by Gary Gumpert and Susan Drucker
Potamia is a sleepy community of homeowners, farmers, and commuters from Nicosia. It is nestled against the hillside about 6 kilometers from the Nicosia-Larnaca highway. It is a small village with only 448 inhabitants complete with elementary school, several village coffee shops (those establishments that serve as meeting places and restaurants. It shares the distinction with a few other villages of sitting adjacent to the buffer zone – the thin strip of no-man’s land that divides Cyprus from the occupied north. But it is also unusual because it is one of a few mixed villages in which Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriots continue to live and work side by side. Most of the current inhabitants are fluent in Greek and Turkish Cypriot dialects. Post 1963-74 there is one other mixed village in Cyprus – Pyla (located on the British base in the Dhekelia area of Larnaca). Pyla is quite different because it is accessible to both sides through the British base and because of clear signs of prosperity stimulated by building projects sponsored by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS). But Pyla is very much, a mixed village consisting of separate facilities – each side has its coffee houses, shops, and mayor. On most levels, Potamia is a truly mixed village.
It appears to be a relatively comfortable village with cared for homes and fields and with brand new building serving as community headquarters in which the two muktars (village community leaders) Panicos Yiatrou and Hussein Hami represent their constituents – 48 Turkish Cypriot and 400 Greek Cypriots, a reminder of times past when many more Greek and Turks lived close, if not together. Turkish Cypriots were in the majority but many left in 1964 with some returning to Potamia in the intervening years. Aproximately 250 Turkish Cypriots left again after the 1974 Turkish invasion, settling in identifiable areas in the north including Argaki, Tymbou, and Louroudjina. Some returned. Some families remain divided.
The villagers can listen to the many radio stations of Cyprus, some of which are island wide and, because of its proximity to the buffer zone, several of the radio stations from the occupied area are also available. So both Turkish language and Greek language broadcasts are available in addition to the Greek (and limited Turkish language) programming provided by Cyprus Broadcasting (CYBC). Potamia is also a special mixed village. While it does not have a local newspaper, Potamia now has a local radio station – 107.9 FM. What makes Radio Potamia somewhat unique is that the programming of news, education, music, local cultural programs and announcements of events, births, deaths and marriages is broadcast equally in Greek and Turkish. This in itself ought not be unusual, because Greek and Turkish are the official languages of Cyprus. What is unusual and symbolic is that the sharing of language is equal and that the radio station only serves a mere ten square kilometer area. In all probability the local coffee house with its traditional word of mouth communication operates as quickly and efficiently as this new voice of radio. Radio Potamia is symbolic of a bi-communal spirit and desire that transcends the small building in which it is housed, the former Turkish elementary school. The goal of Radio Potamia as characterized by its director Kyriakos Kikas is to reflect a spirit of mutual respect rather than mere co-existence.
Radio Potamia is the dream of Loukis Papaphillippou, the head of Antenna 1 who grew up in Potamia and whose father was the village priest who ran the church of the Holy Cross in Potamia and who, it is said, served both Greek and Turkish constituents. This unusual radio station is dedicated to his father and began its experimental phase of operation on May 1, 2003. The audience for Radio Potamia is small, but extends beyond the village and includes the neighboring village of Dali, but more significantly the signal crosses the buffer zone and reaches the village of Louroudjina – in the occupied area – but closed to visitors by the military authorities in the north despite the fact that travel restrictions between the two sides were lifted on April 23, 2003. According to the Greek Cypriot Muktar Panicos Yiatrou, some former Turkish Cypriot residents who now live outside the broadcast area in the north have complained about being unable to listen to the station.
The license granted by the Cyprus Radio and Television Authority is a commercial one, although its planned mission is clearly “public service” broadcasting. According to Nicos Prokommenas, the Greek Cypriot journalist who will be working at the station,” we must be aware that the audience are local people living together, that they are real friends and refer to each other by first name…Potamia is the way it is because the people want to be the way they are.”
The application for the broadcast license asserts that the station will help “bring back the good old days”. The slogan of the station included in the formal application is “Where we used to be good neighbors, we shall again be good neighbors and better neighbors.”
After a long distinguished career in teaching, broadcasting (CYBC and Antenna), Kyriakos Kikas has taken on the position of Program Director. Mr. Kikas indicated that the venture has some difficulties ahead, especially in regarding to finding a sufficient number of experienced Turkish Cypriot broadcasters. “Under the current circumstances, it is difficult to recruit a sufficient number…willing to commute regularly under the current restrictions placed on checkpoint crossings and extended visits.” With four checkpoints currently open (one of which is the Ledra Palace and is limited to pedestrian traffic), long lines and delays have become commonplace.
May 11th, 2003 was a day of celebration when 500 Greek and Turkish Cypriots gathered amidst music and food to mark the introduction of Radio Potamia. Of that number, 155 Turkish Cypriots came by bus from the Ledra Palace and 150 by their own cars, many from Argaki outside of Morphou.
Even prior to the changes resulting from the opening of the checkpoints, leaders in Potamia considered how they could create an environment that would welcome Turkish Cypriots to return to the village. The neighboring village of Ayios Sozomenos one kilometer to the north is also paving the way in hopes of an eventual return of Turkish Cypriots. Abandoned since inter-communal conflicts in 1964 when many of its mostly Turkish Cypriot population moved to Potamia, there is currently interest in the village once again. Activity in Ayios Sozomenos includes the restoration of the small 15th century church by the Antiquities Department. Radio Potamia may be laying another foundation for return by providing a unified community “voice.”
While the final story of Radio Potamia is yet to be written, its significance to the history of Cyprus is reflected in comments made by Interior Minister Andreas Christou and reported in the Cyprus Weekly. He said:
“When this communication is built upon the long tradition of co-existence and cooperation between the two communities, then it reinforces the uniting and co-existing elements of a solution, fading the elements which look for dividing solutions, solutions which in practice lead to the existence of two separate states… This message is conveyed by Radio Potamia….and any kind of communication, at any level, we manage to have with Turkish Cypriots”
While Radio Potamia is intended as a local station serving a specific audience, the magnitude and impact of such a station cannot be underestimated. The future prospect of broadcasting island-wide and perhaps even webcasting over the Internet thereby making programming available world-wide suggests the potential global impact of Cyprus’s newest local radio station.
****Susan J. Drucker is a Professor of Communication at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Gary Gumpert is Emeritus Professor of Communication at Queens College of the City University of New York. They are writing a book on the “communication division of Cyprus”