Sunday, June 14, 2015
Notes from London…
Tel: 99 966518
A thirteen year old refugee girl from Famagusta whom I had never met, never spoken, never exchanged e-mails offers me the keys to her house. She had been 13 years old in 1974 when she left Cyprus with her family to go and live in London… Olia is 54 years old now, that little refugee girl and it touches my heart when she gives us her beautiful house and goes to stay with a friend a few doors down… Her roots go back both to Komi Kebir and to Famagusta – as we talk, we discover that we might have run across each other since her house had been two streets behind Euripides Street in Varosha, where my great uncle Ahmet lived. She shows me photos and google maps – we speak about Varosha, that distinct smell of flowers and the sea where we have not been able to find anywhere else on earth… I would go and stay with my great uncle Ahmet and my auntie Fattush my summer holidays and we would go to the beach and I would be tanning and swimming and smelling
the sea and the suntan oil of coconut… I would get a nice tan and in the evening I would sit on the balcony and listen to John Vickers playing songs at RIK… I had a small red transistor radio and my ear would be glued to the radio, singing along songs like `Yes it's gotta be a long, lonely summer…` (`Sealed with a kiss`)… In those days my mother had bought me a lovely shirt in lavender and had taken out the buttons and instead had sewn buttons with colourful flowers on them and I would wear my shirt in the evening, having washed my long hair, sitting on the balcony and singing along with the radio… Those had been happy days, wonderful days of the sun and the sea and the music and being young, my eyes full of stars, dreaming of a different world, everything opening up and looking forward to life that I would grab with all my passion… My mother taught me to love nature, to love all creatures of the earth, to love all flowers and trees, to
love people… Sometimes she would stay too with us in Varosha and we would go to visit relatives in the walled city, meeting cousins and laughing at things… Those days would be full of laughter and fun and curiosity about everything connected with life…
My auntie Fattush would make jam from apricots that we would eat in the morning, my great uncle Ahmet would have jars of octopus that he, himself caught – the reason why he had built this house in Varosha had been his love for the sea… Throughout his life he would be a champion swimmer, an octopus hunter, collecting hundreds of seashells from the bottom of the sea… In the morning we would go to the beach on his bicycle and come back for lunch and the house would be full of lovely smells of cooking of my auntie… My auntie would polish the wooden floors and I would sit in bamboo chairs at the sofa and dream my dreams about the future… Seashells would be everywhere in the house: Climbing the wooden steps upstairs from the front door, I would see seashells on the way up and in my great uncle's room with Morris armchairs, there would be the best pieces on display on shelves of glass…
Sometimes we would walk the streets of Varosha and look at the colourful life, shop windows, cars and pedestrians and bicycles passing by… Varosha would smell of flowers from citrus trees and the sea breeze would always remind us of the beauty of this earth… Varosha would be full of hotels and full of tourists and you would hear many languages on the beach – I would practice my English and my great uncle Ahmet would always chat with tourists, sometimes inviting them to his house for dinner – delicacies of octopus and other sea food…
Olia's house in London is like a sanctuary for me: It is away from traffic and noise and it's at Finchley, in a very quiet area and it is like a doll's house… In her tiny kitchen, we would sit together with my dear friend Christina from Komi Kebir, with whom I have come to London to attend a ceremony honouring me for my work organized by the Komi Kebir Association UK and the Organization of Relatives of Missing Cypriots UK… Christina whose father and brother are still `missing` from Galatia where they had last been seen, is a wonderful woman with a huge heart – so Olia, myself and Christina would sit at the tiny kitchen sharing our hearts, our memories, our lives, our hopes and dreams and the obstacles we encounter on the way… It is like a sisterhood in this quiet tiny house in Finchley and I would wear my pyjamas and read my book when they are not there, all alone except the birds in the garden… Birds are living in the chestnut tree and
they would come to the tiny garden full of flowers and plants and would eat the nuts that Olia had thrown for the squirrels so they can come down and I can see them… Olia tells me that occasionally foxes come too, to doze off under the shade of the trees… This house would cure me and refresh me and get me ready for more struggles and more work…
On Saturday the 16th of May 2015, we go to the Cypriot Community Centre where the event would take place… Already some relatives of `missing persons` are waiting for me and we sit down and talk… Soon the room would be packed with hundreds of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots: The Turkish Cypriot Democracy Association also helps to organize this evening devoted to `missing persons` and my work and then there is no space to sit, to stand and some people have to go back because the room is packed… Christina and Olia got 14 yellow roses in memory of 14 `missing` persons from Komi Kebir and these are put in vases in the room to remind us of their memory…
Eleni Tryfonos who is the head of the Komi Kebir Association UK is like a thunderstorm: When she organizes something she would never take `no` as an answer and would storm out to get a `yes`! She has so much energy, such a vivid woman from Komi Kebir that it is simply amazing just to sit and watch her at work… She has put all her energy for the success of this event… She speaks and Mr. Neoklis Neokleous as the head of the Organization of Relatives of Missing Cypriots UK speaks… Their speeches touch my heart… Mr. Neoklis, in his speech says:
`This special event has been organised today to honour one of Cyprus best. A most courageous peace-journalist and human-rights-activist, Sevgul Uludag.
We honour Sevgul for what she has done for the relatives of the missing persons. This is because most of the information that the investigatory committee in Cyprus has used to locate graves and proceed to identification came from Sevgul. Given to her by ordinary Turkish and Greek Cypriots who trusted her.
For the G/C missing, she has achieved what UN resolutions, ECHR judgements and over 40 years of campaigning failed to achieve. Bring closure to any of the missing persons' cases.
Of course the fate and whereabouts for the majority of the missing is still unknown and the campaign will continue.
For the T/C missing, Sevgul went against the imposition of silence by the T/C leadership and gave their families a platform and an opportunity to tell their stories and claim their right to know as well.
To-date, thanks to Sevgul and the other guest of honour, Christina Pavlou Solomi-Patsia, as well as other good people of Cyprus, some present here today, many families of the missing, from both communities, have discovered the fate of their loved ones and have been able to bury their dead with dignity.
Christina's brother and father are still missing but she is supporting Sevgul's efforts to find others.
We also honour Sevgul for being the champion of reunification of Cyprus and its people. Bringing people close across the divide. I was happy to be present at an event she organised in Nicosia, honouring ordinary T/C and G/C for putting their lives in danger to save the lives of people from the other community.
We honour also Sevgul because through her "untold stories" series she is teaching us our good as well our grim history. She is filling books, paper articles and internet blogs with individual and family experiences of Cypriots who suffered due to murderous actions of extremists from the opposite community. And of people who became the victims of extremism in their own community.
Let these stories be a warning for all the Cypriots. As we hopefully move towards a free united Cyprus. We vouch that these experiences will never be repeated. Let's learn from the terrible mistakes of the past and move forward to a peaceful future, coexisting with acceptance and respect for each other, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or politics. Let's show the world that we don't need any protectors or guarantors.
Dear Sevgul, we are grateful for all you are doing for all of us Cypriots, we wish you well, and hope that the vision you very clearly articulate for a free, united, peaceful Cyprus will soon become a reality.`
Then I make my presentation about `missing persons` and Christina Pavlou Solomi Patsia also speaks and almost everyone who came to listen to us are crying… Afterwards we are presented with plaques and then a lot of relatives of `missing persons` come to meet with us and talk with us and enquire information and help for their `missing`… Some readers with the help of Mr. Neoklis come to see me to give me information about some possible burial sites in Cyprus…
I thank my dear friend Christina and Eleni Tryfonos and Mr. Neokis Neokleous for arranging such a meaningful event and I thank Olia as well for working hard to make this happen and offering her beautiful house to us during our stay in London with Christina…
Photo: With the President of the the Organization of Relatives of Missing Cypriots UK, Mr. Neoklis Neokleous, presenting to me a commemorative plaque honouring my work for `missing persons`...
(*) Article published in the POLITIS newspaper on the 14th of June 2015, Sunday.