Saturday 30 March 2013

Beards and Interfering in Cyprus

The First Ruler of Cyprus (tusks, no beard)
One upon a time there were no humans in Cyprus, only dwarf elephants. Greek-speaking people had certainly arrived by 1,600 BC. They are still there, speaking a beautiful ancient dialect of Greek, despite everything that history can throw at them.

Suppiluliuma (allegedly)
Few places on earth have been so much interfered with. Everybody wants power over Cyprus because of its strategic location and (now) its supposed reserves of natural gas. But nobody has ever taken seriously the possibility that the tiny number of Greek Cypriots (well under a million) living on Aphrodite’s island might like a real say in their own political and economic future.

A quick run through the timeline of Cyprus introduces us to some of the most unsavoury imperialists and invaders in history. But the more successful of them all had beards.   

The Amazing Beard of Sargon II
The most handsome may have been the Hittite monarch Suppiluliuma, of whom an extraordinary statue has recently been alleged to have been dug up in Turkey.  But Sargon II,  whose beard was longer, annexed Cyprus to the Assyrian Empire in 709 BCE. The Egyptian Pharaoh Amasis, who did NOT sport a beard, grabbed it in the mid-sixth century, but the parvenu and bearded Persian Emperor Cyrus got it off him in 545.

Despite numerous attempts by the Cypriots to gain independence, their land was repeatedly lost and won by Alexander’s Successors.  Cyprus was briefly taken over for Rome by the smooth-cheeked Cato the Younger. But it was lost again when Mark Antony bestowed it on the (probably unbearded) Cleopatra, before she lost it too and it reverted to Rome. As part of the Byzantine realm, Cyprus was continuously harassed by bearded Arab invaders.

Richard the Lionheart, with well-trimmed fluff
Adorned with plenty of facial hair, Richard the Lionheart arrived in 1191, and taxed Cyprus until it squeaked. He then gave it to the Knights Templar. The bearded Franks ruled Cyprus for a good while, followed by the bearded Mamluk sultans of Egypt, Genoese merchants, and the Venetians who purchased  the island in 1489. Eight decades later it was conquered by the bearded Ottomans. The Brits got back in the saddle in stages between 1878 and 1914, declaring Cyprus a Crown Colony in 1925, under the very hirsute King George V. It did not get independence until 1960.
George V Assumes Beard of Cypriot Command

This means that even before everyone in the world poked their noses in during the 1970s, Cypriot Greeks had been interfered with by Hittites, Assyrians, Egyptians (twice), Persians, Macedonians,  Romans, Byzantines, Levantine Arabs, Brits, Mamluk Sultans, Genoese, Venetians, Ottomans, and Brits again. But is the moral of the story that Cypriots need to grow some beards? Their hairy Orthodox priests have managed to exert a bit more power than most of them. The women who have ruled Cyprus (e.g. Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth II) have always lost control of it. Ominously, the current government of Cyprus, to judge from photographs, is shinily clean-shaven.

Will Merkel or Anastasiades Get That Beard?
I have  a collection of false beards  I once acquired during a student production of Aristophanes’ comic Assembly Women, in which the women of Athens need to disguise themselves as hairy men in order to get any say in politics. I am happy to send one to all Cypriot cabinet members if it would help them, finally, to get their act in gear and do something for the people they claim they govern.  The suspiciously smooth-faced President, Nikos Anastasiades, has a wife whose surname means ‘moustachioed’. The unbearded dwarf elephants became extinct. Nikos should take the hint.

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