How the coronavirus has separated a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot couple
By Ioli Ioannidou
A mere three weeks ago, I could never have imagined that the coronavirus would force me and my partner to separate, I in the south, him in the north. And we don’t know for how long.
Logistics was not on my mind when I started dating a Turkish Cypriot man around 18 months ago. I was innocently concerned about whether we were compatible, and, well yes, if my family and friends could accept it.
We were indeed compatible and after a few months of dating, he moved in with me in southern Nicosia and was driving daily to work in the north.
Despite annoying restrictions in movement between the two sides, not least frequent queues of traffic, our relationship made the two parts of the island whole again, in my mind at least. Travelling between the two sides became routine for get-togethers with friends, family visits, beach trips to Larnaca and Famagusta and sightseeing in Kyrenia and Paphos.
The changes started on February 28 when the government announced it was temporarily closing the crossings at Ledra Street, Astromeritis, Lefka and Dherynia, as prevention measures against the anticipated spread of the coronavirus into Cyprus.
I was annoyed, but not concerned, because they had left some crossing points open, most importantly the one at Ayios Dhometios. But Can, (Djian) my partner, panicked. He was convinced, like many others, that this was more of a political move to gradually shut down all of them.
My reassurances that this would not be the case were not heeded. When he first heard of those initial closures he was at work in the south. “I thought I would be stuck there, I thought they were closing all of them,” he later told me.
At the time there were no confirmed cases of the virus on either side.
We continued our routine, but Can was unable to hide his concerns over expected additional measures that would force us to make decisions neither of us wanted to make.
Then, on Monday, March 9, the first two cases were reported in the south followed a day later by the first case in the north.
Then it was the north’s turn as rumours escalated that the Turkish Cypriots would announce measures that included shutting down more crossing points.
Sure enough on Thursday, March 12, the Turkish Cypriots announced they would temporarily close two crossings, those at Limnitis and Strovilia and that citizens and travellers from 22 countries would be barred entry to the north until April 1.
The confirmed cases rose to nine in the south and to two in the north.
Can started receiving calls and messages from friends and family asking him what he would do after rumours the north would declare a state of emergency.
On Friday, March 13, the rumours intensified. Both sides were to announce measures.
Can was glued to the phone, talking with his family and with persons in the know, trying to figure out what to do. The advice he received: “Be prepared for everything.”
His main concern was an announcement immediately closing all crossing points.
I suggested that he should go north and stay with his parents until the situation was clearer. That way, if all crossings were shut, he would at least be with them and he could go to work.
Following numerous calls and messages from family and friends agonisingly asking him his intentions, he decided it would be best to cross before Saturday after being informed that there would be an obligatory 14-day self-isolation measure for those entering the north. That way, instead of self-isolation, he would be able to go to work immediately. He didn’t know then that work at the office was about to be stopped anyway.
I was still at work when he loaded some clothes and books in his car.
He came by the office to say his goodbyes. None of us knew when this would end.
It was surreal. I could not grasp how two adults wanting to be together were forced to separate in their own country.
Work colleagues have teased me, saying how periodic distance – what, between northern and southern Nicosia? – is good for a relationship. One complained that she and her husband were disappointed that she could not take a planned trip abroad with some needed time apart because of coronavirus restrictions.
Temporary distance may be welcomed in long-term relationships, but Can and I are not there yet.
On Saturday – just hours after Can left – President Nicos Anastasiades announced that as of Sunday, only Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots would be allowed to use the crossings but urged them to do so only if necessary.
It was not possible anyway because by then the north had officially announced that only Turkish Cypriots and permanent residents would be allowed in, until April 1. Plus, they had to self-isolate for 14 days.
By then, there were 21 Covid-19 cases in the south and five in the north.
Since our separation, communication via social media has become part of our routine. I carry on with work, mostly from home now. He spends most of the day at his parents’ house working on projects he had no time to work on before.
We keep our hopes up by discussing research we’ve read about new coronavirus treatments, statistics, statements by experts as to when when they expect the situation to improve.
It takes emergencies like these to change one’s perceptions.
I know how the pandemic has affected so many, the elderly and the vulnerable groups, those stuck abroad because they cannot get the required health certificates to get home to their homes and families.
As the cases increase, and measures get tightened even more, I’m fully aware that there are others in far worse situations than ours.
But I can’t help thinking that my separation from Can would never have happened if the Cyprus problem had been solved.