By Margaret Sheard…
Having written an ex-serviceman’s memories of Cyprus in the late 1950’s, together with Bob Scott, a mystery evolved about a military gentleman who used to sit in the Mulla Hasan coffee house in Nicosia (opposite the old Police Station) and he and Bob became friends for a while, although they did not speak each other’s language. Although some 56 years have passed. Bob said he had often thought of his friend, a smart man in his military uniform with many medals pinned to his chest, but he did not even know his name.
So we had a mystery to solve, and our friend Sermen Erdogan in Melbourne, Australia, having seen a comment made by Bob, stepped in and coincidentally he also remembered this gentleman from the years he spent in Nicosia as a child. Sermen has been a great help with the research he has carried out and we must thank him for most of the information we have since gleaned about Ahmet Rasim.
The links to the articles we have previously written about Bob Scott and Sermen Erdogan can be found at the end of this article.
It seems that Ahmet Rasim was a well-known character in Nicosia and many people remember him although trying to find photos etc. has been a major task and we have managed to locate some, however we are aware that there is a photo of Ahmet Rasim sitting in the Mulla Hasan coffee shop, which was opposite the old Police Station in Nicosia, and this is still eluding us.
We visited Altay Sayil at his temporary office in the premises of Halkin Sesi and also met Ahmet An and they told us of Ahmet Rasim and also another character with the same name, although we later were told by the owner of the present day Mulla Hasan coffee shop, Orhan Mulla Hasan, in Ortakoy that the other person was in fact called Mustafa. There has been a lot of confusion between these two characters and we feel Mustafa probably warrants a story of his own.
On a visit to Milli Arşiv we at last found a photo of Ahmet Rasim in an archived copy of Halkin Sesi 26th April 2001 in which Altay Sayil featured Eski Fotoğraflar (old photographs) with some text about the person featured. This was the Ahmet Rasim we had been looking for and the text Altay wrote, which has been translated by Sermen, is as follows:-
Today’s guest of our photo series is Ahmet Rasim. may he rest in peace.
Ahmet Rasim was a person that lived in Nicosia between 1940-1960 he became a hallmark personality of Nicosia. He was usually seen walking around Sarayönü, Asmaaltı (the little square next to Kumarcılar Han being renovated recently) and Bandabulıa (Nicosia Bazaar) .
He used to wear interesting army officer uniforms and an army hat with many interesting medallions pinned on his jacket, in addition to the medals he would have army buttons even coke tops stuck to his lapels.
Another name for him was The Uncle with Medallions. Some women used to scare their naughty children by saying “Uslu dur seni madalyalıya söylerim” (which roughly translates) “Stop being naughty or I will tell on you to the Uncle with Medallions”.
He was known as a very skilful shoemaker, the people were saying that he had made boots for Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Ahmet Rasim had a very fluent language and used to tell people that he did make boots for Atatürk. From time to time he used to work at Shoemaker Huseins shop in Kurtbaba Street. His skill in design and putting the leather together was renowned and was known as “sayacilik and Tehelcilik” person putting the upper leather and sewing it on the shoe. Because of his skill level Ahmet Rasim was engaged, whenever a new style of shoe arrived on the island, for him to copy and make the design for other shoemakers. They did not mass produce shoes in those days. They were shoemakers working out of small workshops with one or two men who were the owners.
The larger shoe shops used to order 12 to 20 pairs of shoes to be made at a time from these small workshops to sell in their shops.
Ahmet Rasim was living in a small room behind Cafers Café in Asmaalt ın Nicosia. He was a harmless character that treated everyone with respect. One thing that surprised the community was that he could work out the date for the day of the next year’s religious celebrations (as the date of these religious days vary every year due to the lunar calendar). He is circled in the smaller photo in 1950s with his army hat and glasses in the crowd at a Sarayönü meeting.
It seems that Ahmet Rasim was a shoemaker and we have found some information to confirm this but there is another mystery of him making shoes or boots for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. How would he have come into contact and when? We do not know when Ahmet Rasim was born so would he have been in Gallipoli, or maybe WW2. Sermen has received some information and forwarded it on to us.
I asked for help in the Gerçek Lefkoşalılar page from Tuncer Bağışkan the historian, here it is…
This is the shoe maker’s shop of Memduh Halil sitting second from left, near Arasta Street, Nicosia in 1940s.
I am suspecting the guy sitting on the very left is the younger Ahmet Rasım. His facial features resemble a lot to the older form and his smile is what is making me think that it is him. Also notice how he is displaying the piece of leather in front of him as if to say I have done this design! He is not dressed like the other workers with a work overall. He looks well dressed in a woollen vest, he is like a visitor or a part timer perhaps that came in to do his design!
There is some doubt in my mind about this photo as the film poster was for a movie in 1945. It is difficult to judge the age of the person on the left of the photo but from Bob and Sermen’s recollections, in the 1950’s our Ahmet Rasim would have been in the age range 70-80 so a bit of a discrepancy in the time factor I think.
Was Ahmet Rasim Turkish or Turkish Cypriot, we are not sure. Sermen Erdogan has the notion that he may have been related to the Alpaslan family and has given the following information:-
Evidently Ahmet used to live in a family home in Nicosia known as the house where Alparslan Turkesh was born. Alparslan was a Cypriot who migrated to Turkey and formed his Nationalist political party ending as the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey in 1970s.
The lady who provided the information said that Ahmet Rasim was a brother of Alparslan Turkesh. Alparslan Turkesh’s mother was married previously to her first husband who died and had four sons before she got married for the second time to Alparslan’s father. Alparslan Turkesh talks about his half brothers but has not given names, however, in a book I read Alparslan says his four half brothers had influenced him in becoming a nationalist and developing his ideologies in Turkism and nationalism (these are traits that Ahmet Rasim did have). However, I could not find other evidence to confirm this relationship except that Alparslan Turkesh has named one of his sons Ahmet (although this is a common name and I cannot conclude that it is due to our Ahmet)!
Sermen has also told us – The other interesting thing that people informed me about was that our Ahmet Rasim with medals lived next door to the Lusignan house in Kirlizade street in Nicosia and somehow was related to Alparslan Turkesh ( two people said they were brothers).
There is so much we would like to discover about this character who became so well-known in later years. Was he born in Cyprus? Was he married? Did he have children? Perhaps someone has some answers for us and we would love to hear from them.
While researching Ahmet Rasim, we came across another character who was probably around at about the same time and we understood that he was also called Ahmet Rasim, which was very confusing, however, we have been informed that his name was in fact Mustafa. This was another character who dressed in a military type uniform and would lead processions, funerals etc. waving his walking stick in the air.
Sermen also remembers this person from his childhood and has told us that Mustafa could not speak, he had apparently suffered an illness in his earlier years leaving him with no speech. He was originally a teacher and Sermen remembers him setting maths questions with chalk on the pavement for him to work out, with a pat on the head when he got them right. There has been a lot of confusion between these two military characters but we think now we have been able to separate them and established the two different characters.
Mustafa Rasim we understand was very poor, he used to collect figs from the trees and sell them to be able to survive. We have also been told that Mustafa was a caretaker at the Selimiye Mosque in Nicosia where he actually lived and later he became caretaker at the Sarayönü Mosque where he also lived.
Another colourful Nicosia character of the past but for the moment we are concentrating on Ahmet Rasim, the friend of British ex-serviceman Bob Scott for those few years when he served in Cyprus as part of his national service.
Bob Scott’s story – click here
Sermen Erdogan and his family’s story – click here