Hande Toycan, who is Turkish Cypriot, and Flora Hadjigeorgiou, Greek Cypriot, are among many women joining the UN on the Mediterranean island to strengthen engagement, equality and stability.
A shared link
Ms. Toycan was born and raised in Famagusta, in the north of the country, 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 devotes her time to leisure and other activities, is part of the Klotho Women’s Initiative.
Although from different communities, the two women have a passion for weaving. However, neither was aware of their common bond.
“At 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 together
UNFICYP, officially the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, has been present in the country since 1964.
Listen to our interview with Special Representative Elizabeth Spehar, who heads the UN mission:
Mission police “peacekeepers” and monitor a buffer zone between the Republic of Cyprus and the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
UNFICYP also facilitates projects aimed at bringing the two parties closer together.
“They put us in contact with the ladies of Famagusta, and so a bicommunity project began,” recalls Ms. Hadjigeorgiou.
Thanks to a centuries-old tradition, women began to forge a new relationship.
“Weaving is part of our past,” explained Ms. Hoycan. “This connection and collaboration between the two associations… is a very positive example of inter-municipal cooperation between the two communities, because it is not always easy for many people to come together and do things.
A new experience
By collaborating on different weaving projects, the women exchanged knowledge, opinions and ideas. The experience marked a first for Ms. Hadjigeorgiou.
“Until now, I had no contact with the Turkish Cypriots. The first time I came into contact with a Turkish Cypriot was with the Klotho project, ”she said.
“It helped a lot in the reconciliation because on that side we had no contact with the Turkish Cypriots.”
The weaving also provided grounds for friendship, and Ms. Toycan’s knowledge of Greek came in especially helpful.
“For three years I have been working as a Greek teacher. I mainly assist them in the communication part, the communication in Turkish and Greek ”, she declared.
Forced to separate
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has raised new challenges. The women were forced to go their separate ways, just as they started to feel comfortable with each other.
“Our connection to the Klotho Women’s Initiative has always been face-to-face meetings, but our communication hasn’t completely stopped,” said Ms. Toycan. “We ask ourselves questions about others and what we do. Our work continues, but of course not as in the past.
Nothing divides us
Even though everything has come to a halt due to the pandemic, the two women plan to continue weaving across the divided island.
“This is a very good example of collaboration,” Ms. Hadjigeorgiou said. “It proves that the two parties can coexist. We have so many common interests. There is nothing between the ladies of Famagusta and us.
Although they initially felt like strangers, “through this bicommunal collaboration, we have learned that we are the same,” said Ms. Toycan, adding “it’s nice to know that”.