Ismail Veli – My Roots 1750’s to 2014
History of the Mehmet Katri family of Lurucina/Akincilar
By Ismail Veli
The origins of the Mehmet Katri family in Lurucina goes back at least 11 generations. Hasan Yucelen in his excellent research wrote (Akincilar/Lurucina Turklerin Yuzyillik Varolus Mucadelesi page 29) that Mehmet Katri was said to have come from Manisa Turkey, settled in Dali and then Lurucina. Dates are hard to come by but as Mehmet Ismail Kavaz the grandson of Mehmet Katri was born in 1810 we can assume that Mehmet’s arrival in Lurucina would be about 40-60 years previous.
In the mid 1700’s Cyprus was plagued by epidemics and regular swarms of Locusts which was followed by years of severe drought saw the population decimated by death, pestilence and migration. The 1777 census by the Cypriot Archbishop Kyprianos put the population at only 84.000. How reliable the census was is questionable but what is clear is that the Cypriot population was in massive decline. With the Ottoman empire also in decline Cyprus was in dire straits, army deserters roamed around the Nicosia – Larnaca main road in order to rob and harass others as brigands. The village of Lurucina was smack in the middle of the two towns. The Authorities needed a person of courage and experience in controlling the area, it was against this backdrop that Mehmet Katri was offered large tracts of land in order to control, arrest and keep order.
The true extent of this land is not certain but a look at the Ottoman census on the ownership of land among Mehmet Katri’s grandchildren helps to give an indication of the extent to which this family were well rewarded for their service. This amounted to no less than 220 separately divided plots of land. The size of each varied depending on whether they were farm land or living accommodation. A look at the 1831 census of Muslim ownership of land in Lurucina showed that the whole village owned land equivalent to 2210 donums of which 112 were vineyards. With a total population of only 104 Muslims divided into no more than 6-8 family groups it does not take rocket science to work out the massive percentage owned by the Katri family group. In fact according to the 1879-82 census only 4-5 family groups owned a few plots as opposed to many who just had their tiny homes and farm plots, if that.
For the state to have offered such large tracts of land for such a service it meant that Mehmet Katri must have had experience and a reputation that the authorities were very much aware of. He seemed to have built a small building as a post opposite the Phillidotissa Church near the main road, this also acted as a shelter when working the large tract of lands around the area. The building was still standing in 1882 as it was clearly identified (as Katrini) in Lord Kitchener’s map of Cyprus which he prepared soon after Britain took control in 1878.
Mehmet Katri had four sons and as the land was extensive and fertile they cultivated large tracts of vineyards, and other farm produce. It turned out that one of his sons Yusuf (Aga) was a bit independent and often argued with his father. The Ottomans were constantly recruiting men for the army and Mehmet offered his son Yusuf believing that it may help change his attitude. Sadly in those days army service could last many years. As it turned out Yusuf taking after his father went on to become a successful soldier. A courageous man handy with the sword and shield in hand-to-hand combat, he became a bodyguard. He educated himself and earned the title of “Aga”. With no communication in those days and years having passed, the ageing Mehmet believing his son to be dead allocated the land to his remaining three sons, Kara-Mustafa ‘Hrisafi’, Veli and Ismail ‘Gacari’ leaving some for himself. On his release Yusuf feeling aggrieved at his father’s actions decided to settle in Nicosia where he became a judge (Yargic).
In those days it was customary to leave a basket of produce by the edge of the fields as a courtesy for passers by, but under no circumstances were they allowed to go and help themselves in the fields. One day Mehmet Katri spotted two men helping themselves to the grapes and becoming angry, arrested and handed them to the police. By a strange coincidence the thieves were brought before Judge Yusuf Aga, his son and realizing that the case involved his father, passed an unusual sentence on the men. They were to be escorted by police to go before Mehmet Katri, get on their knees, kiss his hand and beg for forgiveness. Anticipating his father’s anger at such a light sentence he ordered the police that if Mehmet wished to challenge this sentence then he had the right to appeal in person to the Judge. As it turned out when the thieves in the presence of police carried out their sentence Mehmet Katri became angry and asked the police “hangi deyus bu karari verdi”, (“what rascal has given this judgement” Hasan Yucelen page 33). He immediately accepted the message given by the police from the judge and went to Nicosia with the policemen. Entering the court house he repeated his previous statement. Coming face to face and staring at each other Mehmet soon recognized his son and they started to hug and kiss each other. After a long talk Mehmet persuaded Yusuf to come back to Lurucina where his share of the land was reinstated. Yusuf went on to have 5 children. Mehmet Can-Nuri, Veli ‘Kelle’, Bekir ‘Onbasi’, Yusuf ‘Aga’ (Bedasi) and Hacer who married Suleyman ‘Truho’.
Soon after Yusuf Aga settled back in Lurucina there was a wedding at Mehmet ‘Cemberli’s’ house. While the party was in full flow a number of Albanian soldiers who were stationed nearby entered the house fully armed and demanded that being the local strongmen had the right to sleep the night with the bride before the groom. This obviously caused massive concern and fear. Someone suggested that they delay the proceedings in order to call Yusuf Aga for help in sorting this unexpected intrusion. On receiving the news Yusuf dressed in full military uniform, with sword and shield in hand made his way to Cemberli’s house, standing on the front door, this unexpected sight alarmed the Albanian soldiers Yusuf lifting his sword smashed the oil light on the ceiling and advanced towards the Albanians. His advance convinced the so called tough guys that they were up against an unusually fearless person and their next move was to run towards the nearest exit. Judging by the issues in question this incident may have taken place in the 1820’s. Strangely many Cypriots were often complaining about the arrogant and bullying methods of the Albanians who were based in Cyprus at the time. By the early 1830s most were replaced by Arabic (Mostly Egyptian) troops who seem to have integrated much better into the more gentle manner of the locals. There is a couple of family trees in Lurucina who originate from the Albanian and Bosnian people. These have been confirmed in the Ottoman census of the period, and until recently everyone called them by their family nickname of ‘Arnauti’ and ‘Bosnak’s’
Strangely my grandfather Yusuf Ismail ‘Phsillo’ born in 1904 often used to drink and when drunk used to burst in the room and smash the oil lamp with a long stick. He was simply emulating his great uncle’s actions. It was only after my extensive research that I mentioned the story of Yusuf Aga to my parents. On hearing my story my mother put her hand to her head and said ”my God so that’s what dad was always blabbering on about”. Clearly the story was passed on from generations but not always so clearly.
We shall now concentrate on the fourth son of Mehmet Katri, his name was Ismail Mehmet ‘Kacari’. and Ismail’s son Mehmet Ismail born in 1810 was to become the first person that earned the name Kavaz.(Guard) Where and how is still unclear. Fortunately he survived at a time when casualties in the Ottoman army was immensely high. Perhaps serving as a guard rather than at the front line was a factor in his survival, for ordinary soldiers had little protection and conditions were atrocious to say the least. On the other hand no one at that period would have been a Kavaz unless they first proved their courage and toughness. Life was cheap, dangerous and clearly Mehmet was as tough as they came. This fact would become apparent, for his children and grandchildren would go on to become one of the most successful in the village. Many serving as police, soldiers and more recently his great grandson Bekir ‘Gutsoveli’ the head of the Luricina defence force.
Mehmet Kavaz married Ayse Yusuf ‘Siliono’ in 1839 and they had 5 sons & 2 daughters. Strangely in addition to being my great great grandmother Ayse ‘Siliono’ was also my great great aunt from my fathers paternal Arabic family tree and sister to Hasan Yusuf ”Arabi”. This family originally settled in Pirga village before making a final move to Lurucina. In addition to inheriting large amounts of land from his father, Mehmet Kavaz must have earned a decent amount of wealth as Mehmet did in fact own a lot of land, and when his sons also returned from their service in the military the amount of land owned by the family was enormous. Mehmet continued his civilian life as a Reshber and also had a large amount of animals which in the 1800’s was a guaranteed source of wealth. Proof of this is that generations later in spite of constant distribution of inherited land there was still a substantial amount of land in the family. Ismail ‘Ismailo’ their first son was born in 1844 and he alone left tens of donums to his son Mehmet Ismail Kavaz ‘Ganu’ and according to the Descendants of Bekiro and Seido (Seyidali born in 1854) large amounts of land were owned by their relatives. The family homes were centred not far from the Mosque, between the stream and the Arabic ‘Siliono’ family. (As stated above this is my fathers paternal side of the family) while their farmland was spread outside many parts of the village. The union of these 2 families must have been a big event because the Ottoman records show that between the 2 families the plots of land amounted to 38 separate plots plus 80 sheep and goats, 2 cows, 3 donkeys and a mule for the Arabic family and 44 plots for the Mehmet Kavaz family plus 80 sheeps and goats, 2 cows, 3 donkeys. Together this amounted to no less than 82 separate plots of land. An astronomical amount by the standards of the period.
Mehmet’s son Arif ‘Pasha’ married twice. The first wife died soon after having a son who was named Mehmet ‘Kaplan’. His second wife was a Greek lady who was a devout Christian Orthodox. Proof of this is that all their children were baptized and named Petros, Banayis, Yorgis and Athanasia. No doubt she must have had a great influence on her husband. For a man who served as a Kavaz with the title of Pasha adopting to such a drastic course would have created tremendous friction in the family. The family, except for Mehmet ‘Kaplan’ moved to Limassol and not much more is known about his baptized children. Hopefully one day they will see my family tree website and get in touch with me as learning about all aspects of my roots and links is so important and satisfying.
Bekir Mehmet Kavaz ‘Bekiro’ (another son of Mehmet Kavaz) was by most accounts a tough, well respected and devoted family man. The name Bekiro has been heard for many generations. On his return from the army he married the daughter of Mustafa Huseyin ‘Ushi’ and had two sons Mehmet ‘Bekiro’ and Ismail ‘efendi’. Sadly like so many other women at the time she died young. Being a single parent in the 1880s-90s was no easy life. It was at this time that Pembe Mehmet ‘Gatsura’ also became a widow. Her husband Rustem Hasan (son of Hasan Yusuf ‘Arap/Siliono’) also died young leaving her with two sons Mehmet ‘Birgo’ and Yusuf ‘Abeydo’. As the deceased Rustems aunt (Hala in Turkish) was also the mother of Bekir Kavaz then arranging the two couple to be married was considered to be a great ‘sebab’, after all with four children between them they had a lot in common. It turned out to be a successful marriage and together they had another four children. Veli ‘Gutsoveli’, Serife, Katriye and the youngest born in 1908 Osman. By all accounts all the children grew up as one family. Ismail ‘Efendi’ became one of the first teachers in the village. He features in a famous school photo taken in 1946 with his young students and my mother Fatma is also in the photo. The youngest Osman was a popular person at family weddings. Apparently he had a great voice and was often encouraged to sing at all family gatherings. Times may have been hard and stern but Luricinali families also knew how to have a good time.
Ismail Mehmet Kavaz ‘Ismailo’ born in 1844 was my father’s maternal great grand-father. But sadly information on his life is scarce. Unlike some families of the period he only had a small family. A son Mehmet Ismail Kavaz ‘Ganu’ (born 1878) and a daughter Melek ‘Yasena’.who was a bit older. Whether he died young is not certain. He also had a daughter named Serife, sadly she never had children. No one in the family seems to know very much about him, only that his wife was a Serife but sadly I have found no records to confirm this.
The family of Seyit-ali/Seidali ‘Seido’ born in 1854 is much better known. But it’s on his daughter Keziban that we shall concentrate. The fate of this family is filled with courage, hardship, and tragedy along the way. But a legacy that is befitting the character of the people of Luricina and the Kavaz family.
Seyit-Ali’s daughter Keziban (1892-1955) married Mehmet Ramadan (11.05.1886 – 15.02.1972) Mehmet joined the police force and around the year 1905 – 1906 moved to Larnaca. Together they went on to have eleven children. With the onset of the second World war Seyit-Ali, and his twin brothers Hasan and Hussein enlisted into the Cyprus Regiment. It seems that the martial spirit of their grandfathers was still alive.
Mehmet Ramadan became a corporal, his job as a policeman meant that he was forced to move home on a regular basis. The twin sons Hasan and Hussein of Mehmet and Keziban were born near Limasol in 1922, while Seyit-Ali (named after his grand-dad Seyit-Ali Kavaz) was born in Larnaca in 1925.
In 1939 WWII had begun, and by 1940-41 Nazi Germany had over-run Europe. The British Empire was fighting for its very survival. Turkish and Greek Cypriots rallied to the call of arms. In all 20.000 Cypriots volunteered to fight for Britain. The twins were among the first to volunteer, Seyit-Ali was too young so had to lie about his age in order to enlist. The British were asking no questions. The Cyprus Regiment was soon formed and Hasan was soon shipped out to help defend the island of Crete against the tough and experienced German paratroopers. Unfortunately Hasan was captured together with other Cypriots.
Many served out the war as prisoners but Hasan escaped and joined the partisans in Crete. Like other Luricinali’s his knowledge of the Greek language gave him a great advantage in passing off as a local Greek civilian. He came close to being captured a second time but escaped through the back of a house and fled to the mountains, where he continued to fight with the Resistance, until the British Army managed to liberate the Island and he returned back to his Unit in the 8th Army (better known as the desert rats) in North Africa.
In the mean time his younger brother Seyit-Ali was doing his own stint.
Corporal Seyit Mehmed Ramadan, witnessed many historical moments during WWII (i.e.: the bombing and destruction of Monte Cassino) and got into quite a few scraps, also (whilst playing billiards in a café one winter in Senegalia and hearing a commotion outside he rushed to the rescue of a younger Greek Cypriot soldier, who was surrounded by an Italian mob and had been set upon, whilst others – including his fellow soldiers – stood by. Unleashing his belt he ”dived-in” and let loose, left/right and center and, in his own words, ”liberated” him! He was so hyped-up that he picked up the bike of a bystander and threw it at them! But, they all had to leg-it, as the Military Police were on the way!) As a 18 year old, one night in March 1944 whilst on Guard Duty, he saved the life of his Platoon, whilst they slept. Apparently, he heard a noise in the distance and, of course, shouted out for them to halt and identify themselves. When no response came, after the third? time, he let out a shot. Obviously, everyone awoke and they went to investigate further, in the dark of the night, only to find a dead soldier. It turned out he was a German and Seyit killed him with a bullet to the forehead, he got very upset about killing a fellow human but his Platoon Commander told him that it was a very good thing that he had done, because he had saved all their lives. As, obviously, had he not done so, or was shot himself, the German soldiers would have proceeded to kill the rest of the platoon, whilst they all slept.
Seyit escaped death on many occasions. The first was when he was on a ship, one night before landing, and they were being bombed. He later told his daughter that he was convinced, he would not see his 18th birthday! On another occasion, whilst in Haifa (Palestine), he was walking down the main street, when he was stopped by some Jewish Freedom Fighters (who were not averse to killing the odd British Soldier) and only escaped with his life, because he told them he wasn’t English but Turkish Cypriot! That convinced him to leave the Army and so, in June 1947 he was demobbed and returned to Cyprus. He was due to join the Cyprus Police Force and all his uniform was laid out for the next day, but Seyit didn’t want to stay in Cyprus so he came to England! For Seyit the event of his brother’s death over-shadowed all that took place during the War, and is the most important link to that time.
In 1943 the allies invaded Italy and Seyit-Ali’s unit was one of the first to enter Rome. The war was not over but the Allies were advancing on all fronts, but tragedy was to engulf the family. It was 9 September 1944 when Hussein (one of the twin brothers) was leading a convoy in the mountains of Italy. As it had been raining the roads were narrow, slippery and treacherous without any warning an American convoy suddenly came head on from around the bend. His motor bike skidded forcing him off and caused terrible injuries and he died. The official version was ‘battle accident’ and he was buried at the Ancona military cemetery where he still lies today. On his tombstone he is listed as ‘Corporal Hussein Mehmet, CY/1217’
As for recognition, there is a letter from Prince Charles to Seyit, which acknowledges his contribution to WWII, but sadly has not been found since he died a few years ago. In addition he had other letters, from The Queen, Prince Phillip, Prime Ministers etc. This family’s sense of duty and honor seems to have seeped down through the generations and the younger generation are no doubt proud of their forefathers achievements
Another great achievement of any Luricinali was that of Alper Mehmet. Becoming an ambassador for the UK to Iceland in 2004. No doubt as an extended family the whole of our village felt the pride as in one’s son.
Mehmet arrived in the United Kingdom from Cyprus in 1956 when he was aged eight. He was educated at Parmiter’s Grammar School in the East End of London, and at Bristol Polytechnic. On graduation from Bristol, he became an immigration officer (1970–79) and then an entry clearance officer in Lagos, Nigeria (1979–83). In 1983, he entered Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service, serving in Romania, Germany and Iceland (twice) and leaving in 2008. When he was appointed as Ambassador to Iceland in 2004, he became one of the first two British ambassadors from ethnic minority backgrounds to be appointed (the other being Anwar Choudhury, who was appointed High Commissioner to Bangladesh). He now sits on the advisory council of Migration Watch UK
In the 1960’s & 1970’s my uncle Osman Yusuf ‘Pire’ served for many years as a volunteer military man. He became a non-commissioned officer and had a reputation for always volunteering himself on dangerous tasks and after 15 years of service he finally resigned to work as a builder. 3 years ago the state awarded him a medal for his contribution to the people of Lurucina and his people. What strikes me about him is like most veterans he never boasts about his achievements and is on the surface a very placid gentle person. But when I visited him in November I clearly sensed his pride when I requested to take a photo of him with his awarded medal. It seems only the inner strength and courage of these individuals come to the surface if and when it is needed.
It’s clear from the above that the Mehmet Katri family was no ordinary family. the tradition of military toughness and courage has been passed down through generations. The latest being the son of Ayse & Tuncer Mehmet & grandson of Mehmet Seyit-Ali ‘Mono’, who by a strange coincidence carries his great granddad’s name Mehmet Kavaz.
Mehmet is currently serving as a Colour Sergeant (a guard to the flag bearer). in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers an infantry regiment. Though it has no fixed ”home” i.e. the regimental headquarters is The Tower of London. Mehmet’s long career since 1989 has seen him serve in many parts of the world like Bosnia, Cyprus, Germany, Northern Ireland, Canada and the Falklands all during the 90’s and has served in Iraq and Afghanistan this century. Mehmet cuts an amazing figure of a man. Tall good looking tough but never short of a smile which reveals his amazingly positive attitude to life. He married Corrine in February of 2005 and they have a strapping 3 year old lad named Adam. At 43 years of age it seems Mehmet’s desire to continue his proud career has not diminished. In fact he is now currently an Army Careers Advisor for the British Army.
No doubt the spirit that brought Mehmet Katri and the Kavaz’s to Lurucina runs in the veins of the present day youth. So the sons of the Katri’s/Kavaz seem to be in many corners of the world. Taking their achievements and pride of their ancestors with them. In love or in tragedy one thing is certain, their gentle shadow still looms over the hills and valleys of Lurucina from whence they came.
I have written a number of articles about my family and village of Lourucina which you can read below:
Cyprus Regiment – Forgotten heroes of WW2 – click here
Northern Cyprus – Lurucina (Akincilar), exodus from the village – click here
Akincilar – Lurucina, Looking Back In Time – click here
For more information please visit my website The Families of Lourucina by clicking here
For a wide variety of article about Lurucina please visit the cyprusscene.com Portfolio by clicking here