North Cyprus is a cheerful place where life’s problems and setbacks are generally accepted with a shrug and a grin. Not today.
The country is in pain, the collective mood darker than I have ever known. The earthquake that has claimed the lives of so many in Turkey has also shaken North Cyprus to its core.
Such a disaster was bound to hurt. Turkey and North Cyprus are umbilically connected by ancestry and recent history. In such a small community, many have family and friends in the “Motherland,” and with so many dead, the mourning was bound to spread across the east Mediterranean.
But the despair runs even deeper because North Cyprus has lost so many of its children, the young players from boys’ and girls’ sports teams, all from the same college. With their teachers and some parents, they were staying in a hotel in the city of Adıyaman. The building, like so many others, collapsed into dust while they were sleeping.
At the time of writing at least 22 are confirmed dead, but nearly forty went on the ill-fated volleyball trip – and only six so far, are known to have escaped with their lives. Others have died in other cities but the premature deaths of so many together, so young, so full of hope, has crushed the public.
On Thursday night, the first ten victims to be repatriated arrived at the airport, their coffins draped in joint TRNC/Turkish flags. “This is our greatest suffering, undisputed the greatest disaster in our Republic’s history,” a university rector wrote on Facebook.
But the disaster has also galvanized an unprecedented public and private rescue and relief effort. North Cyprus has sent teams from the army, police, fire brigade and civil defence. The local municipalities have dispatched their lorries and diggers and construction companies have also sent convoys of heavy machinery.
Meanwhile, locals and ex-pats have joined in collective efforts to provide warmth and sustenance for those left destitute on the frozen streets. In shops, bars and restaurants, tables are piled high with bags and boxes containing food and clothing.
A blanket. A pair of gloves and a woolly hat. Perhaps they bring some comfort to the donor as well as the recipient. It will take a lot more to heal this country’s broken heart.