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Europe diary: Cypriot wounds

14 December 2006

BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell meets a Turkish Cypriot who lost his father and a Greek Cypriot who lost his home, and discusses a UN initiative designed to help people mourn and forgive.

It is often a bewildering moment when people tell you, "You look just like your father," especially if you do not see the resemblance yourself. But for Fevzi Ozersay it was positively eerie. For he was three when his father died and couldn't remember his father's face.

Fevzi Ozersay
Returning to the village helped Fevzi feel less rootless
A Turkish Cypriot, he was sitting in cafe in a Greek Cypriot village, yards from where his father was killed, yards from where he was buried. Three of his uncles shared the same fate and the same grave. He had been rather nervously talking to a handful of villagers, with the help of a Greek Cypriot friend and a local woman who spoke some Turkish. At around four or five in the afternoon, the coffee shop began to fill up, as it always did.

"My family always said I looked like my father, but as the older people started to come in they started to play a sort of game. They asked the people coming in if they could guess who I was. It was always a single answer: they just looked at my face and they said my father's name."

His Greek Cypriot friend started crying but Fevzi, a big man with deep brown eyes is a reflective sort, and said he wanted to remain strong.

"It was an interesting moment. I was trying to observe people and think what to feel. It was exactly the same for everyone. Opposite the coffee shop was the mass grave where my father was lying and everybody knew about it, and knew I knew about it. And here I was in the coffee shop after 30 years. Everyone was in shock. It was a very weird experience. No-one knew what to think. It was a peaceful kind of coffee."

UNMARKED GRAVES

Fevzi Ozersay, his brother Kudret and his mother are part of an extraordinary United Nations project in Cyprus. Many Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriots who were killed in the fighting that went on from the 1960s, and particularly after the Turkish invasion of 1974, were hurriedly buried in mass graves where they fell. For years their relatives could not even visit these unmarked sites, lying as they did on the wrong side of the communal divide.

The UN plan is to firmly identify the missing. A committee, the first where Turkish and Greek Cypriots sit side by side, is in charge. They are opening up the mass graves, matching the bones against the DNA of relatives, and reburying them on "their" side of the border.

As the many responses to my diary last week eloquently display, there is a strong desire in both communities to identify the behaviour of the other side as the root cause of the trouble and to apportion blame for the past violence. The UN's purpose is quite the reverse, to help people to mourn their loss and perhaps to forgive.

The Ozersay family happen to be Turkish Cypriots. They happen to be the family I met. It is obvious that many Greek Cypriots could tell a mirror image of this story. I also strongly suspect that the Ozersays' complex and thoughtful reaction to the past is more common than one might suspect.

ARMED CAMPS

The story that changed their lives is burned into Kudret and Fevzi, told again and again by their mother, grandfather and grandmother. It was a mixed village, although the two communities were always divided by a river. The Turkish Cypriots owned the sheep, the Greek Cypriots owned the grazing land. They co-operated, there were apparently friendships across this narrow water.

Map of Cyprus

But after the Turkish invasion of 1974 the two halves of the village literally turned into armed camps, sniping across the river at each other from the cover of bell tower or bridge. Eventually Greek Cypriot reinforcements arrived and, heavily outnumbered, the Turkish Cypriots surrendered. The women and children were spared, the men put against a wall and shot.

In the village itself, I hear a different story. A man, who doesn't want to be recorded or give his name, thinks hard and stares into the middle distance. He cannot place the name I have mentioned, but his version of events is different. He says the men were given the chance to throw down their weapons and surrender, but they wouldn't do so. He's annoyed he can't place it is who I am talking about. Eventually I realise I am using a surname that wouldn't have been used at the time. "Huseyin son of Huseyin," does ring a bell. "He was very strong. He had a Bren gun. The women had Thompsons."

For Fevzi it was important to go back to the village. Although his father's death was the over-riding narrative of his life, the more normal stories of childhood, like breaking his arm in a fall also left him feeling rootless.

"There were memories of where I fell, where I broke my arm, but this was just memories in the air, I was just a single person with nothing around them. But when I went into the village there was our house, there was my grandmother's house, further down my uncle's, there was the fountain. It was so easy, it was so natural: suddenly the memories started having grounds."

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES

Doctor Andreas Stavrides still feels his memories are ungrounded. I hear his story sitting in his spacious villa in the south of Nicosia. It is very much the family home, the large sitting room lovingly decorated with paintings, the dining room full of portraits of his daughters, wife and son. But he insists this is all just temporary, that his real home is a flat about some shops in the high street of Kyrenia.

Kyrenia, Dr Stavrides' former home
The house is now used as the headquarters of a political party
He was 23, studying to be a paediatrician in London, when the Turkish armed forces came to that part of the island, and his family, like many Greek Cypriot families, fled south. He says he left behind his medical library, his coin and stamp collection, and with them the house where he was brought up.

The doctor shows me an oil painting hanging above the sideboard of the picturesque seafront at Kyrenia, pointing out this and that - where his football club was, where people used to meet.

To add insult to injury, the house is now the headquarters of the party of North Cyprus' president, draped in flags and banners. Its glory has certainly faded. Even in its heyday I can't believe it was half so grand or as comfortable as the doctor's current home. But that of course is not the point.

He says: "Everybody can enjoy Kyrenia except those who are its rightful heirs. I am bitter that I can't show my kids where I grew up and relive my very fond childhood memories. Houses you can replace, but you cannot replace memories."

He won't go back. He concedes he is making a political point. He doesn't think he should have to cross borders and show passports to go to his own home in his own country. But he adds sadly, "I would be overcome, I would die."


Your comments:

As a Tukish cypriot who happens to live in a former Greek Cypriot house and as someone who lost her family in war in 1974,I can totally understand the wounds of both communities. The original Greek Cypriot owners of our house who visited their house after the opening of the border 3 years ago could very well see that we did not choose to live in their house out of our free will and the great tragedy we have been through following the dead of my father. We could equally understand that the house we have dwelled in since 1974 was the focal point of their memories and their past.It is high time the Cypriots need to come to terms with their past.Only then, they can work for a different future.
Ozlem Cem,

My family fled to the South in 1974 when the Turkish troops came to the Island. I was only five years old and naturally can not play back the whole sequence of events; but I can still remember the loud noise of airplanes bombing, women crying and screaming and how scared I was. I remember growing up with the fear that the Turkish army will proceed further to the south and harm us. We lived in tents, we stood in line for food and we had no where to stay for a long period of time. I can go on and on but I do not see any reason. The war experience was so traumatic that became a permanent stain in my memory. War brings out the worst of human nature and people in the 21st century should do what ever it takes to avoid wars. Europe had learnt from its past and had moved on and now is the time for the people of this island to stop crying about their past and start planning a future. They need to stop behaving like little children whining and pointing fingers. The past is over and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. The people of this island need to grow up, act maturely, and build a common future like the rest of the Europe.
Kendeas, Nicosia, Cyprus

The comments made by both of the people involved the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot are very sad and very poignot of the current political climate in Cyprus. The numbers of Greek Cypriots crossing to visit the north has decresed. I feel saddended that the Greek Cypriot doctor will not make the journey and this reinforces the idea in the North that Greek Cypriots do not want to be part of a united Cyprus and they do not want to share any type of governance with us. The only wy we can move forward in Cyprus is to understand and get to know each other.
Derya , Kyrenia CyprusThis just a comment in reply to what Derya wrote. The way the doctor feels is neither complicated nor unfair. Crossing what you say "border" and we "buffer zone" shows the different angle that we view things - I write this in a non-critical way-. Showing your passport in order to see your own house in your own country is something that for the Greek Cypriots is not understandable, one country no restrictions each community trusting the other, right Derya?
Andreas, Lakatamia, Cyprus

A few days ago Turkish Cypriot village was threaten by a Turkish nationalist group that they will be executed if they give information again to the Greek Cypriots about the mass graves. Sevgul Ulutag a Turkish Cypriot journalist also received death threats as she was involved in the research. The South is not better. When I made a documentary about my own people atrocities (I am a Greek Cypriot) against the Turkish Cypriots I have received many death threats by Greek nationalists and was labelled as a traitor by most of my community. It¿s not enough to open mass graves, we must be free to talk about the past if we are going to heal the wounds and move on into a better future.
Tony Angastiniotis, Famagusta

I have read both of the tragic stories. What strikes me is the way these two men approach to their common past. One of them is ready to reconcile with his past no matter how painful it is, hence starting the healing process whileas the other delays confronting his own past for some higher political goals. It is hard to conceive a viable political settlement as long as people continue to put their past to the fridge pending a solution.
Jane Ahmet, London

I was born in Cyprus and am half Cypriot. I think this initiative could be a wonderful step in starting to heal the deep wounds between the two communities in Cyprus. I think another project, that should be running parallel to this UN initiative should be the creation of a "Common History" project: one in which people from both sides of the border could "agree" on a history for one common purpose - forging a common future. I live with the hope that one day, I will be able to visit my grandparents' now-occupied villages, while those in the TRNC could do the same for theirs, and be able to sit down, talking and working together simply on the basis of our common humanity and loss, rather than the common "hate" and resentment we have for eachother.
Zalfa Feghali, Beirut, Lebanon

Possibly unwittingly you convey the impression that Turkish Cypriots lost lives whilst Greek Cypriots lost only property. This was not the case. Both sides still seek missing relatives. Both sides are separated from their ancestral homes. One fact that all British reports on the situation seem to ignore is that whilst property rights of Turkish Cypriots are respected in the Republic of Cyprus those of Greek Cypriots in the north are not. Also a large percentage of the population in the north has no historic tie with any part of the island being comprised of Turks who "immigrated" post 1974.
Linda Stokes, Limassol Cyprus

Even though your reporting is clearly pro Turkish Cypriot ¿ like the vast majority of reports that come out of the UK ¿ at least you have the decency to admit that Greek Cypriots have identical stories, but still you fail to mention that far more Greek Cypriots died or were uprooted as a result of the invasion and 32 year old (and still counting) occupation. In any case, I don¿t think anything will change in Cyprus until everybody starts talking about the common future instead of the divisive past and until all sides come to some realizations: Greek Cypriots have to realize that they have to share the island, Turkish Cypriots have to realize that they are a minority and Turks have to realize that they are occupying EU territory.
Stelios H., Los Angeles, USA

Reports and comments like these need to be shown to the world and in particular Turkey. Many have this misconception that Greek Cypriots don¿t want to unite with the Turkish Cypriots. As stated many times, the Annan Plan favoured one side and this why the Greek Cypriots did not agree with it. Both communities have suffered dearly and not allowing them to unite and solve their problems, in my eyes, is a crime. I ask one question if Turkey is only there to protect the Turkish Cypriots then why aren¿t the Turkish Cypriots governing the occupied side? It seams to me they are now the minority on that side.
Elle, London, UK

It was the Greeks,who started the ethnic cleansing in the first place. and wanted to join with Greece. Why complain now? Please read the history first. By the agreement of 1960, Turkey had every right to intervien. Just read the history of island of Crete and what happened to Turkish residents there, massacred and ethnic cleansed in 19th century. They tried the same thing in Cyprus but this time Greeks could not succeed. Why can't Turks have SELF DETERMINATION??, also take your EU membership and keep it for yourself.
utuk , NewYork

Cyprus desperately needs this'catharsis' or cleansing of past wounds if it is ever to move forward and at least find some kind of peaceful co-operation and co-existence between its people again and the U.N. initiative on missing persons is at least a start.Other countries-Russia is a good example-has not yet managed to do this about it's past and as the saying only too alarmingly proves,persons who don't learn from their history are destined to re-live it!
Martin Standage, Paphos,Cyprus

If both Cypriot communities continue to educate their kids, the future generation, with hatred, denial of existance of other Cypriot community, hostility and politicians of both side continue their hypocracy, Cyprus problem remains there, and not only us now suffer, but our childeren.
Mehmet, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

I visited my mum's house in Lapithos, now Lapte, for the first time a couple of years ago. It was very emotional, but I also felt very uncomfortable. There was a Turkish immigrant family living in the home my mum and her family had grown up in. We couldn't communicate, they only spoke Turkish. The feeling was terrible. I understand that there are many Turkish Cypriots who would have experienced the same emotions as me. It is only when you understand these emotions that people will stop being so flipent with their idea of a workable solution. The Greek Cypriots are being made to seem unreasonable. All they want is a plan that is fair and reprasentative of the population. That is not unreasonable.
Andreas Arakapiotis, London, UK

It saddens me that there is a history such as this between my oldest family members and the Greek Cypriot 'side'. Many of them, like many people living in Cyprus regardless of which side, were not and are not angry people...both Greek and Turkish cypriots were peacefully going about their normal lives. It is wrong for either side to claim any part of the island as 'rightfully theirs', completely wrong.
annon, London

Bad memories are easier to remember and the good ones fade into insignifigance. I will offer no good or bad memories,of which i have many, but say only that if the international community and the powers to be wish a solution for Cyprus, then it has to be fair and respect the rights equally of both sides. No solution favouring one side will be acceptable by the other. That is why the Anan Plan was voted down by the Greek side. Turkish Cypriots can still have a Republic of Cyprus passport, making them EU citizens regardless of where they reside, occupied or free cyprus. That has never been denied to them. We must all forget and forgive, and constant reminders of the past is not helping. If we are going to look to the past then lets try to remember the good times and remind ourserlves that long time ago we all lived together in harmony. Let the lessons of the past guide us in the future.
M. Michael, Dubai, UAE

Thank you Mark Mardell for this sensitive portrayal of the tragedy brought about by politics and war. We lived in Greek Cyprus for five years among Greek and Armenian friends forever scarred by the Turkish invasion and the loss of villages, homes, brothers and fathers. Yes, Turkish Cypriots suffered too. We now live in Istanbul where, as in all schools here and even at my children's International school, the 1974 Turkish "peace keeping" victory in Cyprus is celebrated annually. Turks continue to think the invasion a noble cause.
Elaine, Istanbul, Turkey

I spent a year in the Greek side of Cyprus in 2004/2005, and I discused with Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots about the Cyprus problem. The problem lies in the hands of politicians from both sides and the media in both side. The people are friendly with each other but the media keep reminding them not to forget the past and both keep blaming each other. The younger generations are really cool with each other
George Onmonya Daniel, Abuja, Nigeria

I too am a refugee from Famagusta.I was 13 years old in 1974. My house is occupied by Turkish Cypriots. Good people (my mother said. She had the strength to go knock and wait for someone else to open the door of her own house). I don't have anything against other Cypriots. It is my belief that if we were left alone, Greek/Turkish we would have solved our problems. We are so alike. In looks and in mentality. Politicians keep reminding us of the past. We have to put it behind and make a new start. For as long as we are influenced by our sins of the past we will never make peace.There were loses and cruelty on both sides. I hope one day our children or even grandchildren will live side by side.I visited the north part only once. Back then I felt I wouldn't be in a position to go home, back to Famagusta so I visited Ayios Andreas Monastery and Salamina. Now I feel I must. I should show my sons where I was born.
Maria Mberou, Lemesos-Cyprus

It is sad that Cyprus is divided but that brought peace and satbility into island.
Coskun Akcil,

My father was aCyproit and was born in Yalosa on the north side of the divide i would like to rebuild his mothers house and live in it. Will this ever be posible? I am 60 years old in June 07 one thing i promised my fater was to do this in my life time, ihave visit the village with my wife four time and I'm yet to find the old house, my reletives have visite and gave me photographs they said no one is living in the old house and it is run down.
Andrew Louis Perdicou, Great Yarmouth Norfolk UK

As a Cypriot in Canada what i would like to see is for the Greeks and Turks to leave the island, and leave the Cypriots alone they can find peace among themselfs is the outside friends that always brought the problems
peter, toronto canada

It is a very interesting article which describes what we live now in Cyprus. The main problem today is the huge number of settlers (more than 150.000 persons) which Turkey took to the island in order to change the population of the north part of Cyprus. Even the Turkish Cypriots do not want them there. So, the best solution will be a solution which guarantees all human rights that U.N Chart protects. A solution without Turkish and Greek army, without settlers. All refugees must return to their homes! The Annan Plan was not a solution. It was the first step for the death of the independent Republic of Cyprus - a member of the EU.
Marinos Cleanthous, Nicosia - Cyprus

Another soar that has been festering in Cyprus is to do with the Armenian community, where I grew up. If you talked to some families, they have been dispossessed by the Turks at least three times!. Once from their ancestoral homes in Ottoman Turkey (Cilicia - an Armenian enclave ethnically cleansed in 1915~22), next in Cyprus 1967 and then again in 1974. The gesture of good will and reconcilliation is long overdue from both sides of the Green line. Well done Mark Mardell for bringing this subject to the fore.
Ben Tamizian, Leicester, UK

Why is Cyprus in the EU at all? It is south of Ankara and east of Suez. By this loose definition of Europe, New Zealand could qualify for membership too.
Max, Stratford upon Avon

It's quite devastating to hear that greek cypriots complain about not being able to go back to their homes, but they are the ones who did not vote for the peace!! Now, they have all the support and money from EU whereas the north cypriots have barely nothing.. We are truly put into an unfair situation...
aysem oznel, nicosia cyprus

As a former member of UNFICYP (Canadian Soldier), I served two tours in Cyprus 1970 and 1981. I loved the island for its rich culture and friendly people on both sides. It was such a pleasure to meet the local people on my many visits to various parts of the island. I found both the Greek/Turkish Cypriot people to be a hard working and honest people that just want to live in peace. However, due to politicians on both sides running the show instead of the people, nothing will ever get done and no solution will be put forth without the people vote to end this problem. The average citizen of Cyprus ONLY wants peace and to live in their homeland with dignity.
Peter Palmer, Edmonton, Canada

The truth of the matter is the Greek doctor lost his property in 1974; we lost ours in 1958, when the island was still under British Rule and Mr papadopulos' EOKA was actively trying to remove Trukish Cypriots from their homes! So please don't shed tears about losing your property in 1974, we mourn our dead and the loss of our property! The fact still remains that the Greek Cypriots feel that they somehow had the right to drive us out of our homes! Civilised and EU member? Certainly the latter, doubt very much about the former!
A R Gumush, Lefkosa - North Cyprus

First of all may i say that I agree with Mehmet from Frankfurt comments about stopping to teach the youth to dislike or even hate the other side, as this just fuels the existing fire that has kept both sides apart for the last 32 years. I am a greek cypriot from the south who fortuantely never lost anything, but to those who did on both sides my heart goes out to them. The fact remains though that both sides have made mistakes in the past, but thats what it needs be left at...the past. If we are to move on at all in the right direction we have to accept we cannot change what has already been done. Greeks Cypriots have to come to terms with Cyprus not being "rightfully" just theirs as do Turkish Cypriots need to come to terms with that the invasion did not benefit anyone. Most turksish cypriots left Cyprus due to lack of opportunities, being replaced with Turkish migrants who have no history in cyprus. Any solution will need to involve the people and not just the politicians, and i mean more than a referendum.
Zach Ioannou, Birmingham, UK

One of the most touching and telling stories I have heard is how during the Turkish invasion, Turkish Cypriots put themselves at risk by sheltering Greek Cypriot families to protect them from the atrocities committed by Turkish soldiers. And there are enough tales of Greek and Turkish Cypriots giving the keys of their neighbours for the safe keeping of their homes, mistakenly expecting to return soon. But what concerns me about the BBC article is the impression given that Greek Cypriots are mourning the loss of their homes while Turkish Cypriots mourn the loss of their families. Each community suffered virtually equal losses in the 50s and 60s prior to the Turkish invasion, but in 1974 Greek Cypriot deaths number in the thousands, reportedly up to 6,000.
Chris Evangleou, London, UK

The problem is not between the two comunities but it is one of invasion and occupation by Turkey. When I crossed to occupied Nicosia this year, what I found was not my Turkish Cypriot compatriots but Anatolian Turks that have been imported by Turkey, for cheap labour, and to change the demography of Cyprus. Thus strengthening their political hold, to the detriment of the Turkish Cypriots. It is the Turks, not Turkish Cypriots , that are the stumbling block to the re-unification of the island.
ANDREAS ECONOMOU, LONDON UK

I live in Nicosia and my house is almost next to Dr Stavrides clinic.He is an excellent paediatrician and obviously word of this has also spread to the North, judging by the cars with Turkish cypriot number plates i often see outside his clinic.This epitomizes the contrasts and ironies of the Cyprus problem.In their majority Greek and Turkish Cypriots have no problem getting on with each other but when it comes to reaching a solution the problem is magnified through a the deep waters of a sea of past events, skillfully used by extremists on both sides to maintain the current status quo which i believe suits politicians on both sides.
Andreas Ioannou, Nicosia,Cyprus

A note for A R Gumush. I am from Kaimakli and I lost a member of my family in that year in a drive-by shooting by turkish cypriots against innocent civilians sitting in our vilage's coffee shop. You fail to note that the 1958 intercomunal fighting started after your leader for 40 years bombed the Turkish cultural center in Nicosia and blamed it on the Greek Cypriots. This he admited himself in an interview to chanel 4 in the uk in the 1980's. The greek cyrpiots have managed to change their society to comply whith the european union standards and that is why we joined in 2004. Until the turks manage to do the same I do not see an end to either the division of Cyprus nor to Turkey joining the EU.
Nicolas Kantzilaris, Nicosia Republic of Cyprus




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