In Harmony

A bi-communal choir sings to unite Greek and Turkish Cypriots

The Bi-communal Choir for Peace–Lena Melanidou performing in Pelathousa, a village in the Paphos district of Cyprus. The island hosts two main communities, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, separated by the United Nations-maintained buffer zone that cuts through Nicosia. Within such fault lines, the choir is a voice of unity. Giacomo Sini
30 June, 2023

The door closed and the bus departed amid greetings and laughter as the last passengers to board took their seats. They were all members of the Bi-communal Choir for Peace–Lena Melanidou, with most aged between sixty and seventy years, on their way to perform in Pelathousa, a village in the Paphos district of Cyprus, some three hours from the capital city of Nicosia. Choir member Ioulia Schiza, otherwise a school headmistress, began to collect the participation fees. “Do you want to know which of us is Greek and which is Turkish?” she asked smiling. “We are all Cypriots!”

Cyprus hosts two main communities, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. In 1960, Cyprus gained independence from the United Kingdom. Not long after, it saw violent clashes between these two communities in the aftermath of the 1974 Cypriot coup d’état—a Greek military coup seeking to incorporate Cyprus into Greece—which, in turn, led to a Turkish invasion the same year. To this day, the country is divided into two de facto states: the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The former is a member of the European Union, with a Greek-speaking majority. The latter is recognised only by Turkey. The two communities are separated by the United Nations-maintained buffer zone that cuts through Nicosia, separating the southern areas of the Republic of Cyprus from the northern areas. Within such fault lines, the bi-communal choir is a voice of unity.

The choir is made up of Turkish and Greek Cypriots singing together in the two official languages. Their rehearsals take place inside Nicosia’s Ledra Palace Hotel, in the UN Buffer Zone, which was also where it had its first official performance in October 1997 at an UN-organised bi-communal festival. Most of the members experienced the 1974 war. The group was established twenty-three years later, after an initiative of the Bi-communal Citizens’ Group for Peace in Cyprus. Through music, together they share the vision of a re-unified and peaceful country. The choir works under the instructions of two conductors, a Turkish Cypriot and a Greek Cypriot, and perform collaboratively with smaller cultural groups of the Maronite and Armenian communities.

Leaving the capital’s traffic, the bus turned onto the A1 motorway; the road to Pelathousa was still long. “Our project is the oldest bi-communal initiative still active,” Costis Kiranides, one of the founding members of the choir, said. His late wife, Lena Melanidou, who was the choir’s co-director, passed away in December 2021. The choir was recently renamed in her memory. He now shares the conducting role with Kursat Tilki, who continues to lead the choir with passion. “To participate, you don’t need to know music or be able to sing,” Kiranides said with a slight smile, “the only requirement is to believe in the union of our peoples and in peace.”