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Interview with Chryso Pelekani, pro-Roma activist from Cyprus
by Valery Novoselsky in Romano Liloro, August 21, 2015

Novoselsky: Dear Chryso, please tell us where and when were you born?

Pelekani: I was born in 1980 and I was raised in Limassol, Cyprus.

Novoselsky: Where did you grew up, in which neighborhood, the political system in your country when you were a child?

Pelekani: Both of my parents are refugees from the North part of Cyprus. They left their house after the Turkish invasion in 1974. When my parents moved to the South part of the island, they started their life from the beginning. They tried to give us everything and to educate us. They wanted us to succeed. My mother finished only the primary school because as she told us she preferred to stay home and help my grandmother at the fields. Although she didn't manage to finish the school she is the best mother ever! She is very smart and very dedicated to her husband, children and grandchildren. She has a passion with listening to the radio and the morning discussions. That is her way to be aware of everything she is interested in, and she likes to share all those information with us.

From my childhood I've been aware not only from my parents but also from my school teachers, on several issues such as migration, human rights, segmentation, discriminations etc. I've always wanted to live in a peaceful island and I was really disappointed and very angry about the previous political decisions taken for my island who separated (until the opening of the boarders in 2003) the (ethnic, religious) communities from each other. After the opening of the borders in 2003 there is a free flow of citizens from both parts of the island. People from both sites cross the border on a daily basis for shopping tourism, business etc.

On that time more Roma people of Cyprus came to the South part of Cyprus for a better living. According to the 1960 Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus, this group of people does not constitute a separate national group but it is considered to belong to the Turkish Cypriot (T/C) community and share the Turkish cultural traditions. There are no official records of the arrival of Roma-Gurbeties in Cyprus. It is believed that they arrived after the conquest of the island by the Ottomans from the Venetians in 1551. They are Muslims and they speak both Cypriot Turkish dialect and Gurbetcha (Cypriot language variation). They call themselves as Gurbet and their "language" Gurbetcha. Most of them lives in Limassol whereas some other live in Paphos.

Novoselsky: What about your personal connectivity to Roma/Sinti issue and community?

Pelekani: Due to my educational and professional background I gained a lot of experience on various subjects such as racism, openness, acceptance, solidarity and respect. The fact that I have close contacts with many cultures (Gurbetties' culture, Kurdish' culture, Iranians' culture, Russians' culture etc) made me feel and react against the Others with openness and respect. If you respect the "Other" then the "Other" will respect you. And this became my moto! Since 2003 I became more sensitive with these issues and I do whatever I can to raise awareness of the issues facing Roma people and immigrants living in Cyprus. Some of the Roma -Gurbetties living in Limassol have good relations with their neighbors and this can be the key to build bridges between Roma-Gurbeties and Greek Cypriot community. Not all the Greek Cypriots met them or know about them. Consequently, more good practices should be made to promote the maturation of attitudes of openness, acceptance, solidarity and respect. Roma-Gurbeties have to show their culture heritage and their language and try to involve more in local activities.

Novoselsky: Tell us about your educational and professional background.

Pelekani: I have a Bachelor Degree in Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies and Minor in Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies (University of Cyprus) and a second Bachelor Degree in Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies (University of Cyprus). I participated in a Master degree courses at the Department of Turkish studies at Saint-Petersburg State University in Russia. I had also achieved Master degrees; in Education (Middlesex University, UK), in Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies (University of Cyprus, CY), in Translation Studies (Birmingham University, UK) and in Digital Technologies for Language Teaching (University of Nottingham). I am currently pursuing a PhD in Linguistics at the department of Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cyprus and I am writing a thesis on "Roma Gurbetties of Cyprus and their language Gurbetcha".

I am a teacher of Greek and Turkish language and literature. I taught Turkish and Greek language and literature in several places; in Saint-Petersburg State University, in Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies, in State Institute for Further Education-MOEC etc. I've been teaching Turkish at the University of Cyprus since 2003 and I've been working as a Turcologist and as a Roma parents' consultant since 2004.

My main interests have always been directed towards the learning and teaching of foreign languages in particular the teaching of the Turkish and Greek languages, through modern methods and methodologies and through technology (Web 2.0: blogging, podcasting, wikis). Research interests include also the history of Turkish and Greek Literature with emphasis on the Epistolary novels, Second Language Acquisition, Curriculum Development and Evaluation, Language Contact, Bilingualism, Dialectology (Turkish/Romani/Cypriot/Russian), Translation Theories and Terminology, Human Rights, Minority Rights etc.

I have co-edited in collaboration with a colleague a relevant communicative dictionary Turkish/Greek (June 2005-August 2005), a bi-lingual recipes-book called "18+1 recipes of Saint-Antonios Primary School" (September 2008-May 2009), as well as a bi-lingual (Turkish/Greek) CD of Saint-Antonios Primary School in Limassol.

Novoselsky: Please tell more on your activity in Roma cause, namely when did you start it, in which organisations you were and are working.

Pelekani: In April 2004, I was employed by the Ministry of Education and Culture as a Turcologist at St. Antonio's' Primary school in Limassol, translating from Turkish to Greek and from Greek to Turkish, teaching Gurbetcha to Turkish Cypriot-Roma children and the Greek language to Turkish Cypriot Roma women living in Polemidia area in Limassol, Cyprus. My main responsibilities were to take care of specific operations, communication and educational school duties supervised and in cooperation and guidance of the School's director, and, at the same time, act as a (Roma and Turkish speakers) parents' consultant. Through my work, I had established a close relation to the Roma-Gurbetties and I learned a lot about their needs and about their beliefs on various issues. They also accepted to talk about their language and to teach me as well. It's been 6 years I speak this language and since 2013 I teach Gurbetcha- the mother language of the Roma of Cyprus to Roma students (as an extra-curriculum elective lesson) in order to promote the cultural and linguistic background of Roma-Gurbetties of Cyprus.

Novoselsky: Your opinion regarding current situation of Roma in Cyprus?

Pelekani: According to the 1960 Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus, this group of people does not constitute a separate national group but it is considered to belong to the Turkish Cypriot (T/C) community and share the Turkish cultural traditions. There are no official records of the arrival of Roma-Gurbeties in Cyprus. It is believed that they arrived after the conquest of the island by the Ottomans from the Venetians in 1551. The group term Gurbet has its origin in Arabic and reached Romani through the Turkish language. It means "foreigners" or "foreign work". They are Muslims and they speak both Cypriot Turkish dialect and Gurbetcha (Cypriot language variation). They call themselves "Gurbet" and their language "Gurbetcha. Another question that it arises is what is Gurbetcha. Gurbetcha is a non-Romani language (Para-Romani) adopted by Turkish Cypriots Roma-Gurbeties .They have no structural features of Romani at all. They take only the vocabulary from Romani. They follow the Cypriot Turkish grammar.

At present, the number of Cypriot Roma-Gurbeties estimated between 1000-1,500. Most of them are settled in the towns of Famagousta, Morphou and Trikomo (Yeni iskele) both cities in the occupied area and in the towns of Limassol and Paphos . Marsh and Strand (2003) argue that their number reaches 2000-3000 people, resulting from the annual influx of Anatolian Romanlar. This information cannot be confirmed, as the Republic of Cyprus does not hold official records regarding the Gypsies of Cyprus (Agathokleous, 2005) and Gypsies are officially recorded as Turkish Cypriots. It is estimated that 450 Cypriot Roma-Gurbeties are living at the Republic of Cyprus (referring at the territory where the Republic exerts effective control and not the occupied areas). The majority of Cypriot Roma -Gurbeties live in Paphos and Limassol districts. (Limassol >250 people & Paphos> 200 people; May 2013-today)

MINISTRY OF INTERIOR

The Ministry of Interior in order to resolve the issue of accommodation at Limassol (Agios Antonios and Polemidia) and Paphos (Makoynta, Stavrokonnou, Polis Chrysochous) has:

- restored and improved the already existing T/C houses where Roma and Greek Cypriot refugees live,
- approved the building of a small settlement at Limassol, (Polemidia) which consists of 16 prebuilt houses with potable water, electricity, telephone and sewerage installations.

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND CULTURE

The Ministry of Education and Culture of the Republic of Cyprus (MoEC) and other governmental authorities and organizations and foundations have expressed their interest about Roma. In its attempt to heighten the level of school integration and the success of Roma students, takes a series of measures for supporting them, which were approved by the Council of Ministers and include, among others the following:

- Additional education classes for learning the Greek language during the day time of the public schools.
- Free classes for learning the Greek language for adults and kids at afternoon time within the framework of Educational centres.
- Responsibility of paying the tuition fees and the inscription fees for private schools.
- Financial support to families with financial constraints (expenses for stationery, transfer, school uniforms).
- Free breakfast at school and lunch at the whole day schools for the students of public schools.
- Differentiation of the Analytical Schedule according to the needs of the students (non obligation to attend classes related to history, religion).
- Additional support from the scientific personnel of the Educational Psychology service and from the Social Prosperity.
- Turkish Cypriot teachers hired for teaching the Turkish language.
- Greek Cypriot teacher hired for teaching their language variation called Gurbetcha.
- Information programmes from several doctor specialists (paediatricians, dentists, school doctors) organised by the school at the presence of translator.
- Translator hired for serving the needs at Agios Antonio's primary school for addressing Roma needs.

Novoselsky: What and who can improve current situation of Roma in Cyprus?

Pelekani: The Roma of Cyprus -Gurbetties are receiving assistance by many local governmental and non-governmental organizations. Although they receive assistance the situation remain the same and they lack of involvement in: democratic and legal systems, the labour market, the welfare state and familial and local community networks (Cummins, 1993). In my point of view more (community based) interventions should be made in order to address the problems faced by the Roma in the above sectors. Also more resolute steps should be taken to promote mutual respect, understanding and integration within Cypriot society; encourage the educational system and the media to play a more active role in combating racism and intolerance.

Novoselsky: What is your personal wish for Roma people?

Pelekani: I hope that all the Roma-Gurbetties of Cyprus will be united and all of them one day will not feel ashamed of what they are but they will feel free to talk about their identity, language and culture. I hope that one day they will be able to express their feeling aloud and ask for their Rights not only in Cyprus but also abroad.

Novoselsky: Thank you, Chryso, for sharing your life`s story and opinion about today`s Roma realities! Efharisto Poli! Baro Nais!



2012 Interviewing Roma family in Limassol (field work research for PhD thesis)

2012 Interviewing Roma family in Limassol (field work research for PhD thesis)

Teaching Greek to Roma-Gurbeties living in Limassol (Agios Andonios Areas), 2004

Teaching Greek to Roma-Gurbeties living in Limassol (Polemidia Area), 2013

Participating in EU project, All Different all the same, Europe's children, 2014

Participating in EU project, All Different all the same, Europe's children, 2014

Teaching Gurbetcha to Roma-Gurbeties children living in Limassol, 2013 to present

Participating as a stakeholder in EU Final Conference in Spain 2014

Participating as a stakeholder in EU Final Conference in France 2015

Interview by Valery Novoselsky, May 2015

The interview was held by Valery Novoselsky, executive editor of Roma Virtual Network (RVN). http://www.romavirtualnetwork.org

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of each individual author. The views and opinions do not represent those held by the Dom Research Center.

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