Uncovering the origins of the people of



By Ismail Veli…….

Bu yazının Türkce çevrisini okumak isteyen burada tıklayın.

One of the most talked and debated issues of the people of Lurucina is, ”who were our ancestors”?

Even many other Cypriots not from Lurucina have made countless claims. Some insist that we were Christian Greeks who converted to save tax. Many believe our origins were Venetians who converted to save themselves from discrimination from both Greeks and Turks. Some insist we originated from Ottoman Turks. No historic evidence has ever been presented to back up any claim. Some arguments though sounding plausible are often based on wishful thinking, political ideology and sometimes even prejudice. In this day and age our ethnic origins should not cause any embarrassment or concern, after all we all know the world is increasingly becoming a melting pot of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. History and evidence however can, and should be discussed, if only so we can enhance our knowledge on a realistic basis.

The people of Lurucina in spite of identifying themselves as Turkish Cypriots by ethnicity did in fact speak fluent Greek, which earned them the name Linobambaki (cotton wooleys) this was often used in derogatory terms to imply that they identified as Muslims to save tax or Christians to avoid National service. Some historians made fleeting reference to the Linobambaki but even they often went on what the general belief was, rather than any effort to research each claim on its own merits. Both Greek and Turkish Cypriots mocked and taunted the people of Lurucina in equal measure. It was these kind of derogatory insinuations that cemented a bond and determination to prevail and succeed in keeping our unique diverse culture on  a positive footing. The amazing thing is very few, if anyone, ever bothered to research our past beyond our family trees, therefore our history has been left to a few simple footnotes of passing phrases like ”The stronghold of the Linobambaki”,  and so on.  With so many important centres of the island like Nicosia, Kyrenia, Famagusta etc why would anyone bother with a mere village which was the target of ridicule from many sides of the ethnic makeup of Cyprus? Sadly some of our own villagers went as far as to accept the ridicule in the belief that our past ancestors switched according to their interest.

After a six year intensive research based on original archive documents a completely different picture seems to have emerged. The vast majority of the ethnic Turks of the village did in fact serve for years in the military, in fact when the 1831 and 1879 census documents are compared it’s clear that nicknames that were considered to reveal our past Latin or Greek origins  and were very common in family identification seem to be much more recent than people believe. In the 1831 documents only one or 2 nicknames exist on record. One is ”Coban” (Shepherd) but we also know this to be a name. The same family has the nickname of ”Topal” (the lame). The vast majority of nicknames seems to be among the last 4-5 generations. The further one goes back the less there are. Therefore using our Greek, Turkish or Latin sounding nicknames as proof of our past ethnicity is flimsy to say the least. After all we had people named Mussolini, Kennedy, Grivas and even Cliff (after the British singer Cliff Richard) etc. No one can seriously claim a relationship to these past international figures. On close inspection there are some records of Muslim Turks marrying Christian women and converting to the Orthodox faith. Arif Mehmet Kavaz ‘Pasha’ from my paternal mother’s family being one.

Born in 1856 he married Ayse  Suleyman ‘Yasumullo, but after her death he married a Christian woman named Kakulla. For some reason he named all his later children with Christian names and moved to Limassol.  In spite of countless debates of conversions to Islam from the Christian faith, not a single person born between the period 1750 to the present have been found to have converted from Christianity to Islam. Considering there have been at least 8000 people recorded on the village family trees that is an amazing rebuttal of claim on the theory that the people of Lurucina converted to Islam.

Some argue that if there were conversions they took place immediately after the Ottoman conquest of 1571. But even this is hearsay and most important the details and evidence found to date have shown this theory to be flimsy. In the first Ottoman census of 1572 there were 27 Cizye (Christian households) but by 1643 this increased to 41. So the question is, if at a period of falling population count in Cyprus, how did a  50% increase in the population of Lurucina take place? Surely if they had converted to Islam the Christian population would have shown a decrease?

So let’s look at the documented evidence uncovered thus far. The 1879 census which covers the population from 1796-1879 reveals some interesting facts. Some were listed as being Bosnians, Albanian  and Arabic. I hardly think the officials would have registered these people as such if they did not somehow have their origins in these ethnic groups. Nearly all the family trees researched strangely seem to start one or two generations more or less during the period that is around 1750’s to early 1800’s. The Orthodox Christian population on the other hand is more consistent. They are recorded clearly as Christians in the 1572, 1643 and 1831 census records. The turmoil and economic devastation in the 1700’s did see a massive drop in the total population of the island, and the Christian population also decreased as a result. For some reason however the Muslim Turkish element is, as stated, much more recent. Though only 104 Muslim males (39 households) were recorded in 1831 (as opposed to 25 Christian males) an amazing discovery was also made. Some of the largest family trees of our village namely the Arabic ‘Kirlangic’ (Siliono),  Ibrahim  Mustafa Kara-Ali ‘Garaoli’, and Hasan Huseyin Topal  (or Coban ) turned out to be Sipahi’s. Sipahi refers to all freeborn Ottoman Turkish mounted troops  and tribal horsemen in the Ottoman army. The word was used almost synonymously with cavalry. The Sipahis formed two distinct types of cavalry: feudal-like, provincial timarli and the paid regular Kapikulu Sipahi.

Ottoman Empire Sipahi

The Ottoman people had rights to the land but the Sipahi’s  a unique kind of military aristocracy and cavalry portion of the military, also lived on the land with the farmers and collected tax revenues, usually in-kind, to subsidize the costs of training and equipping the small army, dedicated to serving the sultan. Was there a reason for all these Muslim families to have settled in Lurucina during the same period? It’s possible of course that certain elements, possibly the Christian or Latin members of the population joined in rebellion, and after being subdued the Sipahi families were rewarded with land for serving the Sultan faithfully? No doubt expert historians of Cyprus would know of these events in more detail, but that’s not to say they bothered with researching individual families like our roots in such detail. In order to understand the role of Sipahi’s a few independent sources would suffice to answer the role of these cavalry men during the Ottoman Empire.

The following is from the Encyclopedia Britannica.

“Sipahi, occasionally spelled spahi,  feudal cavalryman of the Ottoman Empire whose status resembled that of the medieval European knight. The sipahi (from Persian for “cavalryman”) was holder of a fief (timar; Turkish: tımar) granted directly by the Ottoman sultan and was entitled to all of the income from it in return for military service. The peasants on the land were subsequently attached to the land and became serfs. The sipahis provided the bulk of the Ottoman army until about the mid-16th century. From then on they were gradually supplanted by the Janissaries, an elite corps composed of infantrymen paid regular salaries by the sultanate. In part, this change resulted from the increased use of firearms, which made cavalry less important, and from the need to maintain a regular standing army. The sipahis were completely discredited during the War of Greek independence (1821–32), and the timar system was officially abolished in 1831 by Sultan Mahmud II as part of his program to create a modern Western-style army.”

The Military Architecture describes them as Sipahis which were the Turkish equivalent of the European armored knights. These troops were largely accustomed to fighting on horseback and their strength lay in their mobility as mounted archers. Their light weapons and armour were designed for hit-and-run tactics.

Since Kapikulu Sipahis were a cavalry regiment it was well known within the Ottoman military circles that they considered themselves a more superior stock of soldiers than Janissaries, who were sons of Christian peasants from the Balkans (Rumelia), and were basically slaves bound by various laws of the devşirme.

Whereas the Sipahis (both Tımarlı and Kapıkulu) were almost exclusively chosen amongst ethnic Turkic landowners, they made great strides of efforts to gain respect within the Ottoman Empire and their political reputation depended on the mistakes of the Janissary. That minor quarrels erupted between the two units is made evident with a Turkmen adage, still used today within Turkey, “Atlı er başkaldırmaz”, which, referring to the unruly Janissaries, translates into “Horsemen don’t mutiny”.

Ottoman soldiers taxation record
Ottoman soldiers taxation record

The above information is without doubt powerful evidence that the main families in Lurucina were in fact from a strong ruling class of cavalry families stationed in Lurucina during a period of immense turmoil for the Ottomans, and most important that these families were from Turkic or Arabic Muslim background (the T.C Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivleri. Book TŞR.KB.d.00040. Pages 45 ve 46). In fact the 1833 land ownership (Başbakanlık Osmanlı arşivlerinin ML.VRD.TMT.d.16152 numaralı defterinin 49-52. Sayfaları. Luricina köyü. 1833 yılı. Prime ministerial Ottoman Archives  Book number ML.VRD.TMT.d.16152. Pages 49-52.) also confirms that these wealthy families were large land owners. Many of these families each owned large tracts of land.  Just 3 members of the Ibrahim ‘Garaoli’ (Kara-Ali) owned 289 donums of land plus many olive trees and animals. 3 members of The Mehmet Kadri family owned 239 donums plus an enormous number of animals and trees. Their status as Sipahi’s and high military positions were not easily won. For a period of immense poverty on the island the 39 registered landowners collectively owned 2363 donums. (2.210 donums in Lurucina and the rest in other locations like Limya). In addition they owned various heads of animals totalling 661. Hardly an amount to be scoffed at.

To read more on this subject please click here

They were no doubt rewarded for their services to the empire. We already knew the Mehmet Katri family were of powerful military stock. They were in fact the largest land owners in Lurucina and the name ‘Kadri’ was not the real family name but was given to Mehmet Ismail ‘Kadri’ who seems to have belonged to the order of the Qadiriyyah. The name Katri originates from Qadiriyyah. The Qadiri Order is one of the oldest Sufi Orders. It derives its name from Abdul-Qadir Gilani (1077-1166), a native of the Iranian province of Mazandaran. The order is one of the most widespread of the Sufi orders in the Islamic world, and spread to Central Asia, Turkey, Cyprus, Balkans and much of East and West Africa. The Qadiriyyah have not developed any distinctive doctrines or teachings outside of mainstream Islam. They believe in the fundamental principles of Islam, but interpreted through mystical experience. This name was normally given to certain individuals who followed the order of the Qadiriyyah. What this implies for our ancestor Mehmet Katri/Kadri is not clear. What is clear however is that during the Ottoman period it was normal to use the name of the order one belonged to.

The myth that the Muslims of Lurucina originally converted to reduce their tax burden seems to be completely discredited. The other myth that they switched to Christianity when their national service came up seems to be as flimsy as the story that Lurucina was founded by the fabled Venetian beauty Lorenzia. They all make good stories, but these do not equate to historic evidence or facts. The Ottoman records for the period 1786 to 1879 show an enormous number of men who completed their national service. In addition most of the lakabs/Nicknames seem to belong to the generations born from the mid 1800’s to the period just before 1974. Hardly proof that Latin or Greek sounding names date to the period after the Ottoman conquest of 1572.

To read the Mehmet Kadri family history please click here

Many will of course point out the fact that the people of Lurucina almost spoke exclusively in the Greek language as proof of their origins, but The Siliono’s, Garaoli’s, Topal Hasan’s and Kadri families as their status proves belonged to the Muslim sect as recent as 1831. On closer inspection the marriages of the men and women between these families is further evidence that they inter-married due to their high class status. The marriage of Ayse Yusuf ‘Siliono’ with Mehmet Kavaz. (from the Kadri family), Serife Ibrahim ‘Garaoli’ with Hasan Yusuf ‘Arap’ are just two examples that families married because of their status and large ownership of land. The Arabi’s came from a family that had a Sipahi (Namely Mustafa Yusuf born in 1791) as their elder, while the Kadri’s/Kavaz had a unique place in Lurucina.  Yet we all know that our grandparents born in the late 1800’s to these family groups could hardly speak Turkish. So why did they forget their original language and switch to Greek? Perhaps we can use some examples to explain this phenomenon which is much more common than people think.

Many of the Cypriots who settled in the UK in the 1950’s and 60’s were 1st generation, and yet we all know for a fact that only fifty years later many youngsters speak the language of the majority English people. In fact my own grandchildren being only 2nd generation cannot speak any Turkish. I doubt there is a single family in the Diaspora who do not have some members of their youth who are not in the same position. I often meet Greek, Italian and Turkish youngsters who cannot speak the language of their parents. We can easily assume that another fifty years or so and this will be even more common. After all if many 2nd generation people cannot speak their so called mother tongue what chance have they of teaching their children, much less their future grandchildren. Many will of course argue that we live in a foreign country while the people of Lurucina  lived in Cyprus.

In a matter of a few hundred years Cyprus has moved forward with many changes.

Nearly all the villages in the area however were Greek speaking, the conditions of mass ignorance, isolation and non existent communications in the period of 1830 to 1930 are hardly a secret. Compare this to the present day massive technology, mass internet communication and easy travel across the globe. It does not take rocket science to see the difference in circumstances between the 1800’s and the 21st century. The collapse of the Sipahi’s during the 19th century and abandonment of Ottoman rule inevitably led these once proud warriors and rich land owners to the total collapse of their privileges. Their survival forced much more integration with the local people who were predominantly Greek speaking. Sadly some turned to theft and some level of brigandage to survive. Proof of this are the many people listed in the documents as either missing or serving prison sentences, but most remained honest and proud of their past heritage.

Many today question how reliable are the records of people like Ibrahim Tahsildar and Huseyin Geleo who recorded the past origins of our ancestors. For example they recorded that the Kara-Ali’s ‘Garaoli’s came from Kofunye/Kofinou. The Arabic Siliono’s from Pirga, The Sari Mehmet Hurrem bey from Antalya, Mehmet Mustafa Said from Silifke, The Porto and Alikkos from Dali, The Kara-Ismail from Karpaz and Suleyman Yusuf ‘Zabuni’ from Kalopsidia. I think I can answer this with ease. My own maternal great grandfather Ismail Ali ‘Gicco’s’ family is said to have come from Turkey.

He was born in 1892, I was born in 1956 and often explain to my grandchildren born in 2006 that he was born in Lurucina. Are we to seriously assume that Ibrahim and Huseyin were not aware, and did not know the birth place of their great grandfathers born in the late 1700’s to early 1800’s. In fact Ibrahim Tahsildar was himself born in 1893 while Huseyin Suleyman Geleo was born in 1882. Ibrahim (as his nickname Tahsildar confirms was a tax collector) kept records of all the family trees. Are we to assume that they did not know the origins of the families when they were growing up. After all their great grandparents were still alive when they were young. Ibrahim Tahsildar gives precise details of his great grandfather Suleyman Yusuf  marrying in 1798.  To add credibility to his claim I discovered in the 1831 census that the oldest children of Suleyman were born in 1801 (Yusuf) & 1806 (Ibrahim). Conclusive proof that Ibrahim was a reliable source of information on our roots. Not really such a long time in the scheme of things. It’s sad that much of our past history and roots is clouded by hearsay, personal views and even prejudice due to modern day political differences which have no bearing on the people or circumstances prevailing in the past. That’s why I prefer to back up my views and writings based on original documented evidence, which have been located not only in The Milli Arsiv of Kyrenia (National Archives of Kyrenia) but also at the Turkish Republic Prime Ministerial Ottoman Archives of Istanbul.

No doubt the search for more documents on our roots and history will continue. Research is never ending and only a fool will submit that everything has been found. If there are some missing documents, or others present new evidence that may help to alter at least some of what I have found and shared, I would be the first to welcome them. In the absence of such claims however I have to admit that original documentation found to date is sufficient evidence to dispel the myths of Lorenzia, and our so called genetic link to the Venetians, or any other fanciful romanticism that seems to be a preferred option to that of documents recorded no more than 200 years ago.


Türkce çevrisini okumak isteyen. A Turkish translation can be seen by clicking here.

To read more about the families and history of Lurucina go to my website by clicking here