Sunday, January 5, 2014

Days of remembrance and reflection…

Days of remembrance and reflection…

Sevgul Uludag

Tel: 00 357 99 966518
00 90 542 853 8436

I learnt all the details about death and what remembrance and reflection means at a very young age… I was only seven years old when my father died on the 3rd of April 1966. I can never forget that date, I can't erase the 3rd of April from my mind or in my soul, it has become part of my memory that simply can't be erased.
I had been taken to one of my father's friend's house to stay overnight and out of the blue at night, I was thinking `What does it feel like when someone's father dies?`
My father had died that day but I did not know. No one had told me. They had only taken me to the house of Hakki Suha, to stay in the same room with Shirin, his daughter, my friend. Hakki Bey was the head of Bayrak Radio and my father had worked there for a brief period as translator. His Greek was perfect, his English was perfect, his Turkish was perfect. It was a time for persecution for him and he had been thrown out of many jobs… He had refused to join TMT, the paramilitary underground organization, he had rifts with Denktash because of this, he had been close with Greek Cypriots which was a `sin` in those days, he had been thrown into prison, me visiting him with my mother and reading him a poem I had learnt at the pre-elementary school, him crying, my mother crying, me, the three or four year old kid, trying to make sense of why he was there, why there was this green mesh between us, why I couldn't hug him, why he couldn't come home for the
New Year. He was set to spend New Year in prison because he had committed the `sin` of saying `NO` to joining the TMT.
`I can't slay a chicken` he had explained to them… `If I join and tomorrow you come and tell me you have to kill your brother because of this or that pretext, I can't do that… You go on your way but I can't join TMT…`
This was the `sin` he had committed and why he was in prison.
Eventually he would get out and work at odd jobs, the next day being thrown out of those jobs, the owners of the businesses being threatened by the paramilitary organization.
He had got a job at Bayrak to translate and I think it was his last job… Because he would die of a heart attack on the 3rd of April 1966.
That's why I must have been taken to the house of his boss and stayed the night there. That's why I must have sensed something terribly wrong with my life and as a seven year old kid asked myself, `What must it feel like to have one's father die…`
I wish no child finds out the answer… But I did… Next day, I was taken home… My aunt from Kridhia was crying out loud, my father was in the garage, in a coffin… They had put cotton in his nostrils and in his ears…
I wanted to hug him, kiss his chubby cheeks but they wouldn't let me… I couldn't hug him one last time… He was just there, in a coffin, still, peaceful and yet my heart was crying out loud… Our next door neighbours had five kids with whom I played a lot, making `Karagozi`, the shadow theatre or `Ispastra` with cards or hide and seek or simply with our dolls… Zehra, the eldest daughter would take me to their house and we would sit, me sad, Zehra and all the other kids, not really knowing what to say or do with me, feeling sorry for me...
Later we would go to the cemetery with my sister and her husband and their daughter Il. She was barely three or four years old and she too tried to console everyone, particularly my mother:
`Grandma, don't worry` she would say, `this is just a room underground… He would just live there… It's a very small room but he would be okay…`
Things would change in our lives… From then on, we won't go to weddings or parties… We won't go anywhere alone… In those years it would be considered a shame for a widow to go anywhere alone… We would only go if my older sister and her husband would take us somewhere like the beach…
The most dramatic thing every year, from then on, would be the month of April… At the beginning of April, my mother would start acting funny… She would be all nerves, she would close inside herself like a clam, she would lay on the couch, her hand on her brow… As a child I would suspect she had been crying…
Close to the date April 3rd, we would have the same behaviour every single year, throughout our lives… I would feel awkward, I wouldn't know how to console my mother, I didn't know how to console her, there was actually no consolation… April 3rd for her was a day of remembrance and reflection. It was a day of mourning the death of her husband… Every 3rd of April, we would have `Mevlid` in the house. We would invite neighbours and family to come to listen to the religious singings of a Hodja, Ahmet Gurses… We would prepare for this from days before: We would clean the house, get chairs from neighbours, make flaounes (pilavuna) with my mother in the kitchen to offer at the `Mevlid`, the Hodja would come, all women would gather and sit, I would offer rosewater in an antique bottle to each and every guest during the `Mevlid` and at the end help my mother to offer the flaunes and the `Sadrazam Sucugu` (a sort of lokoumi with walnuts inside), tea
and lemonade and coffee. At the end of each `Mevlid` I would cry when the Hodja would pronounce our names, saying `This mevlid is going out to Mr. Niyazi Uludag from his daughter Sevgul and Ilkay and his wife Turkan…`
So I learnt as a child what death and remembrance means, what it means to sit and think about your loss, how it had been when he was there, how it became so different when he was no longer there, my beloved father…
April 3rd was a day of mourning and remembrance in the collective memory of our family… I would always wish we never had those days in our lives because they were very sad days…
So when I saw that there would be a dancing event on the 21st of December 2013, I panicked… 21st of December? I knew that the organization arranging this event was a well-meaning organisation, a Greek Cypriot foundation doing this in the northern part of the island. Immediately I tried to contact them… I managed to contact one of the organizers. I would tell him about how 21st of December was considered a day of mourning and remembrance in the collective memory of the Turkish Cypriot community. 21st of December 1963 was the day when the inter-communal fighting had begun and many Turkish Cypriots, as well as Greek Cypriots were killed or disappeared on that day and the following days… It would be a very sad day for many Turkish Cypriots whose loved ones went `missing` or were killed on that day… I remembered my mother and me, how on the 3rd of April, we would be in the mood of mourning and remembering… I told the organizer that this day – 21st
of December - was not a day to come out and dance together in the streets since it was a very sensitive date particularly for many Turkish Cypriots. Many Turkish Cypriots are still `missing` from that date…
The foundation had organized a bi-communal youth dancing event in the Buyuk Han in Nicosia, in the northern part, as well as in the southern part of our capital. The person I contacted panicked. Although they had some Turkish Cypriots in their group, no one noticed that date, no one had warned them that this was a very sensitive date, definitely not a date for `dancing in the streets`… He tried to call all others concerned with the organization of the event… I suggested to him to postpone it but it was one day before the event and after they held a meeting, they decided that they could not cancel it.
On the 21st of December 2013, on the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the 1963 events, a small group of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots went outside Buyuk Han and danced tango in the street…
Perhaps this showed that while some mourned, some wanted to celebrate life… Although done unintentionally, it brought out the paradigm of life and death in the same moment… Later on I would ask one of the organizers if he would be willing to organize a street dance event in Ledra Street on the 20th of July, it would be the same thing – these were very sensitive days and very sensitive memorial dates for our communities – unless we learn to show respect to that, we would never be able to build a culture of peace on this island.
For me, the most meaningful words came from a new group called `Left Intervention`… In a statement they said:
`We do not forget that about half a century ago, some Holidays in this country were not Happy at all. On December 21, 1963 the streets of Nicosia witnessed a series of events that epitomised the failure of the Cypriot political leadership to build a state based on mutual respect and cooperation.
On that night, the corpses of two Turkish Cypriots shot by the police, accounted for the toll of that day. There had been many more corpses on either side in Cyprus, prior to, and after that day.
Officially, quasi-officially, and unofficially sanctioned and organised deaths. Yet, there was no prosecution and no trial. We invite everyone resenting the culture of impunity in Cyprus manifesting itself in recent scandals to consider its deep historical roots. The demand for justice starts for there.
We propose to establish December 21 as a day of remembrance and reflection in Cyprus. We can only enjoy happy holidays if we admit and accept that at some point, some people on either side of the island contributed to turning a Christmas holiday into a bloody one. These people are among us, have never been confronted with the consequences of their actions, and are even honoured in the context of official state ceremonies.
Left Intervention, 24 December 2013.`


Photo: December 1963 meant more tears, more refugees, more `missing persons`...

(*) Article published in POLITIS newspaper on the 5th of January 2014, Sunday.

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