August 5: Thirteen-year-old Kemal Saracoglu does not have much longer to live. He suffers from leukaemia or what is commonly known as blood cancer, usually a fatal disease. There had been a brief moment of hope when it was thought that his life could be lengthened, if not saved. That moment passed as the British doctors looking after Kemal in London said that the cancer had once again started attacking the young boy’s body mercilessly.

But in his illness, the 13-year-old Cypriot or citizen of Cyprus has achieved something tremendous that no leaders have been able to do in the last 25 years. Kemal has made two permanently fighting communities forget their bitter enmity for the moment, to share a common sorrow — Kemal and another young boy named Andreas Vassiliou who, too, suffers from the same disease, says a report in ‘The Asian Age’.

Boys' cancer unites warring people
Boys’ cancer unites warring people [Illustration by Shiju George]
The communities, which have been at loggerheads, are Cypriots of Turkish origin and Cypriots of Greek origin, both fiercely possessive of their respective languages, ways of life, religion and place of origin. While Kemal is a Cypriot of Turkish origin and Andreas is a Greek Cypriot.

The beautiful island of Cyprus, which is situated at the meeting point of the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa, became independent in 1960. In 1975, Turkey invaded northern Cyprus. In 1983, the Turkish-controlled area declared independence. The capital Nocosia is a divided city today. More than 200,000 people have been uprooted from their homes in these years due to the constant fighting There has been a total breakdown of communications between the two sides all these years.

Despite the presence of the United Nations, peace-keeping troops have been trying hard to keep the peace in the beautiful island country. Since 1975, the main contact between the two sides has been through hate, anger and violence. Till the news of similar illnesses suffered by Kemal and Andreas jolted both sides.

The young boys were battling to find that rare individual who by donating her or his bone marrow, would save their lives. Bone marrow is that soft tissue which is rich in blood vessels and can help create the formation of healthy red blood cells to fight the cancerous white blood cells. But, finding an individual whose bone marrow is acceptable to the body of the patient, is rare. Which is why it was a race against time for the boys.

Strongly touched by the plight of the boys, the people of the divided island forgot their Turkish and Greek origins and came together as Cypriots to give blood in the hope that one of them would be found suitable for a life-saving transplant.

The search fanned out beyond the borders of Cyprus, to Turkey and Greece, and people of both communities staying in Britain and Australia as well.

Last month, Kemal’s father Sua Saracoglu announced that a donor had been found in Turkey. A date for the operation had also been set for later in the month. But that was before the British doctors attending to the young boy found out that the cancer had entered an active phase again, making a transplant impossible.

What will happen now? Nobody knows. But it is worth asking if this moment of pure oneness shared by the two communities will be able to create even a small bridge over troubled political waters in the country.

For the last 25 years or so, Cypriot women from both communities in Nicosia have been communicating with men on either side to build a master plan for the divided city of Nicosia that would give some space to love and peace. Despite many setbacks, they have continued their efforts with quiet determination. Kemal and Andreas are reminders to them that even a lifetime spent in the attempt to make people lose their fear of each other, is worth it.