By Sermen Erdogan………
One of the earliest photos of my mother was her primary school photo with a caption “Shakespeare School 1936” that always intrigued me. Mum was seven years old when she attended this school. As she was born “one year after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk brought in the Latin Alphabet reform in 1928” meaning 1929 as she used to say. So why a Shakespeare School for a Primary School for mum in Cyprus? I wondered why my grandparents selected this particular school for my mother and auntie at seven years of age in 1936. Who were the teachers, why was the school named Shakespeare?
I was sent a book as a present from Cyprus by my newly located cousin through Facebook and Frozen Cypriots page set up by my brother Eren and myself. Ahmet Pastırmacıoğlu the cousin also had the book signed by the author for me. The book by Ahmet An is called “Kıbrısın Yetiştirdiği Değerler” roughly translated as “The Valued People Cyprus Raised”. Reading the book was an eye opener for me and I enjoyed it immensely. As I read the book my interest grew as to how well the research was done on the people Ahmet An was describing in his book especially about Shakespeare School in Cyprus. I found more than answers to my questions about my mother’s primary school.
After Eren Erdogan, my brother, shared mother’s Shakespeare school photo of 1936 a friend named the Principal as NECMİ SAGIP BODAMYALIZADE. This was a name I use to hear previously from my grandfather as Felezof Bodamyalızade. My attention was drawn to the story of him in Ahmet An’s book. As I read the story the more amazed I became what this man stood for. What a hero this guy was as a Cypriot. What an interesting life and story, I thought. Googling his name also yielded many articles on him.
His real name was Mahmud Aziz and he was born in Paphos in 1897. His father was named Ahmet Aziz Bodamyalızade and his mother as Lutfiye hanım. Later on he acquired the name Necmi Sagıp (necm-isağıp, means the highest star seen overhead in the night sky). I wondered why he was given this name! Or whether it was his choice to be called Sağıp .
After living in Paphos until 1911 Necmi Sagıp Bodamyalızade studied 4 years in Nicosia school called idadi equivalent to high school. He fell in love with the daughter of the then English Police Commissioner of Cyprus, Alice. He was quickly despatched and was sent to Oxford University to study English and research into English language and literature. As a young man in a strange land compared to Cyprus he befriended English coal miners and took an active role in the Labour Unions in his final year of study in Oxford.
He wrote poems about the Miners’ strike at the time and as he kept sending letters to British Prime Minister Lloyd George’s daughter asking for her hand in marriage he got in trouble with the Police. At the same time he started developing communistic tendencies and was arrested, questioned, tortured and jailed by the British Police.
Later on he was put in a Lunatic Asylum for two years and deported to Cyprus in 1921. He wrote a book in 1936 called “The Grace of Divine Justice” describing his experiences with the English miners, the Police torture and his tendencies in religion and communism during his study in England.
Dr Nazim Beratlı also cites Necmi Sagıp Bodamyalızade in an article of Kıbrıs Postası 8.1.2012. He tells the Lloyd George story a bit differently. Beratli’s source was a book book called “Felezof” produced by a teacher of mine Mr.Mehmet Ertuğ. When in Oxford Necmi entered a literature competition. Prime Minister Lloyd George offered a prize to whoever was to win the competition, the prize was the hand of marriage of his daughter. Necmi uses his writing pseudo name as Mut Podaimlisade (so no one can tell he is Turkish) and wins the competition. At that stage the Lloyd George government was in trouble of losing due to the war agreements he was forced into by Turkey and he hated anything Turkish. When he found out who the winner was he refused to honour his word and his daughter’s hand in marriage. But a very insistent Necmi keeps insisting in his letters to Lloyd George that he wants to marry his daughter as his prize. Therefore his demise with the Police and eventual deportation not to ever be allowed to return to England. There must be some truth to the story. Also an interesting situation of which not many Cypriots are aware.
As Necmi knew English and spoke it fluently he soon got a job with the Police in Cyprus and worked until 1932. While in the Police station he started teaching English at the Nicosia High school teaching English to high school students, teachers and government officers at night classes first on a part-time and then on a full-time basis.
Necmi Sagıp Bodamyalızade separated from the high school and set up his own Shakespeare School, as a kindergarten and primary and later high school in 1933 with the help of the Evkaf group. Evkaf is an Ottoman system of Trustees that look after properties of people who donate their worldly goods and property to a what is named a Vakıf under their name. After the person passes the Evkaf organisation acts as managers and distributes the income from the properties for the good of the society. Encouraged by the interest in the English classes he also set up the middle and high schools for the Shakespeare school. The enrolments were so huge that his schools attracted almost one third of high school boys and girls to his school around Nicosia. Due to the teaching of all the subjects in English, those graduating from the Shakespeare School were favoured as they were better in speaking and writing English and were favoured in employment both in government and private sectors of Cyprus.
When he was returned to Cyprus in 1921 Sagıp Necmi Bodamyalızade had a very long beard and looked a bit funny. He was named the Felezof “Philosopher” by people who knew him because when he talked he made a lot of sense and it was evident that he was an intelligent person. Shakespeare school actually was known as the Felezof Mektebi translated “Philosopher’s School” by the Nicosia community. The Shakespeare School was favoured by the Greek and Armenian population of Cyprus besides the Cypriot Turks due to its success in Ordinary Level of General Certificate of Education (GCEs) as entrance exams of University of London and as such it was the very first school with boys and girls in the same classes. The school lasted until 1952 and taught thousands of Cypriots in the English language.
Shakespeare School building stands today and education was conducted in this building in Nicosia. Later on it was made into a doctor’s clinic by one of the cousins (Dr Reşat Necmettin) of Necmi Sagıp Bodamyalızade.
I was able to identify Shakespeare School building with the help of my friends and particularly by Belgun Belevi. The building was an old Ottoman era Konak (similar to a chateau) in İdadi Sokak in the walled city of Nicosia with its typical overhanging balcony onto the street. It is in the Northerly direction from the Selimiye Mosque in central Nicosia.
Another question that shaped in my mind as to why my mum was sent to this private school as my grandfather was not that well off to afford private school fees at the time. There were some hints in how Necmi Sagıp Bodamyalızade worked and organised himself and I should thank Ahmet Ann for his prowess in researching his subjects so well at this stage, as not only did I find the above information about Shakespeare School but also my ancestry through his writings, which I will write in another article hopefully later on. This connection between my grandfather and the school is through his family called Barutcuzade or Barutcus. One of the uncles of my grandfather was actually a trustee to the Ahmet Taif Beytulah Vakıf his name was Barutcuzade Hacı Ahmet Vasıf Efendi. He donated monies and also formed high schools with Police Judge Bodamyalızade Hakkı Efendi and others. Whether it is this connection that favoured Necmi Sagıp in encouragement given by the Evkaf in the setup of the Shakespeare School or not, I am not sure. My grandfather also worked as a Policeman at the same time in the 1920s as Necmi Sagıp. Obviously my grandfather had some form of relationship with Necmi Sagıp Bodamyalızade (Not forgetting that everyone knew each other in Nicosia in those days) as he used to mention Felezof Bodamyalızade’s name with respect whenever I heard him talking to others about him. I suspect that somehow my grandfather did not pay, or paid a token, for school fees as my auntie also attended the same school together with mum.
Returning back to the man, Hikmet Arif Mapolar (a newspaper journalist) in 1945 in a newspaper item describes Necmi Sagıp Bodamyalızade as medium height, slightly overweight, with a head on his shoulders like a statue with a holy face. He had bright eyes that shone as he talked calmly that one admired. His confidence and the way he intelligently expressed himself was legendary. He talked calmly even if he was angered by someone, his tranquillity impressed others who thought of him as a good natured person. Hikmet Afif Mapolar continues talking about the successful literary writings of Necmi Sagıp. He says that his poems exhibit and successfully used very deep lyricism (when poems are lyrical dramatic and epic and sung to music of the lyre). Necmi Sagıp besides writing his poems in English also translated epic literary Turkish poets like Faruk Nafız Çamlıbel’s “Çoban Çeşmesi” (Shepherds Fountain), Namık Kemal’s “Hürriyet Kasidesi” (Ode to Liberty), and one of the first English translation of the Koran as a poem as it originally rhymes (as Psalms) published in 1934. This Koran was printed again in English in 1941, 1946 and 1949 in four editions. Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Montgomery, George Bernard Shaw and İsmet İnönü wrote and thanked Necmi Sagıp for his efforts.
In his writings he was in the forefront or ahead of his time when he talked about women’s and girls’ rights to education and equality in the conservative Cypriot society whether Greek or Turkish. He was against suppression or oppression of women by men, and also torture or punishment or bad treatment of animals. Afif Mapolar finalises by saying that “we have amidst ourselves a genius of a man that could have given us a library of writings but what he has given us has been pride and protection as Cypriot Turks, writing to the media in England highlighting our plight as a nation”.
Necmi Sagıp Bodamyalızade also used religion as a principle and facilitator in Cyprus politics. He was against some of the Greek politicians’ enthusiasm in wanting unificatıon of Cyprus with Greece or any other country. The Cypriot Turks were not organised politically in the early 1940s. He armed himself with a thick notebook and rode around Nicosia on his bicycle explaining the political situation, seeking signatures from the public around coffee shops as a self-styled Muslim leader of the Cypriot Turkish community. Using these signatures he sent letters to the English Parliament and “The Near East “magazine criticising and voicing the Cypriot Turkish opposition to a likelihood of Cyprus being given to Greece. He declared “we do not want to see any other flag on top of Othello Castle but Shakespeare’s”.
Ahmet Okan of Havadis and Kibris Haber in an article on 2.2.2014 mentions Necmi Sagıp Bodamyalızade because of one of his comments in a newspaper called Embros produced in the 1940s by G.B. Pusey an English ex-patriot living in Cyprus. He cites Necmi replying to a Wideson (a Greek person using a pseudo name) letter to the editor belittling Turkish Cypriots as Şamişi and Lokma (Sweets) makers. Necmi says in his comment in answer that “Turkey and Greece made peace after the sad wars after WW1 and are looking after each other. We should also do the same in Cyprus as brothers living side by side. Let’s forget the past animosity and put away the poisonous remarks that could only promote hatred against each other. We are all children of this beautiful island and land. Let’s join up and bring back the good old days of Cyprus to be the envy of the World again.”
The Philosopher used to ride around Nicosia on his bicycle with his thick school bag full of books and talked to anyone who would listen to him. He never got married and was a lonely man. Although he was very successful in life due to his diligence and hard work, unfortunately he was not a good financial manager. Towards the end of his life he exhausted all his assets sold all his inheritance and ended up staying in cheap hotels on a small pension. He was lucky as the last hotel he was staying at, near Ledra Street, was not charging him as he was an attraction for the hotel customers due his personality and the hotel owner realising that, felt he should look after him. By 1963-64 period when a Green Line was set up with barricades and razor wire between the Greek and Turkish sections of Nicosia he thought this will end as in the 1958 troubles. In those dark deemed days of 1964 somehow when no one dared to cross to the other side due to the fighting and animosity, he used to cross the Green Line without being noticed by the guards on both sides of the Line and visit the Turkish side to see his friends and relatives then go back to his hotel in the Greek side. No one knew how he did this on his bike.
Somehow his visitations had stopped in the Spring of 1964 but no one noticed because of the upheaval and the political situation and fighting. In April of 1964 the Red Cross gave a message from the Greek side informing that Necmi Sagip Bodamyalızade was found dead in his room in the morning. A friend of his, Kemal Hussein Demircioglu, claimed his body and organised a funeral for Necmi Sagıp Bodamyalızade. The sad thing was that the hospital even required the bed sheets that his body was wrapped in to be returned to the hospital. Kemal Hüseyin Demircioğlu had to buy the shroud that Bodamyaızade was eventually buried in.
Necmi Sagıp Bodamyalızade the Founder and Principal of Shakespeare School, the man who taught and educated thousands of Cypriot students in his school, a genius literary writer of many articles and poems, a community leader sadly passed away as a pauper. Another unsung hero of Cyprus another son who loved his country and his people who was ahead of his times and thinking was quietly buried without a ceremony or recognition of his life in 1964.
Rest in Peace Necmi SagıpBodamyalızade.
He is listed on the as following site :
Important Turks of Cyprus
Necmi Sagıp Bodamyalızade