Cyprus bee­keep­ers set ex­am­ple

Greek- and Turk­ish-Cypriot api­arists join forces to boost honey pro­duc­tion on di­vided is­land

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY MENELAOS HADJI­COSTIS

AGILLAR, Cyprus – For Cyprus bee­keep­ers So­teris An­to­niou and Kutret Balci, the im­ported Cau­casian queen bee just doesn’t have what it takes.

De­spite its rep­u­ta­tion as a co­pi­ous honey pro­ducer, they say the widely used bee sim­ply can’t cope with their is­land’s long, scorch­ing sum­mer and tends to die off in the heat.

That’s why the two men, one Greek Cypriot, the other Turk­ish Cypriot, re­solved to breed a Cypriot queen bee – de­fy­ing their Mediter­ranean home­land’s eth­nic di­vide, the north-south split brought on by a 1974 Turk­ish in­va­sion in re­sponse to a mil­i­tary coup aimed at unit­ing Cyprus with Greece.

Their part­ner­ship is flour­ish­ing just as the is­land’s Greek-Cypriot pres­i­dent and the leader of the break­away Turk­ish Cypri­ots re­sumed rec­on­cil­i­a­tion talks in Switzer­land yes­ter­day. Of­fi­cials said the suc­cess of the five days of meet­ings could de­ter­mine whether an ac­cord is within reach.

An op­ti­mist might find a hope­ful sign in the bee­keep­ers’ hum­ming col­lab­o­ra­tion. Sep­a­rated by barbed wire and mis­trust for decades, they are work­ing to­gether to find a home­grown so­lu­tion to a shared prob­lem. Their ef­forts have won a 10,000-euro ($11,025) prize from Ste­lios Haji-Ioan­nou, the EasyJet founder whose fam­ily hails from Cyprus.

So far, An­to­niou and Balci say, their in­dige­nous bee-breed­ing work has pro­duced en­cour­ag­ing re­sults. They have trans­planted lar­vae from the di­min­ish­ing pop­u­la­tion of Cypriot queen bees into a cus­tombuilt hive to cre­ate a big­ger, hardier bee that they hope will bet­ter cope with the cli­mate and pro­duce more honey.

“A Cypriot bee is best for Cyprus,” said Balci’s cousin Metin, who helps with the business.

The friend­ship be­tween An­to­niou and Balci blos­somed after 2003, when cross­ing points opened along a UN-con­trolled buf­fer zone after nearly three decades of vir­tu­ally no con­tact be­tween Greek and Turk­ish Cypri­ots. But their con­nec­tion goes back even fur­ther.

Fresh out of high school in 1961, An­to­niou learned bee­keep­ing trade se­crets from Balci’s grand­fa­ther Mus­taka, who es­tab­lished a suc­cess­ful honey business in 1918. The Balci sur­name – it’s Turk­ish for “bee­keeper” – at­tests to the fam­ily’s her­itage. After the eth­nic split, An­to­niou’s fam­ily re­lo­cated to a town in the in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized Greek-Cypriot south.

With 750 hives in the break­away north, Kutret Balci pro­duces an average of 25 tons of honey a year for the lo­cal Turk­ish-Cypriot mar­ket. He also ex­ports to Bri­tain, where there is a large Cypriot ex­pa­tri­ate com­mu­nity. But drought has cut steeply into his bees’ out­put this year – pro­duc­ing nearly one-third less honey than last year.

An­to­niou’s smaller op­er­a­tion of 250 hives pro­duces an average 6 tons of honey each year and only sup­plies com­mu­ni­ties in the is­land’s south­east­ern tip. He and Balci even­tu­ally want to join their honey sup­plies in hopes of mar­ket­ing it is­land­wide. They are also seek­ing for­eign buy­ers for propo­lis – a wax-like sub­stance pro­duced by bees to shore up hives – which has a rep­u­ta­tion for its medic­i­nal and ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fits.

Both An­to­niou and Balci are un­abashedly boast­ful about the qual­ity of their or­ganic honey. De­spite the is­land’s lack of rain, the Cypriot sun­shine is a bless­ing, be­cause it in­fuses ev­ery­thing that grows with an in­tense aroma that is trans­ferred to the honey, they say.

“We have the sun, we have the good weather, so if we have rain, we have the best honey,” An­to­niou says.

An­to­niou and Balci may agree on the su­pe­ri­or­ity of their honey, but they don’t see eye-to-eye on whether the is­land’s lead­ers will be able to thrash out a re­uni­fi­ca­tion deal. Dis­ap­point­ment over four decades of peace ac­cords has jaded many.

The main is­sue Pres­i­dent Ni­cos Anas­tasi­ades and the leader of the break­away Turk­ish Cypri­ots, Mustafa Ak­inci, will tackle in Switzer­land is how much ter­ri­tory Greek and Turk­ish Cypri­ots each would ad­min­is­ter un­der an en­vi­sioned fed­er­a­tion. A po­ten­tial agree­ment would de­ter­mine how many Greek Cypri­ots would be able to re­claim homes and prop­erty lost in the war.

The United Na­tions spe­cial ad­viser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, said a peace deal has never been closer.

An­to­niou is skep­ti­cal, say­ing the decades of dead­lock have cal­ci­fied con­di­tions. But he still holds out hope of a deal that would en­able him to bring his bee­hives back to the fields where he grew up. Balci is much more up­beat that a deal is in the off­ing.

“I’m very pos­i­tive they will find a way to re­solve it,” Balci said.

Greek-Cypriot bee­keeper So­teris An­to­niou uses smoke to sub­due bees at some hives in a field out­side the vil­lage of Man­dres in the Turk­ish-oc­cu­pied part of Cyprus.

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