Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Saying goodbye to Yiannakis Liasi in Agia Triada…
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We start early, at eight o'clock in the morning on our way to Agia Triada in Karpaz… Today is the 12th of July 2014, Saturday and we are going to the funeral of `missing` Yannakis Liasi in Agia Triada… He is the first Greek Cypriot `missing person` to be buried in the northern part of our island, at the place he was born, in his hometown, in his village, in the place he grew up and played and looked at the sea and climbed the hills. In the place where he learnt to walk and talk, where he learnt the alphabet, to read and write and to grow up as the only son of the family who had a sister, the only girl of the family Toulla… As he grew up, he did not know what life had in store for him, a young boy to go to study in Athens, Economics… He travelled to attend the university, young and fresh and eager to hold on to life – the only son of Maroulla and Savvas Liasi from Agia Triada…
But life was not simple and life was something that happened to us when we were making other plans…
In fact life had never been simple in Cyprus after `nationalisms` arrived in their colours of blue and red, painting everything, taking over the whole geography, dividing and ruling with the help of others from outside…
Yiannakis would come home and the coup would happen and then the war of 1974, the bloody war that spared only those who planned and executed it and the innocent would fall… So many innocent young men and young women and old men and old women would be executed, would be killed, their blood flowing and taking over the geography to be divided into two distinct parts… Karpaz would suffer, Messaoria would suffer, Famagusta would suffer, Kyrenia would suffer, Morphou would suffer… Tochni and Paphos would suffer and so would Limassol… It will only bring tears and misery and death, as well as a huge population movement forced or encouraged to leave for safety of life and human dignity… People would fled never to be able to return to their hometown, their village, their home where they grew up, planted trees, watered the vegetables, grew basil and mint… People would never be able to return to look at the sky under which they had prayed or laughed or
Some had remained despite harassment – in Karpaz, people would be harassed in order to `encourage` them to leave… Some Turkish Cypriots would go around in some villages trying to rape girls in order to push the Greek Cypriot families to leave and never come back…
The young boy, only 21, had been dispatched to go and fight the big war waged in Cyprus, the young Yiannakis from Agia Triada… The last time his family would see him would be 11th of August 1974 when he would tell them that they were being dispatched to Agios Epiktitos… This would be the last time they would look at his face, hear his voice, feel his warmth… He would be listed as a `missing person` and his father and mother would remain in Agia Triada and wait for their son to come back to them, just as they had sent him, alive, young and fresh, eager to live the life he had been promised by this earth…
But he would never come back… His sister Toulla would go to study art in Holland and would remain there…
Maroulla and Savva Liasi would stay in Karpaz and wait for news, any news, any sign of life from their son… Their son `missing`, their daughter emigrated to Holland, they would live a lonely life in Agia Triada in Karpaz, in the agony of waiting and waiting and waiting…
We reach Agia Triada and go to the church – two busloads of Greek Cypriots as well as others have come with their cars to be with the Liasi family on this important day… I see friends among the crowd… The little coffin containing the remains of Yiannakis, found in a mass grave of five Greek Cypriot `missing` found in Klepini four years ago and identified through DNA tests haven't arrived yet so we walk towards the house of the Liasi family – also packed with women in black crying…
I found Tasoula Hadjitoffi inside, writing her speech – Tasoula is working wonders trying to collect the stolen heritage of Cyprus, stolen and sold abroad… She has an association called Walk of Truth and has devoted her life in getting back the cultural and historical heritage back into Cyprus… She will be one of the speakers at the funeral…
Then I find Toulla Liasi, the little sister of Yiannakis, the artist, the painter, the photographer, the poet, the woman with a wounded heart – she gives me her book called `Rusted Evidence` - returning to Agia Triada after the checkpoints opened in 2003 she has photographed ordinary things, plates, pots, the sky, a hand-woven rug and turned them into beautiful art about her feelings towards this land and her pain of having a `missing` brother and her pain of being away from her enclaved parents… Yes, the evidence rusts and yet in our hearts the evidence remains intact and fresh, at one single sighting and one single touch memories come back rushing and bringing us everything as we remember it…
Finally the little coffin arrives and is taken inside the house for prayer… We walk towards the small church, fully packed now with people – I find a space to stand with my flowers…
The coffin then comes to the church and the priests start the ritual singing hymns – Maroulla, the mother of `missing` Yiannakis looks very fragile and a young teacher who is staying with them and teaching at Rizokarpasso is trying to keep her well by giving her water and wiping her face with a cloth… Is it easy at her age to look at that small coffin after 40 years of agony and to attend the funeral of her own son? I am afraid for her but Tasoula tells me that there is a doctor somewhere in the church…
Speeches began as the heat becomes unbearable in the small church… Tasoula Hadjitofi, a close friend of Toulla and the Liasi family speaks from her heart:
`In the House of God, we are all equal and therefore forgive me for ignoring the protocol today.
There are certain moments in our lives where silence is the best speech. Silent I am, as I watch the ordeal of the Liasi family. Silent I am as I observe the procedures for the funeral here at Agia Triada as well as all the things which needed to be managed in order for all of us to be here today to 'place' our Yiannakis 'to rest.'
Today, however, we are not only burying a hero who gave his life for all of us. We are first and foremost burying the son of Mrs. Maroulla and Mr. Savvas, the brother of our Toulla and the uncle of our Marou and Savvas. Although you never met your uncle, you still loved him dearly.
We, the Cypriots of Holland and all the Dutch and Greek friends from Holland who are here today, have been witnessing for 35 years the Odyssey of this family, who has been waiting for their son to return back home.
My beloved Toulla, all these years together in Holland we lived your agony to find your brother. Almost a month ago we heard the truth and then, your own Odyssey began as a modern 'Antigone' who has been looking desperately to find ways to take her brother back home.
Now is the time.
Your brother, your uncle, your son has returned back home today. My beloved Mr. Liasis. Dear uncle Savvas, today it is also your birthday. What a double gift this is for you. On one hand, a circle closes and we also bury the uncertainty as to the whereabouts of your son. On the other hand, we bury the hope that perhaps he is alive somewhere and that he will return.
My beloved ones, we bow in front of you today, I feel so small, you are such giants, 'leventes' and 'leventisses'. With your stance, integrity and way of life, you represent the excellence in every correct and peaceful human being and you are, role models to others.
I hope that the fact that so many of us who love you, have travelled from abroad to be with you, gives you courage that 'You are not alone'. Jullie zijn niet alleen. Dank U wel, Efxaristo.`
Then Toulla reads a poem she has written for her `missing` brother...
'No tomb, no wreaths, no funeral speeches'
Under the shade of the olive-tree
I looked at your watch
and I saw time ceases.
On that eleventh day of August
under the stones of Pentadaktylos
behind the grain fields, bushes and trees.
where the landscape
where the silence
the meaning of loneliness
The final testimonies
speak without hesitations
a photo in a newspaper-cutting
and an assembled skeleton
are all that is left.
in old history books
of learned orators
idols of young students
no funeral speeches
die for freedom.
After the touching poem of Toula we lay our flowers, touching the coffin…
Yiannakis is buried in the place he was born, he grew up, in his homeland, in his village…
He is no longer laying down in an unmarked grave if that would be some sort of consolation to his family…
Rest in peace Yiannakis Liasi… Your friends have laid you to rest where you belong… And may the earth never give such pain to any family like this, to have someone `missing` and not knowing what had happened… And may we learn something from your ordeal, may we look at the past and learn something so it would not be repeated in the future… May our country learn to live in peace and harmony, instead of enmity, rivalry and blindness to what actually had happened on this island…
Photo: Yiannakis Liasi
(*) Article published in the POLITIS newspaper on the 27th of July 2014, Sunday.