Yeraltý Notlarý, 29 Mart 2004

Sevgül Uludað

 

`The oysters which lost their pearl…` (*)

Sevgul Uludag

Kutlay was a kid of maybe 10-11 when his father `disappeared` from the Nicosia General Hospital one day at the end of December 1963.

His father was a guardian at the Central Prison in Nicosia. He had had a heart attack on the 21st of December 1963 and was hospitalized at the Nicosia General Hospital. It was a date when tension was being built up among the two communities and when his family visited him at the hospital, he told them `Don’t come again, the streets are getting too dangerous… Go back and stay at home… I’ll come in a few days when they let me go…`

Kutlay was a kid of maybe 10-11 and he was the only `man` in the house. His elder brothers had been called to `military duty` in the mountains after the `intercommunal conflict` began. Only his mother and his sister were at home… So when exchange of `prisoners of war` was taking place, it was Kutlay who went to the Kyrenia Gate to greet his father… His mother and sister would stay at home and clean the house, cook something nice for the father who would return, iron his clothes and get everything ready for his coming back.

As a kid, Kutlay didn’t want to be crushed by the excited crowd who were all waiting for their loved ones to come. Buses or trucks would come from time to time to bring back Turkish Cypriot `prisoners of war`… He would go at the Kyrenia Gate on the Venetian Walls to see things better and wait for his father to take him back home…

He would look at the men getting off the trucks…

`Maybe the next one is my father… Next…`

He would see all the `prisoners of war` and when his father would not get out of the trucks, he would feel heart-broken…

The elder people around him would say,

`Don’t worry, there will be other trucks coming next days… Your father will definitely be in one of these…`

The 10-11 year old kid would start heading back home: How will he tell his mother and sister? When he would think all the preparations made at home for his father’s coming back, he would feel almost desperate… How would he say to his mother, `No mother, my father didn’t come out of one of the trucks… They said maybe next time…`

This was an inhuman burden for the heart of a child but he carried it since he had no way out…

Once he went with a bicycle to greet his father. He just learnt how to ride the bicycle. He brought to the Kyrenia Gate, his father’s bicycle and waited for him… His father would be proud of him when he saw that he could ride a bike! But alas! He returned home alone, to the tears and cries of his mother: his father, never came back… He was one of the `Missing`…He had been taken from the Nicosia General Hospital by some fanatic Greek Cypriots from EOKA and no one ever saw him again…

Kutlay Erk is just one of the children of the `Missing persons`… He is now the Turkish Cypriot mayor in the northern part of the divided Nicosia… Perhaps he still carries these wounds from his childhood… He told me of the hopes of his mother even after many years of his father `missing`… She would still make plans that he would somehow one day come back. When she died a few years back, Kutlay also had an empty grave for his father next to his mother in the graveyard. He plans to get back the remains of his father to bury in this grave. Only then perhaps, his heart would find peace at last…

These were difficult interviews for me… I experienced the horror and the sadness of the children of `missing persons` while making the interviews… For weeks I could not smile… I called the series `The oysters which lost their pearl…`

The `missing` of the Turkish Cypriots had been turned into a `taboo` subject. No one spoke of the `missing`. It was not `politicized` like it is in the Greek Cypriot community. Kutlay told me the reason behind this: perhaps the Turkish side did not want a `fuss` about the issue because the Greek Cypriot side were counting some of those killed in the coup as `missing` and a second reason could be that, the Turkish side did not want be identified with the graves of the Greek Cypriot missing and held responsible for it. So this was an issue kept `in the dark` for many years… Finding people and having them speak in order to break down this `taboo` proved to be very difficult. It was the first time that a series of interviews with the children or relatives of the missing were being done in the Turkish Cypriot media.

I realized the hope of the kids, wives or brothers or sisters of the `missing persons` - even if your mind told you `No, they are dead… They must have been killed and buried somewhere`, your heart would refuse to accept this… There was this crazy hope that somehow, one day, the `missing person` would return. I thought of this a lot: why this crazy hope of the heart, after so many years? Perhaps it was because of our cultural rituals about those who die: unless you dig a grave and actually bury them and put some soil over the dead body, it is very difficult to accept that, that person is no longer alive. In the cultural rituals concerning the dead in both communities, we need `graves` to go back to, to remember the one we have buried, to put flowers, to have some form of communication, perhaps most of all to console our heart in our mourning… So these rituals, when not practiced were stopping the children and families of the missing from believing that their loved ones were dead and buried somewhere…

Later I met some Greek Cypriots whose families were missing. One of my closest friend’s `in-laws` were `missing`. I tried to understand the feelings of the husband of my friend Katie Economidou: Panicos did not speak about the subject. But I could see the enormous pain he was in… He had lost part of the human joy that we all need to survive on this earth… He had lost something very precious that none of us could retrieve for him: he was like an oyster with a missing pearl… His whole family was `missing`…

I learnt the tragic story of the Judge Hadjinikolaou. He was from Yialousa village (now called Yeni Erenkoy). 1974 August caught him there… He was sitting in the village café one night when a military jeep came and took him together with 6 other civilian Greek Cypriots – some of them art students studying in Greece and for summer holidays here – to an unknown destiny. I met his son, Spiros and later his wife… His wife was carrying in her bag, after so many years, articles written about him, his photos and showed these to me… We spent some time with Spiros to see if anything could be done… In fact, nothing could be done at the moment: you needed conditions of democracy and respect of human rights in order to deal with the issue. When I wrote an article about the children of the `missing` I got calls, telling me stories I never heard before, places, names, graves… Stories of the murders and murderers… More and more, I started carrying the inhuman burden of the missing civilians from both communities… It broke my heart even though my sadness could never be compared with the pain of the families and kids of the `missing`…

In fact, if we were more open towards each other, if we had considered Cyprus as a whole we could have done a lot about the `missing`. The information about the Greek Cypriot `missing` would be on the Turkish Cypriot side and about the Turkish Cypriot `missing` on the Greek Cypriot side… If we could dare to cooperate as Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot journalists, we could have handled the subject as one, not as `your missing`, `my missing` but as `our missing persons`… We could paint the human portraits of some of the `missing` in each other’s media and ask for information. Cyprus is such a small island… People have seen a lot, experienced a lot, know a lot even though it is not written. All this information could come out: names, dates, events…We could see, even under these conditions, what could be done… We could think together and act together.

But alas! We are each happy with the sound of our own voice! We haven’t learnt yet that the pain and inhumanity of the conflict is the same for all of us, whether we are Turkish Cypriots or Greek Cypriots…

Panicos Hrisantou, the film director, once said to me in an interview about his life:

`If we want to bring peace to this island, we must look at the destruction… We must start from the pain, if we want to solve the Cyprus problem…` He was talking of Ayios Sozomenios, where he had done a movie and he was thinking: `This is who we are… This is our history… We can’t close our eyes to the inhuman destruction… We must deal with it…`

Unless we acknowledge what we’ve done to each other, mourn together for what happened and close these wounds together, we might not be able to move to a peaceful future together. Because always the pearls of our oysters would be `missing`…

(*) Article published in ALITHIA newspaper on the 28th of March, 2004 – Sunday.

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