Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Cyprus Issue

In 2006 CNN published the results of a poll that affirmed once again how woefully ignorant Americans are when it comes to world geography. Amongst Americans between 18 and 24, six in 10 could not find Iraq on a map, even though we'd been at war in Iraq and occupied it more than three years. Seventy-five percent did not know where Israel was on a map of the Middle East. And 88 percent did not know where Afghanistan was.

So, it is no small wonder that peoples' eyes glaze over when we start talking about the world's trouble spots of which Cyprus is one.

For some reason I was always fascinated with maps when I was a kid. I remember very early on playing a Geography game in which you used a spinner to determine a letter and would have sixty seconds to locate all the world's cities that began that letter. While the sands of the time passed you'd have sixty second to place as many toothpicks as possible into the world map before time ran out.

In fourth grade, when I was given my first Bible, I was fascinated by the maps in the back such as Egypt, Sinai and Canaan or the map of Israel showing the allotments of the twelve tribes. Another is titled The Graeco-Roman World and another features the Missionary Journeys of Paul. And even in that first map, a close-up of the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus is prominent.

In point of fact, archaeologists have found some of the world's oldest water wells there, some 9,000 to 10,000 years old. Very early on humans were building boats and exploring the sea.

In the New Testament, references to Cyprus are scattered throughout the book of Acts. Paul's friend and co-worker Barnabas (which means "Son of Encouragement") hailed from Cyprus. And during his several missionary journeys, Paul landed on the island or passed it on the way to somewhere else. (Chapters 11, 15, 15, 21 & 27)

Today, nearly 800,000 people live on the island which covers 3,572 square miles. It's a relatively wealthy country with a GDP close to 25 billion and 26th in the world in per capita income. The country achieved it independence from the U.K. in 1960. Fourteen years later, however, Turkey invaded the island with tanks, trucks and armored vehicles supported by 30,000 troops. By the time all was said and done Turkey owned 37% of the island.

How did this happen? One only need look at the concurrent events taking place at that time. The U.S. had still not entirely succeeded in withdrawing from Viet Nam yet and Watergate fallout was filling the news. Turkish hawks must have correctly guessed that the U.S. already had its hands full and would not have the gumption to get entangled in still another battle in a far off land that its citizens did not know how to identify on a map. And being the heart of the Cold War, Turkey probably assumed we'd not want to ruffle its feathers lest they ask us to get our well-situated Soviet-aimed nukes out of their country. In short, Turkish opportunists took advantage of the moment.

Bottom line: the divided country is an unresolved dispute and potential trouble spot that Americans would do well to be aware of. If someday we hear something about Cyprus in the news, it might be well to know where it's located on a map.

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