BEING A POET IN CYPRUS: THE DEPRIVED LAND

I picked up the pen and that night there was an earthquake. I was startled and shivering, thinking about the past. I was reminded of similar occasions, like the continually extending links of a chain. Suddenly I found myself back on the swings of my childhood. When creative writing is mentioned my fantasýes are immediately drawn to the past. I find myself struggling with these childhood memories. The results of those disturbing days pass before my eyes as if on a reel of film. I still feel the suffering of spending a childhood dominated by an alien society. Shouldn't there be even a little happiness in childhood?

I think l'm the only person who doesn't want to remember his own childhood. Perhaps we need to discover the roots of this personal disiliusionment. i was caught between a patriarchal family, and a social hierarchy created by a chosen few. Because of the confusion of my inner conflicts even today I cannot make sound judgements. Is it easy to carry the heavy burden of such memories?

On the one hand the decisions which stem from one all-powerful mind, on the other hand the hard years of education based on violence. In those days the privileged children of the village community leader were protected by their teachers. They could do no wrong. These children were aware of their special position and took every opportunity to exploit this. The rest of us, with timid, fear-filied eyes, were all punished. I used to watch these friends and it was as if I had been conditioned. In reality, I was no angel myself and had a good share of beatings everyday. When I was beaten, after school I would follow the course of the stream which ran straight to my village, past the barley fields. The flowing waters shared my sorrow and took me on a day-dream journey - I saw myself caught in the sweeping twigs and leaves lashing the river bank. In my mind I equated the injustice I had endured with these twigs and leaves, drifting aimlessly. With each lash against the river bank I was reminded of each slap I had received.

I have often wondered who was to blame. Was it the restless flow of the water, or the things floating on it? However, I have never come to a conclusion. The only thing I have been able to do is to tell my riddles and poems to the jostling twigs and the murmuring water. In this way I would soothe the pain of all unjustly treated people. Later, I also started to write stories and poems. Once, my mother heard me telling a story aloud, and was frightened. As soon as my father came home from work, she told him all about it. She was worried that I was going mad, First I was closely questioned, then they told everything to my teacher. These interrogations infuriated me, so I decided to write everything instead of thinking aloud. I was afraid of being accused of being a madman, so I decided to keep my writing secret.

When I was happy, there was no one to share my happiness. In those times, i used to write my poems and short stories. I would fling myself out to see the winking stars in the rich blue Mediterranean sky. As i blinked my eyes at the stars, 1 would read what I had written to them. After a while my mother realised what was going on and told my father. They decided that I really was mad and precautions were taken. They even forbade my going out alone. But, the more they put pressure on me, the more I wrote. I used to hide everything in a rucksack, for fear of being branded a lunatic.

Day by day, my writing increased. One day, as I was reading some of my work, I had a sudden fear of being caught. So I tore up everything and threw it away. From them on i hid nothing. After writing anything, I would tear it up and throw it away. This went on for many years. I used to write about everything I saw and experienced, but never had the courage to bring it out into the daylight.

When I started high school, problems between the two communities had begun. A feeling of suspicion was soon followed by a feeling of fear. As the tension grew, poems full of bloodshed were written. Fear and violence affected people severely, but language also suffered. Some words became taboo. Even in speaking, you had to be courageous.

As long as social concepts were distorted, people continued to demonstrate in the streets. After that time Cyprus was the world to Cypriots and the hub of the world was the meeting centre of Lefkosa.

Artistic creations were generated in parallel with what was experienced. Militaristic poems were encouraged. Unfortunately poets wrote poems full of violence and terror in the name of art. In educational institutions the main subject of poetry was blood. The more militaristic poems were read, the more they were written. Those who didn't write nationalistic poems were not accepted as poets. Those who tried to write from the point of view of social concepts, didn't give up but they didn't create enough. Some of them even had to escape to other countries. Those who didn't escape wrote about love or abstract ideas.

People started to live with fear, suspicion and terror, and as these increased, they became used to them.

Because of the ineffective dynamics of the society, individual progress became more hesitant. Then, rumours about peace started to spread. After some time the British left the island and we were all shocked. In our minds we kept on spelling the word P-E- A-C-E. But unfortunately we were unable to express all these bitter memories through literature. At that time we couldn't even express our own thoughts and feelings properly.

We will never know if the suspicion, fear and violence blinded our ability to write. As we all know gossip has a considerable effect on people in traditional societies. As a result of thýs you can suddenly find yourseif isolated. Therefore, I tried not to deal with issues that might have worried my parents.

i kept on writing and destroying what I had produced. From what I wrote at that time the only verses I remember are:

Even the soil has absorbed the people's rage
Were these the last thoughts of the beheaded?
Even the soil has embraced woman 's impetus for life
Aphrodite, in her poems, no longer purifies her baths

When people heard that peace had come they were amazed, but they were shocked when they heard of the establishment of the Republic.

People who didn't trust each other were forced together in a partnership. As soon as the "hangover" passed, old quarrels returned to prominence. The following anonymous line became a cliche for militarist writers:

On the one hand;
"Killing a thousand Greeks won't pay a single debt from
the past"

On the other hand;
"The best Turk is a dead Turk"

In my opinion, poets of the two societies who co-operated in the past did not or could not fulfil their obligations to the full extent. On the evening of December 21 st 1963, The Republic began crumbling and finally collapsed later that night. The experience of those days I expressed in the following way:

December 21st was a cold day
A steel blade of fear was cutting me inside
The rifles held their breath
Night was bleeding through the darkness
Blood oozed slowly onto the earth,
Leaked into the bread and
Into the wine
Hands were bloodied
Minds were drenched with blood

First it was hot, got cooler slowly
Then suddenly it became very cold
Icing up the veins.

The tragedy continued. I didn't want to be merely an observer. I wanted to help to heal my country's wounds. The only remedy I could provide was through my pen. Unfortunately everything happened unpredictably.

I was a youth then and everyone had to join the army. A gun was placed into my hands. We could not escape, we were trapped by the sea. Like everybody else I was also pushed into a passive situation. From that time on, I lived on the mountains waking and sleeping with my gun.

When there are wars, words become weary. In the hands of unskilled people, they disintegrate. However, dogmatism attracts unnecessary meanings to aword. Because of this, it loses its actual meaning. It does not make sense anymore. Also some concepts become 'persona non grata', that is to say, something to be afraid of. Yet words are for communication.

During the years of war, many aspects of society changed, for example, civilian associations began wearing uniforms, as happened in Europe during the second world war. After 1974 Cyprus was literally divided into two, according to mother tongue and religion.

In short, all the events, either negative or positive, have had radical effects in the last half century. As a result of the last war, all the structures and institutions of the society have been levelled, and decadent values have become widespread. This decadence has extended to artistic creation. Bloodthirsty triumphalist folk songs are sung again in the name of heroism. Even laments for the death of soldiers are sung with the words of victorious folk songs.

The word "I" is all-pervasive. Respect for society and for each other has been crippled. The power of certain individuals has increased, as always happens before and after wars. However, some individuals have been alienated or even cast out. When I see these outcasts, I picture myself by the stream where I spent my childhood. But I cannot just stand by and watch. A feeling surges up in me against this injustice. But there is nothing to be done. Society is already set in a new pattern. The influx of new immigrants has flooded the labour market. Consequently, the native population have found themselves without work and consuming rather than producing.

I rose up against this decline. I wrote in various newspapers and magazines. I published poems. A handful of writers were the only people who said "stop" to the degeneration of the country. We worked very hard. Some despaired and left the island, they went to different countries looking for a new life. The others, loyal to their love of the country, stayed and continue the fight. Have we succeeded? I have some doubts. Materialistic values have become more important than human values. Can a society where property is more important than people be called SANE? In such a society, the value of art is self-evident.

Political pressure exerted during the periods of war or peace hasn't been able to break our resistance or to cause art to lose its appeal to us. The reactions against the impositions and warnings of the ruling classes of both societies became inaudible. A lot of people have tried hard to create a society of like-minded and uniform individuals. And they have been successful. One good example of this: people are not tolerant of the criticism of certain concepts. I think this explains why people like us, who produce contemporary works of art are not appreciated well enough by society. Cypriot culture, developed over the years and smelling of Mediterranean wisdom, has now been replaced by materialistic values, and militarism. Discrimination and cruelty have reached their peaks. Co-operation has disappeared. Common values have disintegrated. Art has fallen into disgrace.

At poetry evenings, the poets outnumber the audience. I don't say this out of pessimism. If I were pessimistic I wouldn't continue writing: I would break my pen and withdraw. But i must not do this. Similar situations can be found throughout history. The same thing happened in many European countries before World War II. Creative artists nourished again as soon as they had suitable conditions and restored diversity to the culture. But after 1960 there was a small difference: the people of the island started to fight each other as soon as they got rid of colonial rule. People who had lived happily together during the colonial period were brainwashed into pointing their guns at each other. There have been a number of wars but in spite of the long time which has passed since the division of the island in 1974 a permanent peace hasn't yet been established. This prevents people from being optimistic about their future. For example, I myself have had six different identity cards in my 50 years. Each identity card has meant being a citizen of a different state or country. In my epic poem "The Island we call our country" I tried to express this:

XL VI

(The voice of youth)

We can 't find a way out -
Is it because we are pessimistic?
Life is a simultaneous equation with many variables.
And the knot of history gets thicker as you try to
unravel it.

Since the last war, pressure upon us has eased somewhat. The ban on books has been lifted. Communication with the rest of the world, although still insufficient, has been initiated. A handful of enlightened people, sensitive about the future of their country, have stood up and they are making their voices heard. They have been trying hard to open paths to regain social harmony. They've been struggling to rediscover the universal meanings of certain social concepts and notions. They have even begun to question the essence of life.

It's a sad loss for a country when its enlightened citizens are neglected by the ruling power.

Despite everything, I have never surrendered to despair. I continued to write about current issues. I have been trying to light a candle in the hearts and minds of the people. The last part of my epic poem "The island we call our country" is as follows:

XL VII

(Five Fingers Mountain replies to the voice of youth)

I, who am a mountain
Have been cauterised by pain
made to drink darkness
made to eat shadows
Yet I stood firm
I even defiied the stong winds

I never surrendered to the oppression of the days
The days will be remoulded by thought
Sometimes their harvest is exploited
Sometimes people are oppressed
The sky is pierced for months
In the heedless silence
Even if stones got bigger as they melted
All running waters eventually reach the sea

These days will be transformed by the forces of nature

While the sun is sliced
By plundering darkness
Even if dizzy feelings float in a void
Spring always follows winter

These days will be changed by immense knowledge

One day the rose of liberty will bloom
Broader than thought, greater than the universe

These days will be purified by virtue and honour

I, who am a mountain
Keep seeds of love
Beneath the green grass of
Petro To Limni *

I paused for a moment while I was writing. I started to mutter brokenly, the following lines by my friend Filiz NALDOVEN, the playwright and poet:

WRITE SONGS ABOUT LOVE SHE SAID

A little girl in Kyrenia
moonlight to the eye companion to the heart
said write songs about love.
...
Unaware that the carcass piles of crow choirs
in airless boxes on wheels
place a knot of suffocation in my heart
...
Write songs about love she said
a little girl essence of honey
still at the first crossroads of love.

pain-loaded ships sank in my heart
Where is love I said
Where

Either I have become too purified or too soiled

* Petro To Limni: Rock-island of Liminitis (a village in Cyprus)

As soon as I finished the poem the postman called my name. He must have been in a hurry. He didn't wait for me to collect the letters. He threw all of them at me. One of them flew in the air and dropped into a puddle. Just like twigs floating on a stream it started to float on the water. I stared at it for a while.

The noise of a water tanker roused me. I bent to pick up the letter. I wiped it. Opened it carefully. There was a medical report inside. I read it in excitement: the treatment I was having for tuberculosis had been successful. I ran happily to my desk and finished writing these lines that you're reading now. Then I went to the fax machine and while the machine was working I thought to myself: "This article is an opportunity to reach out to the world." I expressed my gratefulness to the Societa di Pensieri and went home. I went to bed and slept soundly.

Mustafa GOKCEOGLU
Lefkosa - 3.3.1995

Translators:
Edward Cassasa
Huseyin Demirel

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