“I close my eyes and I can see my Police station and my friends who I worked with, you have made me very happy”
By Chris Elliott
Life has a habit of moving in circles and recently I was sitting chatting to Berrin Özkaya a friend and also a Turkish language teacher for the Çatalköy Beledeyesi community language classes when she told me of a recent incident where one of her students “Jarra Brown” went along to the local coffee shop to try and broaden his Turkish by mixing with the locals and this is what he told me of the experience as follows.
“By Jarra Brown MBE
In the summer of 2012 having recently relocated to Esentepe in North Cyprus I sighted an article in the Cyprus Today encouraging foreign nationals to come along and learn a little of the Turkish language.
The Çatalköy Beledeyesi had kindly put a project together with the enthusiasm of Berrin Özkaya in which at no cost to any interested attendee they could enjoy the hospitality of the municipality and have a dabble at learning a few words and phrases of everyday Turkish language.
During the 8 weeks I did pick up the foundation of the basic language enough to be polite, say hello and with a few charades, hand signs and body language even managed to get the odd basic message across.
To be able to communicate with a local resident is fun and enjoyable, yes I know many who have tried have been put off because many of our neighbours want to communicate in English but if you persevere it’s really nice to see them recognise that you are trying.
When the course was concluded Berrin encouraged the students to mix with the local community in their village coffee shops etc. to try and gain the confidence to speak Turkish and a few of us with the safety net of Berrin by our side popped along to a Çatalköy coffee shop.
During those couple of months or so I got chatting to “An Old Boy” Mr Oktay what an interesting man he is and we both had something in common being ex policemen, although from many generations apart.
It turned out that Mr Oktay had signed up with the Cyprus Police as a special constable in the late 1950’s when the emergency crisis was in full swing fighting the EOKA, at the time he was only 16 years of age when the legal age to join was 18, ok so he lied to get in and do his bit for his community.
He spoke in brief about various incidents as the weeks went by and as we approached November I asked him would he be attending the Remembrance Service held in Kyrenia.
He mentioned he would of but without his Cyprus campaign service medal he felt uncomfortable to do so and explained he lost it when the family moved from the South of the island to the North during the enforced relocation programme in 1975.
I reflected on what Mr Oktay told me that day as I left him in the coffee shop and sent a couple of emails to various friends in the know in an effort to ascertain if it would be possible to obtain a replica of the original medal and was pleased to find out I could.
On my next visit I continued where we left off and asked him if he could recall his service No. Straight away he sat up 6001 Oktay sir, he replied proudly, repeating again Special Police Constable 6001 Oktay.
I told him I would try and replace his medal for him as per the original and asked would he like me to try? he replied “you can do this“, I dunno but I can certainly try I told him, the excitement and hope in his eyes was all the motivation I needed to make it happen.
The following week I returned to the UK for 6 weeks and informed Mr. Oktay I would be back in touch with him in the new year.
Whilst in the UK I did manage to get the Cyprus GSM fully engraved and mounted with SPC 6001 Oktay Cyprus Police exactly as the original.
When I returned to North Cyprus in early January I contacted Berrin and told her I had Mr Oktay’s medal.
Berrin arranged with the Mayor for a suitable date as daily she was being asked by Mr Oktay at the turn of the year had she seen me or was I still in the UK, so our meetings had to be outside of the village to arrange the presentation.
The Mayor organised a suitable evening and suggested we go for a meal together and present Mr Oktay his Cyprus GSM on the evening of Thursday 17th January 2013 some 53 years after he was originally presented with his medal when once again he would be able to wear it proudly on his chest.
On the evening we gathered you could see the excitement in him he relived his memories of those very arduous days.
As we ate he chatted constantly and I asked him how did he feel knowing that we had his medal, he replied “It feels like it is back then, I close my eyes and I can see my Police station and my friends who I worked with, you have made me very happy”
During the conversation he informed us of the day when he and his colleagues were in coffee shop relaxing having lunch and playing cards and his friend sat next to him was shot dead by a sniper.
When he told us this you could see the sadness in his eyes but the excitement of receiving his medal once again soon had those eyes smiling again.
My goodness me was he proud, he even left the restaurant during the evening to nip over home and brought back with him a framed photograph of himself proudly wearing his police uniform taken in 1957.
So the moment came when the Mayor made a small speech followed by presenting Mr. Oktay his Cyprus GSM.
having his medal pinned to his chest, I’m sure he grew six inches taller and stuck his chest out such was the pride in him.
They say photographs say a thousand words well if you see the pictures of Mr. Oktay maybe in his case a thousand and one.
After we took a few photo’s we once again sat down and I asked him was he Happy, he replied you have no idea how happy you have made me.
I felt so privileged to be present and just doing something quite simple as obtaining his medal made both my wife Karen and I feel really delighted that we had made a significant impact not only on Mr Oktay but in a way say thank you to Berrin and Çatalköy Beledeyesi for the lessons and invitation to join their community.
I can also advise the Royal British Legion that there will be one more veteran on parade on the next Remembrance Service where, Special Police Constable 6001 Oktay will be stood proud wearing his Cyprus GSM campaign medal and be deep in thought of those who deserve never to be forgotten during his time fighting the EOKA. “
What was even more amazing of this story is that when I was looking at the pictures of Mr Oktay, Jarra had given me, I realized I had met Mr Oktay in the past and when I checked my records I found pictures I had taken of him when Berrin had taken me to the Çatalköy Sport Club and another local said, this man has an interesting story of the past so thank you Jarra for being able to spend time finding out so much about Mr Oktay Kemal Özdenefe and for also helping him aquire a copy of his Cyprus GSM campaign medal which he was so proud of.