Yeraltý Notlarý, 2 Kasým 2004

Sevgül Uludað

 

The story of a shepherd from Sandallaris village…(*)

Sevgul Uludag

One Sunday, instead of making `souflakia` take your family with you to the northern part of our island… Drive all the way to Prastio (Dortyol) from the Nicosia-Famagusta road and then take a left turn towards the three villages, Maratha-Sandallaris (Murataga-Sandallar) and Aloa (Atlilar) …

You might think you are in a film-set, ready to give the word `go` to the cameras… They stand frozen in time with little sign of life – some odd new houses or a greenhouse full of vegetables look like surrealistic pictures on the scene – they simply do not belong here… The main scene is desolation, silence and destruction – ruins, demolished houses and a sense of abandonment is so strong that you travel in time you feel, back to the times of war and destruction, back to human pain we have inflicted on each other, back to the horror of what we were capable of as human beings of doing to each other…

You can look around and try to find people to speak to – they will tell you of stories of the two mass graves where women and children are buried in these three villages…

I went there some time ago to make interviews about these mass graves … I passed Maratha and stopped at Sandallaris to find the 78 year old shepherd of the village, Huseyin Hasan Kuzuli who had hidden his wife and kids and some relatives in a cave to avoid being killed…

He’s an old man and we sit in his yard so that he can tell me his story under the burning sun of Cyprus… It is late afternoon and he’s in a hurry to go and fetch his flock from a nearby field. He lives like in the old days and continues to be a shepherd…

`I don’t care about money or anything` he tells me, `I keep the sheep to keep myself busy, otherwise I might go crazy, sitting and thinking, sitting and thinking…`

He shows me the cave, next to the water depot, hidden from the eyes by a huge fig tree… This cave had two holes where he hid his wife and his four kids, as well as his brother’s wife and eight kids… He hid them all in one hole and he, himself hid in the other hole with a young boy from the village called Kasim…

`Kasim could not find the cave, he was wondering outside… I called out to him and took him to the cave to hide with me…`

This was the 14th of August 1974… A Greek Cypriot armed gang came from Piperisterona to the village… The shepherd’s mother tried to hide elsewhere with another woman, Emin Aba, who had the `bakkalis` (supermarket) of the village. First they crushed the head of Emin Aba and then they started pestering Rahme Hasan, the mother of the shepherd, to show them where the others were hiding… She was frightened out of her wits, after seeing her friend Emin Aba being killed in front of her eyes and didn’t know what to do, where to turn to, how to cry out for help… There was no help of course, these men had guns and they showed her what they could do…

`So my mother came to the cave where we were hiding with an armed Greek Cypriot and started calling the names of her angoni (grandchildren)… If she had not shown them this cave, they would not be able to find it… But my kids were like rabbits, they all came out of the cave after they heard their grandmother calling out to them…`

They saw no danger to come out since it was their grandmother Rahme calling out to them, only to be massacred and buried and burned in a rubbish dump… The women were raped… Heads of some of the kids were cut off… Their hands were tied behind them, when they were found in the mass graves…

`I wanted to get out of the cave but Kasim would not allow me… STAY he said and I stayed, watching what would happen… I lost 60 relatives in the mass killings of Maratha-Sandallaris, including my mother, wife and kids… I saw how they brought the digger to bury the dead… They went to fetch the `shiro` (digger) from Yildirim (Milya)… The owner of the shiro was called `Sh……` They told him `Come and bury them` and he told them, `First you would have to kill me to do that…` He didn’t go… They took his shiro anyway and buried the bodies themselves, then they set fire on them but since the bodies were with a lot of soil, the flames died out… It was the son of P… called K… who buried them… Later that evening, he went with he same shiro to Aloa to bury those they killed from Aloa… I was still hiding in the cave and didn’t know any of this, only saw the shiro passing – all of a sudden the village was full of Greek Cypriot armed men – they were firing their guns, at what, I don’t know… We could not get out of the cave… Later we saw them leaving… Those who committed the crimes left first… They had come from Piperisterona… Later everyone left and then I got out of the cave…`

The shepherd did not know what to do – for days, he searched the wells to find his kids – he didn’t know that they were buried in the rubbish dump… He had only seen the shiro coming and going…

`Many times I thought of committing suicide… At night I would lay sleepless and remember – ah, this was the bed of my son, this was the bed of my daughter… My wife had baked bread the night before the massacre, she had not slept all night long. She was sitting on a chair and thinking, perhaps she had a sense of what was coming? Later until morning she baked the bread and they came out fresh from the oven – they never had the chance to eat that bread… I loved her… Later, when I went to weddings I felt so lonely – everyone had their kids with them and were happy, continuing their lives… Who knows what you suffer? Many times I went to a well to jump in and drown and die… But I thought what if there isn’t enough water in the well and I don’t die and no one can find me? If we had done something to deserve this, I would understand… My daughter was married in Lapatoz (Bogazichi) – we did not know that the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot muhtars (local administrators) of Lapatoz had made an agreement not to allow anyone to hurt each other. If we knew, we would have gone to Lapatoz all together to escape these massacres… Same thing happened in Yenagra (Nergisli) – they protected each other and no one got hurt there either…

After the borders opened, many times they wanted to take me to the south… Leave me alone, I told everyone, you just leave me alone… Let us forget, they told me… Why should I forget? I never went to the south… When I think about what happened, my hair stands, I don’t like it… If you want to trust them, go ahead but not me…`

I can understand his pain and suffering, the desperation and the silent shout – the scream of these villages… It takes me 48 hours to come to myself … Why do you do this you might ask and I would say, to find out what actually happened in this country to our people, whether they are Turkish Cypriots or Greek Cypriots or from whatever ethnic background they were coming from… To learn and understand who did what so that perhaps we can find ways of avoiding it in the future…

(*) Article published in ALITHIA newspaper on the 31st of October 2004.

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