Sunday, December 8, 2019
The story of a house in Lapithos and a house next to the Kourtoumbellis bakery… - 2 -
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In Nicosia, the family of John Metaxas had built two houses in the Koshkluchiftlik area for his two sisters to settle in when they would get married. The house was in Irene Street, later to be called Mehmet Ali Gormush Street. At the end of the street was the Bakery of Kourtoumbellis… Kourtoumbellis had died and his wife Evridiki was running it with her workers. Towards the end of December in 1963, some Turkish Cypriots with guns would attack the bakery and kill the mother of Mrs. Evridiki and her two workers. Across the bakery was another house where Huseyin Mehmet Djohn, the famous "DJOHN COFFEE" of Turkish Cypriots lived with his wife Eleni. Eleni would see the killers in the bakery so later on she would be taken from her house and she is still "missing"… I had written the story of the bakery and had interviewed the daughter of Kourtoumbellis, Kriti… And I had also written the sad story of Eleni Suzan who is still "missing" after the tragedy at the bakery…
In the Η ΛΕΥΚΩΣΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΧΤΕΣ - YESTERYEARS OF NICOSIA social media group, John Metaxas would write about their family house in Koshkluchiftlik area of Nicosia, at Irene Street… Years later, Irene Street would become Mehmet Ali Gormush Street…
"The place and street where we lived prior to the end of December 1963 intercommunal struggle. My father, mother, and myself helped dig half of the foundation of this double storey house built for my two sisters as their dowry (Prika). The other half was dug by the contractor. We lost the house and all property during the fasaries of 1963. The entire family, eight of us, lived in the back of the lot in a garage-like building without indoor plumbing or running water but we were happy of what little we had. So many others were much poorer than we were. Some of those beggars would go from house to house asking for a piece of bread to sustain them. Some even had a family to care for. My mother would always tell us not to look the other way when we would see a beggar but reach out to them with a piece of bread, a few olives, and a piece of cheese if we had any. I always loved to hear the beggar pronounce his blessing on me (NA EXIS TIN EFXIN MOU PAIDHIN MOY). In the 1950s, I saw entire families so poor live in tents in the open by our elementary school. The father's profession was coating the inside of the copper pots and pans with a silvery hot alloy. I even saw a family or two live in caves in Aglanjia rocky hill overlooking the teachers' Academy. These latter scenes built character in me to always be thankful and be content of what I have!
We also were taught from our early years in elementary school how to be compassionate to others who were less fortunate than each of us. How thankful I am for those caring teachers I had at the Agios Andreas Elementary in the 1950s!"
John Metaxas tells me of his memories from this period:
"My family lived in Nicosia, a few streets west of the Old Dianellos cigarette factory, a couple of streets before you got to the river on the right.
Sevgul, here is a photo of the four of us boys in an open lot next to our house. You can see our property behind us. Chris is the one to the right. To the left is Dinos. Me holding my brother Tassos. We lived in a small garage-like room to the right of the picture. The two flats were built for my two sisters when they would get married and were rented to two British families to pay for the mortgage. We never had the chance to live in it.
There was a Greek bakery almost next to our house. We lost the house and everything at the end of 1963. My family were held hostage for a few days. They were 7 among 26 Greeks exchanged. Three of our friends in the bakery lost their lives.
Evridiki Kourtoumbelidou saw her mother and two of her workers (husband and wife) all dead before her eyes inside the bakery. It was two houses combined, bakery and residence where Kriti had her reception after her wedding to a radio electronics repairman. Great family… When Evridiki reached our home, she told my mother, "My Irene, they killed my mother and my two workers, and they are going to kill us too". As she was running to escape, she said he heard a voice saying to her, "Run to the Metaxas home". God must have had His angels watching all of them.
So you know Kriti my good childhood friend since you interviewed her about the killings in the Kourtoumbellis bakery in 1963. She was two years older than me in the elementary school. After the release of my family, they became closer to ours, because they were so thankful that her mother escaped to our home during the killings at the bakery and miraculously saved... She got shot in the hip and my mother was trying to bandage her wounds. Kriti had a baby sister named Katia and a brother named Akis. He was one year ahead of me in Elementary. Then later on in 1960 we were roommates in the American Academy Boarding school. All three of us walked together to the Agios Andreas Elementary. So fond memories that would feel volumes!
I was told that the Turkish armed leader of the group who led them in a Turkish home near the Dianellos Cigarette factory, that they took them to protect them from other groups of violent fighters. I saw a lot of fighting around the Cigarette factory on American TV news since in December 1963, I was already in the US, studying. I did not think I that I would see my family again, after having read about the killings at the bakery. I knew of only one bakery owned by a widow woman, Mrs. Evridiki Kourtoumbelidou.
You did write about it… Mrs. Evridiki Kourtoumbelidou found refuge in our house. She was one of those 26 released. Her mother and two workers (husband and wife) lost their lives. One of my younger brothers was at the bakery 10 minutes before the killings.
We do not have ill feelings. We are just so thankful to God who sent his "angels' as my father call them, another group of armed Turks who captured them in order to 'protect' as they said from other extreme Turkish Cypriot groups. We will always think of them as "Angels of God"!
Did you know of Mr. Fikret Ali Riza who worked in the Ottoman Bank? He and his family lived next door to us. GOOD, PRECIOUS neighbours for several years. His wife was responsible indirectly for my family being spared by the first group of killers.
It is a miracle that I am alive today. Had I been there when they were captured, I may not be here to tell the good news that God is a Good God!
My immediate family would have stayed in Cyprus had they gotten their home back after the 1963 sad events, but it never happened. My father prayed to God and asked him if they did not get the house back within 3 years, that would be a sign that it His will to bring the family to America for the children to have a better life. They had a hard time…
In 1966 my father retired from the Government Printing Office after 30 years and he went to London where my sister was studying to be a nurse at King Edward Memorial Hospital. He waited there several months to a year before he got a US visa to come to Chicago in November 1967 to work as a typesetter for a company. In those days, the old-fashioned typesetters were hard to find in America. That is how he got the job after the US Labor Department in Washington gave their approval. It was a long struggle for him because my mother had hardly any income for the rest of the family, still in Cyprus. She went out and cleaned peoples' homes…
In September of 1968 my father and I helped one brother and one sister to come over. In November 1968 the four of us met in Cookeville, TN where I was attending Grad School for Thanksgiving at a friend's home for Thanksgiving dinner. I was so surprised to see my brother again in five years. He was 6 ft tall. The last time I saw him in Cyprus he was 11, Chris, my brother who had been in the bakery at the end of December 1963, 10 minutes before the attack of some Turkish Cypriot gunmen there…
We had a wonderful weekend together. And now we began to talk how to bring the rest of the family over…"
I thank John Metaxas for sharing his story with us… It is a striking story of how a family lost the houses they built in 1963, how the family was dispersed all over the world and how it was so difficult to get back together and start a new life… And not lose the love and care and compassion and not breed hatred but breed peace and understanding… I thank John Metaxas for contacting me, for telling me his story and his exemplary stance… May he be an example for all Cypriots…
The four boys at the yard of the houses that were built for their sisters...
The Metaxas family at their house they lost in 1963 at Irene Street Nicosia...
(*) Article published in the POLITIS newspaper on the 1st of December 2019, Sunday. Similar series of articles were published in Turkish in the YENİDÜZEN newspaper on the 16th and 17th of October 2019 and here are the links: