Yeraltý Notlarý, 3 Aðustos 2004
The human tragedies of our island (*)Sevgul Uludag
The life of Sevilay Berk, the eldest of five brothers and sisters, reflects the tragedy some of us have gone through in this small island called Cyprus.
Sevilay’s family used to live in the village Bahcheler (Pervolia) close to Yeni Iskele (Trikomo)… Sevilay’s mother Shefika Ali used to work in the citrus gardens they owned and milk the cows they had while her father Huseyin Ahmet Kamber, who was also known as `Sutchu` (Milkman) would market these products… They lead a quiet and happy life, the life of many of us before the so-called `intercommunal troubles` began… Shefika and Huseyin had five kids, Sevilay being the eldest daughter. She would help her mother in the gardens to collect fruit or take care of the cows…
On the 11th of May, 1964 her father Huseyin went to Famagusta as he did always but that day the son of an MP, Pandelis was shot after trying to enter Famagusta. Therefore there was tension in the air… Having brought his products to Famagusta Sevilay’s father returned to the village, only to remember that he had to collect a neighbour from her children’s house but had totally forgotten.
`I forgot to pick up Zekiye!` he said…
His wife took the keys of his car and hid them…
`You must not go again! You, yourself said the roads are full of Greek Cypriot soldiers! What if something happens to you?`
`No! We promised her! She will wait for us… I must go and bring her to the village from Famagusta…`
His wife Shefika, proceeded to take out the air from the tyres of his car – a Hillmann, only to be stopped by her husband… He had found the keys she had hidden:
`Come on! You also come with me! We go and take madam Zekiye and come back! If anything happens neither you nor I will be alone! We will be together!`
So off they went, only to find chaos in Famagusta… The Turkish Cypriot soldiers warned them:
`Don’t go back to your village! You will never reach it! There’s too much tension! You might never get back to Bahcheler (Pervolia)…`
It was the Mother’s Day… Sevilay, with her three other sisters and a brother waited at home… Her mother and father did not come back… At night she had a nightmare – in her dream her house was burning, she was losing everything… She was about 15-16 at that time and she realized, through the dream that something terrible would happen…
`I did not tell anything to my siblings… I waited for my mother and father to return… Soon my uncle came and said they would not return… Greek Cypriots had taken them and maybe killed them… A lot of Turkish Cypriots went MISSING that day…`
Sevilay was desolate – what to do to survive with her siblings?
`Life was continuing… We had to take care of our gardens, of the cows…`
The youngest of the siblings was only 2 years then… They had to take care of each other, try to live but life was getting more and more difficult in Bahcheler (Pervolia). One of her cousins from the village of Kurtulush, after three months of Sevilay’s father and mother disappearing, came to take her and her brother and sisters to his village.
`We lived there three months and later moved to Famagusta, to my aunt’s house, leaving one sister in Kurtulush to take care of our animals… I wanted to continue my education despite the protest from our relatives. This was our future… I enrolled all my siblings back in school. We were getting a minimal amount of aid from the social services department. In the summer we would rent a room and live in that room. I sold the cows… But in the end we all got education… I started working in the radio, my brother graduated from the university in Izmir. The youngest sister got education on optics in London – we had given her to a family living in Pyla who considered us also as family… I worked in the radio for ten years, then decided to open a shop and work in the private sector. For 39 years there was no news about my parents… We would ask the Turkish Cypriot Committee on the Missing and they would tell us ‘Forget them’…`
This changed when the `border` opened on the 23rd of April 2003. Sevilay’s family started making inquiries in the south to see if they could come across any sort of information about the whereabouts of her parents. One day, they met a Greek Cypriot named Tassos who had crossed to the north and was looking for a restaurant to eat something. Sevilay’s husband Mustafa took him to one nearby. Later, meeting Sevilay, Tassos said:
`Did these troubles affect you? Did you loose anything?`
Sevilay said, `Yes… I lost both my mother and father… They are missing…`
`And you have no information?`
`Let me try to find out what happened to them…`
Tassos made an appointment for Sevilay and her family with the Greek Cypriot Missing Persons Committee, where she found out that her parents were buried in a well in the area of Boghazi after Trikomo. They rushed to find the well. They were told in the north that since this was a mass grave where there were Turkish Cypriot missing, they should not touch it. But some days later in May this year, someone building villas in that area decided to open the well. He had realized that the reason behind him not getting permission to build there was the presence of the well… Therefore he would try to destroy it, in order to get permission for building. Sevilay’s family rushed to the well to find it open. They found some bones and later tests showed that these were in fact bones of human beings. The owner of the construction gave the bones from the well to the police. Sevilay is still trying to get hold on to the bones of her beloved parents…
Sevilay’s tragedy is just a reflection of the tragedies we went through on this island… She does not hold any feelings of enmity towards Greek Cypriots. In fact she speaks of their relations in the village Bahcheler warmly:
`We used to sell our products to Greek Cypriots in Trikomo… We had good relations. Even though I lost my parents, I don’t hold this against them…`
Her story is not any different from that of Maria Georgiades… Her mother, father, sister and brother are missing from Kythrea. About ten days ago we went to Kythrea with her, to try to find any information we could. We went to Neachorgo (Minarelikoy), Kythrea (Degirmenlik) and Beykoy… In Beykoy we sat down in a halloumi factory to speak with Ismet and his family, who had known them to see if he could remember anything. We went to find her house in Kythrea, to speak with the Kurdish guy living there, to try to find out if he remembers where the vine tree and the fig tree were. Someone from Kythrea had said that Maria’s father, mother and sister were killed in their house by Turkish soldiers and buried near the house, under the vine tree. The Kurdish guy, who had come to Cyprus with his parents when he was twelve remembered the vine tree… Maria wants to go there again, to bring some olive leaves and burn them, hoping to get back the bones of her family, to give them a proper burial… Nothing was known about the whereabouts her brother Stelios… The wife of Stelios, Xenia was with us that day and you can see the pain and the tragedy imprinted in her eyes – even when she smiles, the human pain of not knowing what happened to her beloved husband remains…
Just as nationalism presumes and demands a fundamental sameness and homogeneity, life itself shows us that whatever language you speak or whichever ethnicity you come from, when it comes to human tragedy, whether you were living in Bosnia, El Salvador, Palestine or Kosovo, whether you were from Kythrea or Pervolia, the crimes committed in the name of nationalism against civilians are the same… Whether you were speaking Spanish or Arabic or Greek or Turkish, the civilians could not escape the atrocities committed against humanity…
July and August are months of remembering these – perhaps we can dream of communities where we can replace nationalism with a vision of humanity where no matter what color your hair or skin is, no matter what language you speak, no matter what you believe in, you would not go `missing` for just being who you are…
(*) Article published in ALITHIA newspaper on the 1st of August, 2004.