Yeraltý Notlarý, 04 Mayýs 2008
The woman who lost her smile and her tears…
Stella is frozen in time: No one has ever seen her smile or cry in public since the terrible trauma she had to go through in 1974. She looks at me, as though frozen. Her sister Noulla tells me that no one has ever seen her cry or laugh since 1974… Behind this frozen face lies a broken heart and deep wounds. Stella could not smile, nor could she cry. She just looked around her without any expression. She had a fantastic life and the war in 1974 destroyed her whole life…
I go to see her in Latsia in those tiny houses built for the refugees of 74.
Having lost her husband, her house, her land, never having worked throughout her life, after 74 she had to find a way to survive with her two very young children. She had to find a job like cleaning and work and struggle to survive. She had to raise her children alone… In this process she had lost her laughter, her beautiful smile and her tears… Even her sister Noulla had not seen her smile or cry after 74. The shame called the `Cyprus conflict` had turned her into stone on the outside but inside her, who knows what sort of thunders raged?
Her house in Latsia is a `typical` house of the wife of a `missing` person: Everything is very clean and very tidy. All women who have `missing` husbands are like that and their ethnicity does not matter. Whether they are Turkish Cypriot or Greek Cypriot, the house remains the same: The house waits with all its furniture, with all its spic and span clean carpets and curtains… The house waits for a knock on the door that never comes and years pass by like that and even if no one cares about this torturous and painful waiting, the wives continue to wait. Here logic is in a way, gone away. It is the heart that speaks, the heart that does not listen to `reason`, the heart that beats for the day he would return… No matter how `illogical` it might seem to you, deep down, an overwhelming majority of the wives of the `missing` never stop waiting and hoping… They keep their houses clean and shiny, they stock things that their husbands used to like and they interpret things in a way, normally we would not. In Ayios Epichtitos (Catalkeuy), I had met the wife of a `missing` person and she told me that sometimes a butterfly comes at night and she thinks this is a messenger from her husband…
Stella Georgiou was coming from a family who had 3 children. She was born in 1951. Her father was Ptolemis Libertos and her mother Eleni. She was the `middle one` of the three children. Both her parents were from Voni. Her mother’s father Stillis was a shoe repairer. He used to go from time to time to Ebiho (Abohor/Cihangir) and work there. Her mother’s mother was called Fotu…
Stella’s father was a farmer and he had animals. They had cows and sheep, orange and lemon groves, olive trees and fields. They would also plant wheat. Eleni would help her husband collect olives and lemons, in the fields and in taking care of the animals.
Voni was not a mixed village. Here lived around 500 Greek Cypriots. Voni (now it is called Gokhan and is a military village where civilians cannot enter) was very close to Ebiho (Abohor/Cihangir) and Beykeuy. There were a few Turkish Cypriot families living between Trachoni (now called Demirhan) and Voni. This area was called `Chiftlik`. Those Turkish Cypriots who lived in the `Chiftlik` had to pass from Voni in order to go to Ebiho. There were no coffee-shops or markets in the Chiftlik, therefore they would do their shopping in Voni and come to the village coffee shop. According to Noulla, Turkish Cypriots from Ebiho and Beykeuy would also come to Voni to go to the coffee-shop or to shop from the markets.
Stella’s auntie Niki did not have children so Stella, since very early ages, started staying in her auntie’s house. They had a good life in Voni and her auntie had plans for Stella. Her auntie was like her mother… She had adopted Stella and would build a house for her and get her married. `You don’t need to study` her auntie might have told her. Her auntie wanted Stella to get married and have children…
Stella in fact got married with the son of Papakonstantinu who was living next door. The grandfather of Yorgos was the papaz of the Voni church and his father was in the church chorus. They would call his father `Costis tu Papa` because he was the son of the papaz. Yorgos was the eldest of the 10 children in the family. The Papakonstantinu family was a very happy and joyful family – ten children in all and Stella’s auntie loved them because she did not have any children, she loved them as her own. Yorgos too, liked to have fun, to dance and to entertain his friends…
The house of Yorgos and Stella was next to the church in Voni… Yorgos was in the construction field and he had a partner – they used to work more in Nicosia.
Stella, had two children – a boy and a girl. Costas and Christalla… What else could she want in those days?
But war came and the war would steal her smile and her tears. The war would be such a shock for Stella that she would only remain alive because of her young children.
Stella’s husband Yorgos was called to the army in 74. He was sent to Kyrenia… Stella remembers that after the 20th of July the Turkish Cypriots of Ebiho had left their village and some Greek Cypriots from Voni went to rob the houses of Turkish Cypriots there. On the 15th of August 1974, Yorgos was in Kornokibos (now called Gornech). This was a village near Chaos (Chatoz – now called Serdarli). Since Yorgos was at Kornokibos, he would come from time to time to his house in Voni. Stella tells her story:
`He would come with a military car to Voni. The last time he came to our house was on the 12th of August. He took a banyo, took some bread with him and went back to Kornokibos. I was three months pregnant to our third child and my husband knew this and this made him very happy. Yorgos had a lot of friends, he liked to invite them home and eat and drink with them. He was a very good hunter and when he went hunting, he always brought lots of things home.
Very few Turkish Cypriots remained at Kornokibos because most of the Turkish Cypriots had left the village. The last time I saw Yorgos on the 12th of August, he told me that he was bringing some vegetables and bread for the Turkish Cypriots – they were eating these together. `Maybe this will be the last time I will go to Kornokibos` he told me. `Because I believe that the war is over…` There was a Turkish Cypriot there who used to get along fine with the Greek Cypriot soldiers. They used to call him `Anemohodjas`. He was a butcher – he also used to go round the villages to buy animals. He had two brothers and both of them were soldiers in those days. Anemohodjas was from Kornokibos. I think he was married to the daughter of Dervishis from the Chiftlik. Our mothers, when we were afraid of something, would bring us to the mother of Dervishis in the Chiftlik and she would do this ceremony to take out our fear! She would melt some lead and pour it in cold water over the head of a sick person! In those days, this was supposed to be the `remedy` for taking out the `fear` from the children! Anemohodjas was very friendly; he had good relations in our village too.
On the 14th of August we left the village. I had taken my husband’s car and left. Every summer we would rent a summer house at the Pente Mili and because we would go there every weekend, there was always a suitcase with our clothes in it, ready… I took my children, my mother and my auntie Nicky and left the village. I did not have a driving license and didn’t know how to drive properly – I didn’t know how to use the gears. I only knew how to use the first and the second gear! The children were crying in the car and using only the first and second gear, I went up to Angastina (now called Aslankeuy). This was a village about 8 miles away. The children kept on crying… I was terrified because war planes were flying above us and because of all this noise and chaos I went and fell into a ditch! I could not take out the car from the ditch!
Here we came across the godfather of my husband – he had a bus and he took us with him to bring us to the British bases. As soon as we had left, a bomb had fallen where we had been at Angastina! Everyone was on the road, everyone was trying to escape…
I didn’t realize I was leaving my house for good… I was terrified! On the one hand, planes were flying over us; on the other I was seeing the tanks! There were Greek Cypriot tanks behind us, they too were leaving. Due to the bombings, there were fires all over the place… It was August, very hot and the fires continued to burn… People were terrified and were shouting and crying… Those who could escape were trying to escape; those who remind behind would be wounded or killed. We reached Dhekelia and stayed there for a night and then went on to Xilofagu. Here, we found a half-construction – the place did not have a door or windows. We started living there. I was living there with my mother, with my auntie Niki, my father and mother-in-law and their small children. Here we stayed for two months. We had put some blankets on the floor and would sleep there. The neighbours around us would give us sardella or corned beef. We had no cooking utensils but the neighbours were helping us. After some time the government started distributing flour so this way, we could start cooking bread. The people of Xilofagu really helped a lot the refugees. All this while, there was no news of my husband.`
They had an auntie called Yasemya tou Liberto who had remained in the village, in an enclave. And until she got back, Stella would not receive any news from her husband. Yasemya did not want to leave the village because they had a brother who came from America, called Christodulos Libertos and she was trying to find out what had happened to him. She had the chance to leave but she did not.
Noulla tells the story she had heard from her auntie Yasemyas:
`On the 15th or 16th of August, some Turkish Cypriots came to Voni. They were not from the army; they were some people from Ebiho. It was not the Turkish army; it was a few Turkish Cypriots from Ebiho. Frosso Dimou knows who they are. One of them, H., had gone to the house of my auntie Yasemyas. He was from Ebiho. A week before he had gone to make a quilt for my auntie and my auntie had cooked lunch and they had eaten together. But on the 15th or 16th of August, when some people came to Voni from Ebiho, H. was amongst them. He went up to my auntie Yasemyas and asked for money. `Shame on you!` my auntie had told him. These Turkish Cypriots went round each house, collecting the men. They brought them to Ebiho. According to my auntie Yasemyas, they shot some of the old ones, who could not walk. My auntie Yasemyas and Frosso saw these. Our uncle Christodoulos Libertos too, was taken by force to Ebiho. There were also some Greek Cypriot soldiers who were coming from Mia Milya (now called Haspolat) – they were retreating and had gone to the house of Frosso. They were around 45 persons. They too were taken to Ebiho. On the same day, they had collected all to the church. Since the church in our village was very big, they were also bringing Greek Cypriots from Kythrea (now called Degirmenlik) and Neachorgo (Minarelikeuy) there.
Those who had no car or who had no transport to get away and some old persons had remained in Voni.
After some time they put the women in the school and the men in the church. And they would take a few of them out and shoot. They lived there for about three months…`
`After two months in Xylofagu, we went to Kalavasos – we had hired a house there. The house was crowded… In order to find out what had happened to my husband, I was trying to get the butchers who knew Anemohodjas to contact him. But we could not find any information. I used to go to Ledra Palace and to Pyla – maybe I would find some Turkish Cypriots to find if they knew anything… This continued for a few years. After our auntie Yasemyas came back from Voni, she told us what they had gone through. One day, a person came and called her to go behind the church. He was an old barber, I think from Kornokibos. He told Yasemyas, `I saw them in Kornokibos…`
`They were three persons, one of them Yorgos together with Andreas Stavraki from our village and the other one called Pantelis from Trachoni. He had been the owner of the coffee-shop near the old train station. This old barber had found these three in front of the coffee-shop at a very early hour one morning. `Where were you all this time?` he had asked them and they told him `We were in the mountains, now we want to give ourselves in…` So the man had called the police and they had turned themselves in… And then no more news from them…`
The family lived for three years at the house they had rented in Kalavasos. Stella gave birth to Charoulla on the 10th of February, 1975. Charulla never saw her father…
`Our brother was staying with me so their uncle was like a father to them. When Charulla started the crèche, I asked for a job there and worked in the crèche for 7 years, later I started working at the CYTA…`
I ask Noulla, `Doesn’t Stella ever smile?`
`Very rarely… She never smiles, never cries in front of anyone. No one saw her crying… Since her husband went `missing`, she is like that… When you look at me, you would understand if I am happy or not but with her, you can’t tell…`
What do the readers of YENIDUZEN say about Voni and Kornokibos?
Various readers of the series `Cyprus: The Untold Stories` of Sevgul Uludag published every day in YENIDUZEN newspaper, called her to tell about Voni and Kornokibos … The information they gave:
*** `The persons who took the 45 soldiers from Frosso Dimou’s house were not from Ebiho but from Beykeuy. One of them was the commander and he is still alive.
*** People from Voni were killed in various ways. Some of them were killed in the camp. Some of them were shot outside Beykeuy and were buried inside the Neolithic graves. One of them went to Ebiho, wounde and he was shot under the electric post and burned and buried there. Some bodies are thought to be in the garbage dump of Ebiho.
*** In Kornokibos more than 20 Greek Cypriots were arrested. They were shot and buried. First, Kornokibos s had come under the control of Greek Cypriots army. Later, when the village was again under the control of the Turkish, this happened. What’s interesting is that some Turkish Cypriots from Kornokibos killing the Greek Cypriots that they knew.
At one point years ago, all of these bones were brought out from the mass grave they were in and were brought to a stone mill and destroyed…`
Where are they now?
The Missing Persons Committee, during the process of digging had dug a place in Beykeuy and found around 22-23 bodies. These are thought to be part of the group arrested in Voni. One person who had gone to Ebiho, a Greek Cypriot soldier, was also found in Ebiho. The rest of the group is thought to be buried in the ancient caves around Ebiho-Voni but despite repeated calls, no one came to identify where the mass burial site might be.
Some old persons who had died in the camp with natural causes – maybe 4 or 5 persons – are buried behind the school. And the 6 or 7 persons who were shot in the camp are buried near the church. But no digging has been done inside Voni, since this is a military village.