We construct many forms of identity. An amalgamation summing to the concept of “me.” Religious identity, sexual identity, gender identity, racial and ethnic identity, intersections of identities. Conflict arises from seemingly opposed identities within a person and between people. Macroscopically, identity conflicts wage wars. Something of tantamount importance to us, yet also sometimes fluid or even completely erroneous.
One of my strongest identities is “Turkish Cypriot.” As a child it was drummed into me that I was different from the American girls. Turkish girls do not behave in that way, whatever “that way” was referring to at the time. Some transgression of mine bucking the authority of my parents. The post traumatic stress of the Cypriot civil war, an ethnic conflict drawn along lines of Greek and Turkish, permeates the entire paternal side of my family. My father’s life work is bringing unification and lasting peace to Cyprus. I grew up surrounded by this scar and this mission. I speak Turkish, I was raised Muslim. The bitter ethnic divide between Turks and Greeks was made clear to me as a child even in the US, when at our elementary school International Day a Greek-American dad sneered at my little sister saying baklava was Greek, not Turkish. Years of visiting a divided Cyprus, standing on the “Turkish side” wondering what lay over the wall on “Greek side.” I even have a birth mark on my shoulder that looks like the island.
This identity started breaking down for me when I visited Cyprus in 2014. This was the first time I crossed to the Greek side, only to discover that my visions of some magical place completely different was in fact, almost exactly the same. The people looked the same. Their accents sounded the same. I couldn’t tell Turk from Greek. DNA studies have shown Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots are more similar to each other than mainland Turks and Greeks. Conceptually I understood our similarities, but I did not have any idea of the extent. Starting to assimilate an identity of “Cypriot” and not just Turkish-Cypriot, I assumed I had some Greek heritage, but still assumed the majority was Turkish. If I had to hazard a guess based on what we did know of our family lineage, I would say of my 1/2 Turkish-Cypriot I was made up of 35% Turkish, 10% Circassian, and 4.9% Greek, and .1% European from that rumored French or English crusader.
Then my dad got his Ancestry DNA test results and blew my identity completely apart.
52% European (49% Italian/Greek and 3% European Jewish)
46% West Asian (30% Middle East and 16% Caucasus)
My first reaction was, “Haha, that makes sense. Turkish and Greek Cypriots are all the same.” Then it sunk in. Me: 25% Italian/Greek, 15% Middle East.
“Oh shit I’m GREEK!”
That’s like a Palestinian finding out they’re of mostly Jewish heritage. This cleavage between two communities, so deep it’s still raw (an example in this article, Cypriot war crimes) is based on identity that is false.
The evil “other” of my childhood, the murderers, they are my relatives. “Turks” and “Greeks” driven to commit atrocities for differences that don’t exist. I wonder as more people take these DNA tests, how many will find results similar to this? How many people have been tortured and murdered for false identity?
Turkish Cypriot. Greek Cypriot. It’s all bullshit.
Maybe these DNA tests can be instruments of peace. When you become part of the other, then there is no longer any other. However, that itself is a challenge. As a person who considers herself open to different cultures, to have this part of my identity shattered is discombobulating in the least. I feel fury at the ills of the past. I feel denial. I feel uprooted. If I’m having trouble letting go of the false identity, how will the Cypriot who fought in the war let go to move on? How will the perpetrators of war crimes let their identity go when they committed evil for it? This information can be a starting point for a truth and reconciliation process that is desperately needed.
As for me, how will I create a new identity from this? Who am I?