Hande Toycan, who is Turkish-Cypriot, and Flora Hadjigeorgiou, a Greek-Cypriot, are among the many women who partner with the UN on the Mediterranean island to strengthen engagement, equality and stability.
A shared bond
Ms. Toycan was born and raised in the northern city of Famagusta, and still lives there. She is a member of the Famagusta Cultural Association and studied Greek language and literature in Ankara, the cultural capital of Turkey.
Ms. Hadjigeorgiou, a retired teacher who fills her time with hobbies and other activities, is part of the Klotho Women’s Initiative.
Though coming from different communities, both women have a passion for weaving. However, neither was aware of their shared bond.
“In the beginning, our friends Mustafa and Maria who work at UNFICYP told us about the project, funded by the Dutch Embassy, and told us to apply,” said Ms. Toycan.
Bringing communities closer
UNFICYP, officially the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, has been in the country since 1964.
Listen to our interview with Special Representative Elizabeth Spehar, who heads the UN mission:
“Blue helmets” from the mission police and monitor a buffer zone between the Republic of Cyprus and the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
UNFICYP also facilitates projects to bring the two sides closer together.
“They put us in contact with the ladies from Famagusta, and so a bi-communal project began,” Ms. Hadjigeorgiou recalled.
Through a centuries-old tradition, the women began to weave a new relationship.
“Weaving is part of our past,” Ms. Hoycan explained. “This connection and collaboration between the two associations…is a very positive example of the intercommunal cooperation between the two communities, because it is not always easy for many people to get together and do things.”
A new experience
Through collaborating on different weaving projects, the women exchanged knowledge, opinions and ideas. The experience marked a first for Ms. Hadjigeorgiou.
“Until this, I had no contact with the Turkish-Cypriots at all. The first time I came into contact with a Turkish-Cypriot, was with the Klotho project,” she said.
“It helped a lot in reconciliation because on this side, we had no contact with Turkish Cypriots.”
Weaving also provided grounds for friendship, and Ms. Toycan’s knowledge of Greek proved especially handy.
“For the last three years, I am working as a Greek teacher. I assist them especially in the communication part, the communication in Turkish and Greek,” she said.
Forced to separate
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has raised new challenges. The women were forced to be apart, just as they were beginning to feel comfortable with each other.
“Our connection in the Klotho Women’s Initiative was always face-to-face meetings, but our communication didn’t stop completely,” said Ms. Toycan. “We ask about each other and what we are doing. Our work continues, but of course not like in the past.”
Nothing divides us
Even though everything stopped due to the pandemic, both women plan to continue weaving across the divided island.
“This is a very good example of collaboration,” said Ms. Hadjigeorgiou. “It proves that the two sides can co-exist. We have so many common interests. There is nothing to divide the ladies from Famagusta and us.”
Although they initially felt like strangers, “through this bi-communal collaboration we got to know that we are the same,” said Ms, Toycan, adding “it is nice to know this.”