases of Parkinsons, Alzheimers, or just plain senility…”
Sinainou’s patients range in age from their 60s to a few who are almost 100. Most don’t drive and many have problems when it comes to shopping for themselves.
“Of course, some don’t live alone — at least not all of the time — while there are others who have some kind of domestic help,” he admits. “But there are about 30 elderly people who are completely alone.”
From personal observation he reckons they all still have enough supplies to get by for another month. “After that? I don’t know how we are going to handle this situation. I guess the community will have to step in and start helping them with their shopping.”
His biggest worry is what will happen with those with special dietary needs because of their medical condition. Special food, he points out, that is not available in Karpasia. “Somebody will have to drive regularly to the south to get it. It will be difficult.”
Sinainou is paid €650 monthly by the government for doing his nursing rounds. However, the job does not come with a car. He uses his own vehicle and pays for the petrol out of his own pocket. There is no provision for mileage or petrol allowance. Because he was born in Karpasia, he also receives the official “enclaved” stipend and this, he says, just about covers his petrol expenses.
He laughingly claims that his personal outlay on meeting the demands of a job he clearly loves and takes pride in means in the end that “I am doing it more or less for free.”
He shrugs philosophically. “I am doing it not because of money. I am doing it because these people need my visits. Somebody has to do it.”
Despite these conditions, Sinainou concedes he feels lucky to have steady employment since having a regularly-paid job is a rarity among the Greek Cypriots of Karpasia.
Haris Hadjipetrou, is a 33-year-old Limassolian, who moved to Rizokarpasso three years ago after marrying the daughter of a local Greek Cypriot family. He tells the Sunday Mail that of some 60 young Greek Cypriots now residing in the village, only 15 have steady jobs, mostly as teachers or cleaners in the local school. The remainder rely on what they can farm plus financial aid from the south.
Hadjipetrou considers himself fortunate since he and two of his brothers-in-law (both, coincidentally, also from Limassol), run a local coffee shop right in the centre of Rizokarpasso, that they rent from the Church.
He believes, nonetheless, that he could do much more were he able to start his own business. However, the lack of clarity about what rules apply to enclaved Greek Cypriots wanting to launch their own enterprises presents a major stumbling block, he claims.
“I know of three Greek Cypriot businesses in the region – Nikos who runs a restaurant on the way to the Golden Beach has a Turkish partner; another restaurant owner, Yiannakis, close to Ayia Triada, has a Turkish Cypriot wife; Michalis who just opened a restaurant in Rizokarpasso? I am not sure how he did it – I need to ask…”
Now Hadjipetrou has the additional worry of the implications of the block on humanitarian aid to the region and what it means for his family’s future, especially the wellbeing of his 16-month-old daughter.
“Up to now we were receiving various baby things, including special milk formula for her because she has a medical condition, from the Greek Cypriot state. Now we will have to buy it ourselves at a cost of at least €300 a month. The money we receive from the south is around €500 a month so you don’t have to be a mathematical genius to calculate that this will leave us with €200 for other expenses. It means that after several months we will run into huge debts. Yes, ok, we are lucky because we have this coffee shop but in these circumstances the future will be very difficult.”
Hesitant yet hopeful, Hadjipetrou says he has heard that the government of the RoC is thinking about increasing the amount of cash sent to the enclaved and that this would be helpful. But he says it is vital they also address the problem of special supplies that are not available in Karpasia such as his daughter’s milk formula.
“Perhaps they should include it among the medical supplies,” he suggests. He allows that most of the enclaved could probably get by without the food supplies, if the new financial support scheme were to be put in place.
In this, his view is shared by 83-year-old Despina Michail and her 85-year-old husband Yiasoumi. Both say they would happily settle for more money in preference to bags of rice and pulses or southern-grown cucumbers and tomatoes.
“I don’t think I am going to miss it,” says Despina. “We regularly buy goods from a local supermarket anyway, and also our neighbours bring us many things. My only worry is that we are old so maybe in future it will be difficult for us to do shopping on our own.”
The Michails stayed in Rizokarpasso after 1974. Of their two sons, Yiorgos, the elder, left the village before 1974 for schooling in Varosha and on marrying settled in Paralimni. Andreas, their younger son, was forced to leave in 1978 because the village had no high school.
Nowadays, Yiorgos who is retired, spends most of the week with his parents in Rizokarpasso, going to help out the family business in Paralimni at the weekends.
Apart from Yiorgos, the elderly Michails have a local domestic help and twice a week are visited by Sinainou and Ramazan his nursing colleague for a routine check-up including blood pressure etc. They also check to ensure that they are up to date with their medical supplies (still arriving regularly via the United Nations).
In the event that a hospital visit is warranted, the nursing team makes the necessary arrangements.
When Despina was recently taken ill she had to be taken by ambulance, first to the Turkish Cypriot hospital in Famagusta and, later, across the line, to Paralimni, where she remained for two weeks.
“The doctors wanted to keep me in longer,” she says. “But I was crying so much that finally one of my grandchildren asked me what was happening and when I explained that I miss my home, he brought me back to the village.”
She says she is happiest in her old home with her old husband and all her neighbours, both Greek and Turkish.
“I wouldn’t change anything in my life. I am given everything I need. Neighbours also bring me things. I am ok,” she says with a grateful smile.
Among the reasons cited by the Turkish Cypriot authorities for the stoppage of humanitarian aid to the enclaved was the allegation that the recipients were selling the food supplies on the black market.
PRIO consultant Mete Hatay, who has done considerable research in Karpasia, says this is a gross exaggeration of a customary village practice. It derives, he says, from the fact that some of the elderly enclaved have on occasion offered packets of Greek Cypriot coffee or similar goods to their neighbours in exchange for small favours such as some garden work or house cleaning.
“It is a typical village economy — nothing more, nothing less,” he contends.
He adds that the two communities have developed a generally peaceful coexistence and created many links, supported by various dependencies, partnerships and even several mixed marriages.
“The first ten years after 1974 were the most difficult, but gradually things have become better,” he says. “Many Turks and Kurds have learned Greek, and many Greek Cypriots can speak Turkish now. They live together.”
His words are supported by Pakize Kose, a neighbour of Despina and Yiasoumi, who remembers that when she came to Rizokarpasso in 1977, aged five, they were almost the first people her family met.
“They were very kind to us,” she says. “My mother and Despina became close friends. My mother cried because she missed Turkey and Despina cried because she missed her sons. They cried together. If they ever need anything we are here for them They are like our relatives.”