The silence of the wells…
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Digging continues outside Vatyli where the bulldozer is making a ramp for the past one month… The well must be around 30 meters deep and the ramp is now around 21-22 meters – soon will reach the bottom of the well and that's when we will find out whether the remains of two Greek Cypriots, killed and buried somewhere in this area are in fact in this well. One of my readers had shown this area to me years ago, telling me the story and I had shared this voluntarily with the officials of the Cyprus Missing Persons' Committee…
Vatyli had been a mixed village, from time to time tension growing, at other times peaceful and quiet. People had been killed around this village, people had disappeared – a Turkish Cypriot rural constable on the way to Strongylos village had been ambushed and kidnapped and killed – he is still `missing` from January 1964, Hasan Osman `Desteban` as they called him. He had been going with his bicycle to Strongylos that day and on the way was ambushed and kidnapped by some Greek Cypriots of the area and he is still `missing`. Later on, Huseyin Ali Genc, also from Vatyli would be ambushed and kidnapped in Assia by some Greek Cypriots in May 1964 – he too is still `missing`…
In 1974, Michalakis Georgiou Pekri from Vatyli, going back to take care of his animals after the 14th of August 1974 would be arrested and his Turkish Cypriot friends wouldn't lift a finger to save him from being killed. Another Greek Cypriot also arrested in that time would in fact be saved by some Turkish Cypriots but Pekri, a rich man with a big animal farm would be executed. My readers from Vatyli village would tell me that the Turkish Cypriot friends of Pekri had already shared his animals and did not want to give back anything and did not try to help to save him.
A group of Turkish Cypriots had brought him here, in this field and according to one of my readers had executed him and buried him in a well in this field.
A few days later, a Greek Cypriot youngster trying to escape war had come to Vatyli… He had been a young soldier and had asked for water… They gave him water and some watermelon to eat and later on took him to the same well, executing and burying him with Pekri, according to my readers' accounts. One of them had told me that this young boy might have been from Kakopetria but he was not hundred per cent sure. He was just trying to go to the southern part of the island, passing through Vatyli, probably not knowing that this was a mixed village…
So the bulldozer is building a big ramp to reach the bottom of the well – my readers had told me that after 1974, this land was given to someone who had constantly thrown dead animals in the well. During the excavations in fact they have encountered animal bones in this well but we will have to wait and see whether they are in fact buried in this well or another well in the same area… According to the villagers, there are four wells in this area as well as another one or two, down below…
Burying people in wells had been the trend back in 1963-64, particularly burying the `missing` Turkish Cypriots in wells in those times had been an `easy` choice since they did not need to bring bulldozers and dig holes: The well was ready to swallow up the crimes… 11 Turkish Cypriots from Larnaka had been buried in a well in May 1964 in Voroklini, 3 Turkish Cypriots from Sinda and Knodhara, buried in a well in Lyssi, 2 others in Trikomo… In 1974, this `trend` continued – the killers would find it easy to bury people in wells… In 1974, 19 Greek Cypriots executed in Chaos (Chatoz) had been buried in a well…
We go to see the excavations in Kochinotrimitia – I had done a lot of investigation about Kochinotrimitia and one of my Greek Cypriot readers had shown me the famous `laoumi`, a chain of wells just outside the village and had told me that some Turkish Cypriots `missing` from 1963-64 had been buried in these wells.
In this huge field there are more than 30 wells but they are not so deep… Probably built by Venetians and Ottomans to carry water from one big well to the village, there are at least three chains of wells that we can even see from aerial photographs from 1963. The wells are around five meters deep and instead of a bulldozer destroying them, an expert on wells is cleaning them… He goes in, digs and puts the earth in a bucket and his aide pulls it up and the archaeologists check for any remains…
When he comes out of the well, we start speaking… He is from Denia and speaks some Turkish… He had worked in
Now, he is trying to recover the remains of some Turkish Cypriots killed in Kochinotrimitia… Careful and systematic, friendly and comfortable with what he's doing, he impresses me as an expert, knowing exactly what he's doing and how to do it. He will check each and every one of the 30 wells in this wide open field, trying to find out in which one or which ones of these wells some people might have been buried… From my investigations, I have an idea about who might have been killed and buried here – some of them might have been Turkish Cypriot policemen, some of them civilians carrying oranges from Lefka and their trucks were taken and changed and used by the killers themselves, according to the stories of some of my readers from Kochinotrimitia. I had even seen some very old trucks in the village that my Greek Cypriot readers had told me that had belonged to Turkish Cypriots back in 1963. There had been a team in this village who had been involved in the killings of some Turkish Cypriots in Agios Vasilios and who had also gone to kill some Turkish Cypriots in Agia Marina but the priest of the village would stop them. Father Andreas Frangou would save the lives of Turkish Cypriots in his village but in Kochinotrimitia, there had been no one to intervene and stand up against these people who wanted to `clean Cyprus of Turkish Cypriots`. Father Andreas Frangou would tell them in those days, `To turn their eyes to the north and look at
But such wisdom and courage was rarely found in Cyprus in those times and one terrible thing led to another terrible thing and now after almost a half century later than when the conflict began, we are searching for wells where there might be remains of Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot `missing` where they might have been buried. And
If Father Frangou of the Profiti Ilias Monastery was alive today, he would laugh at Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots for not being able to grasp the whole thing… He died some years ago, this Maronite man of wisdom and courage – many voices of wisdom have been silenced by gangs who did not want to hear any reasoning… We are trying to clean up their mess now, despite the fact that we did not have any role in its creation…
In the silent fields of Kochinotrimitia, I think of all those innocent Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots executed – four or five decades have gone by and still we are struggling to bring an end to the pain of their relatives… Such an un-humanitarian climate has been built in
P.S. By the time this article went to print, some human remains were found in one of the wells in Kochinotrimitia.
Photo: Digging at Kochinotrimitia…
(*) Article published in POLITIS newspaper on the 28th of April, 2013, Sunday.
Monday, April 29, 2013
Monday, April 15, 2013
`The antidote of pain is peace…`
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We gather at the premises of the Turkish Cypriot Journalists' Association just outside
`Guido, the leader of the "No to War" project, was in
"Let's be clear: Our world is becoming nothing less than a photographic garbage bin. Our brains, fed by visual media, are not affected by powerful imagery as they used to be just a few years ago. It is getting harder every single day for the documentary photographer to draw attention to the problems of the world and humankind. It is for this very reason that we decided on an exhibition format in which we brought 'the voices and the photographs' together," Guido says on the project website.
To create the project, Guido called for volunteers with contacts with local and international actors, art galleries, photography societies, universities, media organizations and anti-war societies.
"Although we live in a country where saying 'no' to war could be harmful and dangerous, there are nice people who accepted being a part of such a project without any hesitation and trying to do their best. 'Leave Us Alone' would remain a mere thought without those nice people," Guido said, thanking the contributors and volunteers.
The project takes its name from the words of an Iraqi who had more than 30 operations on his face, who told Guido, "We don't want your civilization, money or modern living... Just leave us alone."
The exhibition opens with a letter from Niko Guido to Suru…
Suru Darweesh Kareem is 8 years old now. She has 3 sisters and 4 brothers. She was born in
When I first saw your face, my heart broke… I was looking at you but not seeing you… You noticed me; I was hiding behind my camera…
Even though I was not photographing you, I was making as though I was taking pictures.
You smiled at me…
At that moment I noticed your eyes…
The scars from the burns on your face gradually started disappearing. And then you came and hugged me. We stayed like that for some minutes… I kissed you from your beautiful eyes, your beautiful cheeks.
I stroked your burnt face. You held on to my hands and did not let go… Then I felt ashamed of myself. I hadn't known what to do in order not to look at you, not to see you, I was surprised. Just because your face was burnt, how can they be shame from this? Go out to the streets, go around the people. If someone has to feel shame, it is not you. It is me, us, all of us! We turned you into this… We could not protect you. You were only three years old when the bomb exploded. You can't even remember how your face burned. When I look at your face I understand how evil we can be for money, for more richness. I apologize to you in the name of humanity… Because of this war, you lost your family, your relatives, your friends, your future. Even if the whole world closes its eyes in order not to see you, I myself and my friends will not close our eyes…Don't be sad beauty, don't be sad my princess! The tears in my eyes are tears because I can now finally see you. Look, I don't turn my eyes away when I look at you… Because you are so beautiful and we are so ugly…`
We are here in the premises of the Turkish Cypriot Journalists' Association for the opening of the exhibition consisting of 24 pictures and 24 stories about these photographs. The President of the Association, Huseyin Guven says:
`Despite so much destruction and tragedies, our world is still a stage for wars. Unfortunately, it is innocent people who generally pay for these wars. Always innocent people are killed… Even though they are not the ones who have decided to start wars, it is mostly civilians and children who are paying for it. The photos we saw while preparing this exhibition have shown us the ugly face of war even though we saw the horrible face of war in
Even if we cannot compare it with the wars in the world, in this small island, we too have gone through wars and suffered. Thousands of us lost their homes. Still there is no solution or agreement. We live under ceasefire conditions and we are still expecting for a negotiated settlement, sometimes with hopes and sometimes with disappointments during this process. The ones who will address you and who will open the exhibition now is Huseyin Rustem Akansoy and Petros Souppouris are two of our friends who have paid dearly for the war in
Yes, we lived through a lot of pain in the past and we cannot say that what has taken place did not happen. But we can struggle together so that such painful incidents don't happen in the future. We don't want war, we want peace. And on the occasion of this activity, we would like to call on the two leaders of our communities. Start the negotiations immediately… Start and finalize it with an agreement that would foresee the rights of both communities, with a just and lasting solution.
If war is needed, let us wage war in this small country against economic problems. Let us wage a war together against poverty and unemployment. Let us wage a war against cancer. Let us wage a war against racism, exploitation, drugs, the bad habits surrounding our youth. Let us wage a war against all of these together so that we can leave beauties worth living for our future generations. Let us give them a country where they can live in peace, welfare and justice.`
Petos Souppouris who had lost his whole family in 1974 in the massacre at Palekythro together with Huseyin Rustem Akansoy who lost his whole family in Maratha-Sandallaris-Aloa in 1974 open the exhibition. They are the leaders and founders of `Together We Can`, The Bi-Communal Association of Relatives of Missing Persons and Victims of War and Massacres. Souppouris talks about the scars of war and says that `For every single perpetrator who has created such scars, we need a thousand of us to encounter what they have done… If we talk and understand each other's pain, it's easier to solve problems. First, we must unite the people and then unite the island…`
Huseyin Rustem Akansoy says that the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots know and feel the pain of war and the scars of war are still here… He says:
`As Together We Can, the Bi-Communal Association of Relatives of Missing Persons and Victims of War and Massacres, we try to put pressure on authorities in both sides for finding the remains of missing persons… The more we share, the more we develop feelings of solidarity; we see that the pain becomes less. The antidote of these pains of war is peace…`
Photo: Huseyin Rustem and Petros Souppouris opening the exhibition…
(*) Article published in the POLITIS newspaper on the 14th of April 2013 Sunday.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
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The conference room is packed at the Home for Cooperation – we have two speakers from Germany: One of them is Uwe Bader from the Osthofen former concentration camp, turned into a memorial and a documentation centre – he is the director there and he conducts the "Memory Work" in the Federal State Central Authority for Political Education Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany. He is the director of the memorial places in Osthofen and Hinzert.
The other speaker is Magdalena Scharf from Action Reconciliation-Peace Services, a young woman from Germany who had been born and raised in Brazil and would travel the world, due to his father's job.
We have met here on the 16th of March 2013 Saturday morning in order to listen to Uwe and Magdalena on the topic: `Remembering history – A case study from Germany…`
I had met Uwe Bader back in 2009 when we had gone to have an activity about `missing persons` in Cyprus at the Osthofen former Concentration Camp. He was part of the German-Cyprus Forum and was hosting the 10th Anniversary Meeting of the forum there. We would have a whole day in this concentration camp about Cyprus… Hulusi Halit would come from Berlin with his paintings – Hulusi, a Turkish Cypriot painter who has been living in Germany since 1974, had read my book `Oysters with the missing pearls` and would paint a series of pictures about `missing` after that. We would exhibit his paintings at the Osthofen former Concentration Camp. We had gone together with my dear friend, Maria Georgiadou from Kythrea, Petros Souppouris from Palekythro and Huseyin Rustem Akansoy from Maratha to make a presentation about how we work together on the `missing persons` as an initiative coming from the grassroots.
Being in Osthofen former Concentration Camp was eerie – they had kept the camp as it was, changing very little, turning it into a memorial-museum. Upstairs you could see photographs and read about details and watch movies about what had happened at the camp. Artists had been invited to create their works of art and these works of art would be exhibited there permanently. This camp had been one of the very first camps and close-by was also Hinzert - There are exhibitions about the history of the period of 1933 to 1945 in the two memorial places… Hinzert was more `international`, having there prisoners from other countries and still there are some `missing` from Hinzert.
Osthofen former Concentration Camp took you on a journey in time and made you really feel what it had been like in Germany back in the times of the Nazis. They would take here groups of students and this would be part of the federal education system, to teach them about what had happened in the past. They would educate youngsters according to their age group, giving them information they could understand in line with their age.
I was really impressed with their work and put into my mind to try to bring Uwe Bader to Cyprus to speak especially to teachers about how they were `facing history` in Germany, what they had done and what was going on…
It took us four years to be able to have this seminar in Cyprus, with the help of Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation Cyprus and Goethe Institute in Cyprus. Association for Historical Research and Dialogue would give us the conference room without any charge, as one of the organizers of the seminar and would offer us coffee. We would invite particularly Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot Teachers' Platform United Cyprus and members of "Together we can" – The Bicommunal Initiative of Relatives of Missing Persons and Victims of Massacres and War – that is relatives of `missing` persons from both communities to come to the seminar.
Uwe Bader would show us a film about Osthofen and Hinzert and their history and Magdalena Scharf would talk about her association `Action Reconciliation-Peace Services` and their work since 1958. Magdalena describes her association's work with the following:
`The appeal at the founding of Action Reconciliation in 1958 starts with acknowledging Germany's guilt for Nazi crimes.
Convinced that the first step towards reconciliation had to be made by the perpetrators and their descendants, the founders of Action Reconciliation pleaded that "the other nations, who suffered because of us, will allow us with our hands and with our means to do something good in their countries" as a sign of atonement and peace.
ASF/ARSP was founded as an organisation encompassing all of Germany, but the division of Germany soon impeded joint efforts: The association in the GDR and in West Germany followed different developments: with short-term voluntary services in Eastern Europe and long term volunteer services in Western Europe, Israel and the USA.
With Germany's unification, and a - sometimes painful - reunification process of the organization, staff, members and volunteers in the East and West have been working together to continue and further develop volunteer services under the name Action Reconciliation Service for Peace since 1991. ARSP participates in practical, equality-based dialogue between cultures, and tries to incorporate the consequences of the past into present-day interpersonal and international relations. It bases its work on the conviction that people - through common practical experience - learn to know and understand themselves and others better, are changed, and through this, create something new.`
When Magdalena started speaking, I was really impressed with what they have been doing: What they actually do is that they find young German volunteers to send to countries where Germany had occupied during the Second World War and these youngsters would work voluntarily for about a year in an old people's home or in a hospital – this is accepting responsibility for the crimes that `others` from your country had committed and it is like an `apology` by trying to do something good and trying to build a relationship with people from those countries who had been hurt in the past.
I started thinking: Why not try to create an infrastructure to send our youngsters to visit the refugee areas and speak with those who had lost their loved ones and their belongings during the conflicts in 1963 and 1974? Why not create an infrastructure where people from our communities in Cyprus can go and visit together old people's homes or hospitals and try to build relationships, listening to and also sharing what has happened in the past?
You might think that Cypriots don't need such an infrastructure since they don't have `hatred` against each other – my observation is that we lack infrastructures in this country for reconciliation, for facing our history, for teaching our youngsters objectively what has happened in the past and learning from each other.
Perhaps we could think more on how we can build an infrastructure to facilitate all of this for the sake of the future of our children…
Photo: Speakers at the seminar `Remembering history...`
(*) Article published in POLITIS newspaper on the 7th of April, 2013 Sunday.
Monday, April 1, 2013
`The colour of truth…`
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If others have committed crimes - `others` from our `own` country – we are here to do the opposite: To embrace and show that we don't have issues with each other but on the contrary, we understand each other and respect each other.
If Panayiota Hanim or Sherif Hanim had to go through hell in spite of their innocence, we are here to hold their hand and walk with them, showing our respect and love… We have shed our tears for what they have gone through, we have lost sleep over their turmoil and pain and suffering and today we are trying to put in place the humanity that was lost on this land…
Panayiota, the woman wearing black, walking with the help of her dear and only daughter Christina, the woman who demonstrated at the checkpoints for so many years, searching for information about her `missing` husband and her `missing` son is here today with us… She has come all the way from Limassol, from her tiny refugee house in Agios Athanasios to Nicosia, crossing the `border` to open our art exhibition `The Colour of Truth` at the Goethe Institute on the Green Line – the buffer zone where we have gathered to put back in place the humanity that was lost on this land…
Panayiota Pavlou Solomi, the woman who lost her husband Pavlos and her son… The woman who lost her land in Komi Kepir, her two mills – one for the olives and one for the wheat – the woman who lost her house, her fields, her partner for life and the son she gave birth to… Everything might have been stolen from her, everything except her memories and she persists, standing here with us in black, even if she is losing her sight she walks with the help of her dear daughter Christina, a statue of sadness and pain, a statue of how no one can destroy hope and humanity on this land…
Next to her is Sherif Birshen who lost her father and her brother in the most inhuman way you can think of… Her brother Ahmet from Tremetousia had been ill; he had to go to the hospital for treatment from his liver. It was the state hospital, the
Sherif is tall, blond with blue eyes… She stands together with Panayiota to open our art exhibition together.
`All those killed were innocent` she says, `it was not those who committed crimes but the innocent ones who died…`
Her brother and father, both innocent have died in the hands of criminals in a state hospital. Despite this, she does not nurture hatred towards others, she knows and shows the difference: She is here today amongst us, having come all the way from Hamit Mandrez where she lives despite her high blood pressure, has crossed the `border` to the buffer zone to open our exhibition.
The two old women, one Turkish Cypriot, the other Greek Cypriot stand together to address the huge crowd gathered here in the garden of the Goethe Institute and then open our exhibition.
We walk with them to see the works of art – here, in one painting are the shoes Panayiota has been polishing and keeping in a chest – they are the shoes of her `missing` husband and son – in the painting, moss has grown inside the chest, showing the passing of years and the endless waiting… In another painting by another artist, Panayiota sits clad in black as always and in front of her is the suitcase she had prepared for her son back in 1974, thinking that in a few days he would be sent back from Galatia where he had been kept and the military commander had promised her that `in a few days I will send you back your husband and son`… So she had put in that suitcase that she still keeps as it is, his pyjamas, his school pants, his underwear, his shirts, getting it ready so that when he would come, he would just pick this suitcase up and go away, go away to a safer place… The suitcase remains as it is – neither the son, nor the husband could ever come back…
Paintings of artists hung from the walls depicting mass graves from Maratha or Paralimni where the innocent were executed and buried, the innocent Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots who had nothing to do with the conflict but were only trying to make their living and survive on this land… Paintings of artists showing the entrance to a cave in Agios Georgios Alamanos where three innocent Turkish Cypriots were killed or the lake Galatia where eleven innocent Greek Cypriots were buried… Paintings of artists from both sides whom we brought together and worked together for the past eight months, trying to show them how humanity was lost on this land and how we must put it back in place accepting our responsibility for at least expressing that we do not approve of such crimes, no matter by whom they have been committed.
`The colour of truth` is painful but at the same time it expresses hope on this land because it is the first time ever in our history that artists from both sides have come together to think together about what has happened on this land and have created their works of art, showing their understanding and empathy and expressing their feelings about `missing persons` and mass graves in this country.
`The colour of truth` will go around the island to try to put in place the humanity that was lost on this land…
Photo: View from "The Color of Truth" art exhibition at the Goethe Institute…
(*) Article published in POLITIS newspaper on the 31st of March, 2013 Sunday.