Abdallah was three when his father moved the family from Damascus, Syria to Larnaca, Cyprus. Now 27, he works for his father in his grocery store and fried chicken restaurant, both of which attract a largely Arab clientele.
Abdallah recalls how his first year at school was difficult. The Greek Cypriot children wouldn’t engage with him, calling him a Turk. “They knew I was Muslim because of my name and I didn’t speak Greek well so it was difficult.” Turkey has occupied a large swathe of Cyprus since 1974, when a conflict resulted in mass displacement of Cyprus’ Greek and Turkish populations and impacted the perception and tolerance of Greek Orthodox Cypriots towards Turkish Muslims, with whom they had lived on the island for centuries.
Within a year, once he had learned the language and was able to engage more with the other children, Abdallah says things improved quickly. “Later on, they would ask me about my religion and I about theirs, out of curiosity not differentiation.”
Abdallah comes from a conservative family and as a teenager his mother did not permit him to go out to bars and clubs. “I wasn’t alone. Other kids in the neighbourhood we lived in also didn’t go out at night. We’d spend time together in local cafes.” Living in a village outside the city helped Abdallah make more like-minded friends. Most of his friends are Greek Cypriots he met in his neighbourhood, at school or at university. He has also made friends with some Arabs who frequent his father’s stores.
Though he has not returned to Syria since leaving as a child, he identifies as “an Arab, a Syrian, with Cypriot nationality.” He speaks Arabic but does not read or write it well. He prays five times a day but does not go to the mosque.