Book Review: My Name is Cyprus by Kemal Bolayir

Book Review: My Name is Cyprus

by Kemal Bolayir

Reviewed by Steven Roberts…….

I noticed this book while browsing the shelves at Sah supermarket in Catalkoy, and saw that it had only been published this month. I didn’t really know what to expect, but thought it was worth 45TL to find out, and threw it in the shopping trolley. Sometimes casual purchases like this can be very rewarding. I started reading this 232 CyprusBook-1paged paperback a couple of days later, and found it was one of those books that is difficult to put down once you start it.

As someone who has had an interest in Cyprus for many years, I have read a great many books about the island, and its post-1945 history in particular. Some of these have attempted to be impartial, others have been thinly disguised propaganda, usually from either a Greek or Turkish nationalist perspective. These give you the main arguments and help explain conflict, but they don’t give an indication of how life was for Cypriots who lived through three decades of conflict.

Kemal Bolayir has spoken to a large number of both Turkish and Greek Cypriots over 50 years old and got them to tell their own stories about what life was like in Cyprus in the 1950s and 1960s. He has also made extensive use of contemporary press accounts.

Many of those he spoke to tell of times when the two main communities on the island lived in mixed villages and towns, and how this was changed over the period from the start of the EOKA campaign through the 1963/4 period of inter-communal fighting through to the Turkish intervention in 1974.

Kemal was brought up in the Paphos area, and worked as a Consultant, then Associate Professor at the Nicosia Turkish hospital until he retired in the mid 1990s. He is not a politician or a historian, or even a professional author, yet this makes the book even more powerful. You get a real sense of how the outbreak of armed conflict caused division amongst people, and severed friendships that had lasted decades.

The book shows vividly what it is like to see a close relative leave home and never come back – their fate unknown. It also illustrates the heartbreak of people forced to leave villages and neighbourhoods their families had lived in for generations, in fear of their lives.

I could have picked out a dozen or more extracts, these are just some that give a flavour of the book:

Oguz Gezer (retired Policeman)
“I believe that Cypriots from both communities don’t know their recent past. Nothing is more characteristic and symptomatic in this respect than the way Cypriots were affected in their life, and also their future prospects.”

Stelio Hadjimarco (a former police colleague of Oguz)
“… opinion and moral decisions were made very difficult for Cypriots for forty years.

…in the Greek community you couldn’t say anything against the leader, not possible to criticise him in a democratic way. You had to obey the leader and do what you are told and see him as demi-god.”

Katsis (former Greek Cypriot soldier) in conversation with Ayfer (former Turkish Cypriot soldier) who he went to school with:

“Cypriots are thinking that our motherland is not Cyprus and it just happened to be an island where imported people from somewhere else, that is to say Turkish-speaking and Greek-speaking peoples live in.”

Hasan Fuat (shopkeeper’s son)
“….1963 is a key date in Cyprus’s history, I was 17….Due to uncontrolled incidents between the two communities we had compulsorily to move to the Turkish sector in Ktima…..Karoyianni {another shop owner} was very upset and he said to my father. ‘For may years we had friendly relations here. We loved each other, shared everything, and had breakfast every morning. Suddenly someone ordered us to separate.’

Dervis Kemaneci (musician)
“I believe that the peoples of Cyprus have an identity of Cypriot feeling, a cultural wealth coming from the past, a unique sense of being Cypriots whatever their ethnic origin. But unfortunately, this sentiment has never been transformed in the political fields, and also two communities didn’t learn to complement each other…..Needless to say that Politicians and especially Leaders should be blamed.”

In his introduction and conclusion to the book Kemal Bolayir makes clear that although recognising ethnicity is important, it doesn’t solve the issue of how people coexist on a Mediterranean island. The book shows there is a need to understand the past so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past. On the last page of the book Kemal expresses his view that the unsolved Cyprus Problem will not go on forever, and feels Cypriots should work for a solution along the lines accepted by the United Nations.

This review is being written just as President Akinci and President Anastasiades have returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos. The months that follow probably represent the last best hope for a federal solution that can give justice to both sides.

Kemal Bolayir’s book is very timely, and is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the recent history of Cyprus through the eyes of ordinary people. Those of us from outside Cyprus who have made the beautiful island our home would do well to pick up a copy of this to give us an understanding of how life here has changed for all Cypriots over the past 60 years or so.

6 replies »

    • Thank you for that information Ray.

      Kemnal Bolayir was asked and was happy for this book review to be published in cyprusscene. This has increased awareness of his work and that we can see by the massive activity on the Facebook page links and our website.

      We will also be publishing this article on some other websites which just increases the outreach of this excellent book.

      • Someone has told me that Sah have no copies of Kemal’s book left on their shelves. It is worth trying them again, but if you want to order a copy the ISBN number is : 978-9963-731-24-4.
        (BTW Ray is right the first edition was published in January 2015 – thanks for the Facebook link).

    • HI Ann, I called into Sah Marketplace today and found no copies on the shelves so I spoke with the management and they said they would contact the distributor and try to obtain some more stock.

      Wanting 2 copies, I will post news here if they obtain fresh stocks.

  1. Hi again Ann, good news is that Sah Marketplace ordered more books and currently i think they have one in stock.

    The lady at the cigarette counter was most helpful and arrange a further supply and as I say has one in stock