Sunday, September 28, 2014

A life spent in struggle for peace: Rezvan Konti…

A life spent in struggle for peace: Rezvan Konti…

Sevgul Uludag

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Born on the 10th of April 1926 in Syngrassi, Rezvan Konti had a tough life… He was one of five children in his family… His family was poorest of the poor – Rezvan Konti could not even complete elementary school due to poverty – when he was in the fourth grade, they took him away from Syngrassi to Arnadhi to stay with his grandfather – when his grandfather could not manage to feed three kids of his daughter he sent them back to Syngrassi and that's when little Rezvan was sent to tend the sheep and become a little shepherd. He was a shepherd until he was about 15-16 years old and then he enrolled to become a soldier in the British army where he served for five years – this took him first to Palestine, to Nazareth, and then to Egypt… From there they set out to go to Greece… When Germany attacked Greece, the ship turned back and left them in Beirut, Lebanon. `We were mixed, both Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots serving as soldiers during
the Second World War in the British Army` he would tell me… `In those times there was no discrimination among Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots…`
From Beirut they went to Italy and started carrying dead and wounded soldiers. They started travelling towards Milan but could not make it there so they went back to Rimini, staying there for three or four months… And then they went back to Palestine to stay for three more years… After the Second World War was over, they wanted to get out of the military service but the British would not let them go and when they revolted in 1946, they were imprisoned, around 600-700 soldiers in Palestine. His comrade Poumpouris was similarly imprisoned in Egypt because they too serving in Egypt had revolted. Rezvan Konti continued to tell his story to me:
`Then we were taken to court and AKEL found us a lawyer from London who defended us and finally I managed to come back to Cyprus in 1946 but still they would not let us go… In 1947 I was a soldier near the Golden Sand hotel. I got married in January 1946 and I started skipping the military, they would arrest me and put me in prison… Still they would not let us leave the British military service! They wanted to send us to Japan but we did not want to go all the way to Japan! They managed to send some to Japan but some of those escaped from Japan to Australia! But finally for me the military days were over. I started looking for a job but there was no job… In 1949 I had a conflict with a Greek Cypriot and one of my cousins Hasan Konti who was an electrician started taking care of me. He was a member of AKEL. He found me a job and I started working. Some houses were being built in Famagusta and I was working there as a labourer. A Greek Cypriot called
Kyriacos Vazi had made me a member of AKEL… I looked for him but could not find any trace of him… I don't know if he is alive or not… This was 1951. First I had become a member of PEO and then a member of AKEL. From 1951 until 1960-65 we were going around all the villages and working vigorously inside AKEL, for AKEL… I had started taking up duties in PEO and AKEL.
When EOKA was founded and became active, AKEL sent us someone either from the Central Committee or the Famagusta Branch – I do not remember – called Drousioti – he was a baker – to tell us to leave AKEL.
`Why?` we asked him.
`Because we cannot protect you` he told us. I was against this. First Andreas Fanti, head of Famagusta Branch had called me to a meeting. `Why don't you want to leave AKEL?` he had asked me.
`Where shall we go?` I answered him. My cousin Mustafa Konti, who was later shot both by EOKA and TMT for being a member of AKEL had a famous saying `I go there and Mouhammed chases me away, I come here and Christos chases me away, where shall I go?!!!` We were all in the same difficult situation. Our problem was we were cut off from the Turkish Cypriot community until the newspaper `Inkilapchi` (`Revolutionary`) started being published. Ahmet Sadi, one of the Turkish Cypriot leaders in PEO was saying that `The newspaper will be our protection…`
So the newspaper was published and I was selling this newspaper inside Famagusta…
I had gone to Agia Kepir and people did not know me there. We were together with a friend. One of the villagers saw me and gave me a list and said, `Vre koumparo, perhaps you can help us…`
`If I can, of course I will help you` I told him.
He gave me the hit list of TMT, the list of those who were to be killed! I looked at the list… At number 17 was my own name! Ahmet Sadi was on the 7th row. I remember many of those names… These were names to be killed and they were asking for help to find them to kill them! My cousin Mustafa Konti was at number 33! Hulus who is in London was in the first row… Kavazoghlou was also on that list… When I took the list, I said to the villager from Agia Kepir, `Look… I can find these people for you but I should copy the list in order not to forget!` I took the list and copied it. In the morning I went to AKEL Famagusta Branch… One of our villagers, Alexandros was sitting on the stairs… `Why did you come?` he said. He took me upstairs to the executive committee – there was much fuss about why I had come… I told them and showed them the list and told them that there was orders to kill those on the list, `Please save these friends` I said.
`Go` they told me, `we know that already…`
They called a driver and told him to take me to Chomlekchi… The driver took me there… Those were the days around 1958…
I never severed ties with AKEL… I go and meet them but I feel disappointed because AKEL did not put all its weight for the solution of the Cyprus problem… We only want peace, nothing else… If this goes on too long chauvinism will become stronger and we won't be able to demolish chauvinism… There is friendship, we can prove that… Even some Turkish Cypriots saying `I did not expect this from AKEL` is the result of this friendship. If we continue to be in conflict, we will lose… When we lose, only the imperialists will be benefiting from this…`
These were the words of Rezvan Konti, one of the strongest believers in peace, someone of non-stop struggle, someone who believed in friendship among our communities… Someone who struggled against chauvinism, nationalism and racism despite the very heavy price he paid throughout his life for being in the `opposition`. These were the words of Rezvan Konti whom I interviewed in 2005… He passed away a few days ago… May he rest in peace and may we all learn from his life because he never gave up hope that one day we will be a reunified country without discrimination and in peace…


Photo: Rezvan Konti

(*) Article published in POLITIS newspaper on the 28th of September, 2014 Sunday.

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