Sunday, March 16, 2014
Behind the Tekke…
Tel: 00 357 99 966518
00 90 542 853 8436
Our first stop is in Nicosia, behind the `Mevlevi Tekke`, now a museum but once upon a time a religious sanctuary for the `Mevlevis` - those who believed in Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi who had written beautiful poetry in his time… The Mevlevi sect was active here until 1950s and the believers would gather at the Tekke in their long white robes to listen to music and to dance – the swirling dervishes – as a prayer to God. In one of the most famous poems, Mevlana says:
`Come, come, whoever you are,
Wanderer, idolater, worshiper of fire,
Come even though you have broken your vows a thousand times,
Come, and come yet again.
Ours is the portal of hope, come as you are.…`
One of the earliest Pashas of the Ottomans in Cyprus had been from the Mevlevi sect and he had arranged to build the Mevlevi Tekke here, in the centre of Nicosia. Behind the Tekke was big gardens that belonged to the sanctuary...
At the end of December 1963 when intercommunal fighting began in Nicosia, because Turkish Cypriots could not get out of Nicosia, they had started burying their dead behind the Tekke, in these gardens... At that time, there had been nothing here – both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots killed during the fighting or killed due to the `conflict` were buried here. I had taken a witness who had helped bury them and he had given his account of what had happened to the officials of the Cyprus Missing Persons' Committee – he had been a young boy of 17-18 in those times, they had fled from Kaymakli (Omorphita) in fear of their lives and families were settled in a cinema close by. One night, some Turkish Cypriots had come to the cinema to take youngsters to help bury some Greek Cypriots killed in the fighting... They would be digging graves and helping to bury them. He had shown us the spot where he thought they had buried the Greek Cypriot `missing` from
end of 1963.
A few days ago one of my readers would call me to tell me that he had found out some other `missing` Greek Cypriots had been buried somewhere in Phota village. The commander in those times in 1963-64 of the walled city were good friends with the commander in the area of Phota and when they had caught some Greek Cypriots who had passed to the Turkish quarter of Nicosia by accident or those they took and arrested for whatever pretext, he would send some of them to be killed and buried in the area of Phota. Phota, close to Kirni and Boghazi, was a `pure` Turkish Cypriot area so what my reader has told me sounds probable... Currently there is exhumations in Phota and perhaps the news that there is exhumations triggered this piece of information to come to the surface... But as always, I would need to investigate more. My reader promises to find out the possible burial site in Phota from 1963-64.
But today we are behind the Tekke, at a parking lot between two buildings. The Evkaf had built these in the gardens of the Tekke... My witness shows us the location where he saw some Greek Cypriot `missing` being buried in 1974.
`It was right after the 20th of July 1974 and I saw a truckload of Greek Cypriots being buried somewhere here` he points out to Murat Soysal, Okan Oktay and Xenophon Kallis from the Cyprus Missing Persons' Committee, who came with us so we could show them this possible burial site of some `missing` Greek Cypriots from 1974.
`Perhaps, some of the remains stayed under this building but perhaps if you excavate the parking lot, starting from here, you might find some remains...`
He had known the truck driver, a guy from around Vassilia who is no longer alive now. The guy from around Vassilia did not have such a good name, in fact he had had a terrible nickname, they called him `C.......`
My witness had been working somewhere close to the Tekke and that's how he happened to be in this area that day...
He had seen this truck driver taking watches and rings from the dead bodies and had warned him:
`Why are you doing that? Don't! It's a shame!`
And the truck driver had told him:
`They won't be needing these where they have gone... But these, I need them...` and had continued to take whatever he could find from the dead bodies.
The name of this driver has been popping up during my investigations, both his and his brother's names were mentioned in connection with some `disappearances` during 1974. They had been from around Vassilia and had fled in 1963 and had gone to live elsewhere as refugees – both brothers had been drivers, one of them a bus driver who would take Turkish Cypriot workers to the Morphou and Vassilia area to work in citrus plants or in collecting carrots and other vegetables. Recently a woman had told me that the driver with the nickname `C...` had been boasting about taking a woman and her child in 1974, how he had taken them and how he had kept them... She had shaken her head and whispered to me to go to the coffee shops in the area and try to listen to the old men if they would speak and tell me what had happened...
Behind the Tekke, I see one of my distant cousins in the area and we start talking:
`We built our shop here at the end of the 70s` he says. `In those days, this whole lot was completely empty – there had been a water depot somewhere there but nothing else... We had heard rumours that while that building was being constructed, some bones had been found...`
So now we have confirmation from two different eye witnesses that I have taken here at different times that some Greek Cypriots `missing` both from 1963-64 and 1974 had been buried in these grounds.
My witness explains to us the former look of the area:
`There used to be small houses here but they are demolished now...`
We walk with Kallis towards the front of the building – it is clear that it is the same area our first witness who had pointed out to us the possible burial site of some of the Greek Cypriot `missing` from 1963-64...Perhaps this had been a `burial site` they had started using in 1963 and continued to use it in 1974 as well...
As we are about to leave, we encounter another reader who had been a witness to a burial after the 14th of August 1974... He had been on top of the Kornaro Hotel in Nicosia and he asks me when they will dig there...
I introduce him to the officials of the Cyprus Missing Persons' Committee and he tells them his story...
`If you get me up on the roof of Kornaro Hotel` he says, `I can show you the place where the burial took place. We were up on the roof of Kornaro – to the right of Kornaro, there had been some trees. Between the trees and Kornaro, we saw bulldozers digging and burying... An officer had come to visit and he told us `Where shall we take them to bury? We are burying them here... Such things happen in wartime...` I had seen a lot of dead bodies and a lot of wounded... Further up was the Grammar School... There had been a fierce fight around here in 1974 – the area was where TURDIK and ELDIK had been...`
I had published what he had told me five-six years ago and then a very detailed interview in 2011, that is three years ago... Because Kornaro Hotel is now in the `military zone` we have no way of taking him up there unless a `special permission` is given. Perhaps we can try to go up a high building from the Greek Cypriot side of the area so he can point out the possible burial site that he knows... We will continue to work on this...
Now it's time to go to Ebicho because some of my other readers are waiting to show us possible burial sites so we thank my witness who had come to show us this possible burial site in the Tekke Bahchesi and we leave Nicosia...
Photo: Possible burial site at the Tekke Bahchesi...
(*) Article published in the POLITIS newspaper on the 16th of March 2014, Sunday.