Chapter 3: The Frozen Cypriots return
By Sermen Erdogan……..
After my family was turfed out of our home and the old British Government House grounds which was our birthplace and home in 1962, we were not able to return for a visit. However, by chance I met a Greek friend in 2007 who was able to take us there on an open day where we were not actually able to see our house due to the very limited access. Yet we were thankful to the friend then for making it possible for my sister Tülen and myself to visit the Presidential Palace of Cyprus. We were only allowed into the central courtyard where the reception and the commemoration of the Republic of Cyprus was held at that time.
Once we had a drink and tried to walk around the area we were allowed in we left in a hurry as our Greek friend was sweating profusely under duress. We could see that our host was stressed throughout the duration of the visit as Papadopoulos was still the president of South Cyprus in 2007. We were still very thankful to our friend for getting us that far.
When we held the get together of Frozen Cypriots on 6th of October 2016 at Büyük Han a page member that came to the get together was Poli who was a very friendly gentleman that I warmed up to straight away. After introductions I said to him Polis is the village in Paphos where my father came from. He informed me that we have another connection as he lives in the Presidential Palace neighbourhood of Omologites and that he knows the Palace grounds very well. I was impressed and asked Poli whether it is possible to visit the palace grounds these days. Poli said he will see what he can do and let Eren my brother or myself know in due course. All we were interested in was to be allowed to see our house if it was standing and the gardens that we use to roam around as children. We were going to be in Cyprus until the end of October 2016.
Eren also attended the Bicommunal Museum in Nicosia and informed me that a Dr Severis who wrote a book on the Government House and its history also runs tours of the Presidential Palace and will help us to visit the Palace. But unfortunately nothing was coming through, by end of October, as I was giving up hope of revisiting our birthplace we received a message from Poli. He was able to arrange for us to visit and he would pick us up at 9am on 25th of October at the Ledra Palace crossing in Nicosia to take us to the Presidential Palace. Excitement was at its maximum when we arrived at the gates of the Palace grounds and handed in our Australian passports to the Policemen at the entrance.
We were further checked by the security at the office closer to the Palace by a very polite young woman and given a police escort for our visitation. As we walked in front of the place taking pictures at every opportunity, memories started rushing back. It was exhilarating to go back down memory lane as we walked by the side towards the back of the Palace.
We were taken to the central court yard (as in the previous visit) of the Palace and shown the landscaped gardens our father created by our Police escort.
Amazingly they were kept mostly in the original form from our father’s time as much as I can remember. Eren and I were impressed and were excited trying to take photos of everything. Once we were in the back part of the Palace, we asked the policeman escorting us whether we are able to go down into the gardens, he was a bit hesitant but thanks to Poli who convinced the guy to let us walk down to the gardens.
First we wanted to see our house we lived in as it held a lot of memories and after all it was the house that we grew up in as children, half of a century ago.
As we walked around to the back we could see buildings but could not recognise which one was our house. As we walked behind one of them bingo. We could straight away recognise the old bungalow style sandstone house from behind.
As the building has been changed around and renovated it was hard to recognise from the front. But it was the chimneys that made it click. The Archibalds lived in the first part with two chimneys and us Erdogans lived starting where the third chimney is in the photo of this building and the extended part to the right of the photo, now used as offices.
We recognised the chimneys first! As the whole building was reversed back to front and converted into offices. It could not be recognised from the front as they built a veranda in the front with a hallway along the offices effectively reversing front to back. We were travelling in memory lane with memory flashbacks, remembering our hide and seek games and chases all around the house and the courtyard area. We were able to walk inside and visit our bedroom areas which were now offıces. A memory flash came back as I looked up the chimney wall and the ventilation duct of me as a little boy looking at the ventilation duct and visualising a train station and cats playing in it !
After the house our next wish was to go down to the orchards. At the top of the slope the famous irrigation pool appeared where Eren nearly got drowned and was saved by a 4 year old Robert Archibald. The view was a bit down letting as we got a glimpse of the old pool. It was obviously not well kept to our disappointment and all the wattle trees we could remember around the pool have been removed. The old potting shed next to it was not there anymore either.
Somehow the pool looked a lot smaller than what I remembered. As our mental maps from childhood always size things according to your own size, I guess. We walked down the slope towards the gardens below. Generally speaking we were a bit taken back by how the garden was very dry and unkempt, compared to the areas above around the Palace. We did not meet anyone working in the gardens below. We were bit disillusioned to tell the truth as we walked around. Our memories were disturbed as Eren and I remembered the very well kept tidy gardens from our childhood .
The lower garden is divided into four segments by the two alleyways that cross each other in the centre of the gardens. The photo with three of us is the one lined with the Palm trees with mandarin and orange orchards on both sides running in the centre of the garden.
Once we finished with the garden we walked up the slope and reached the other side of the Palace for more photos . The right side of the Palace and areas of significant memories.
The Balcony under the dome is the famous balcony where President of Cyprus Archbishop Makarios was sitting watching the gardens and saw an envelope being handed to my father by uncle Mustafa the ex-prisoner. (The story pertaining to that episode is in our first part of Childhood Memories story 1950-1961) click here.
Overall, the time we spent revisiting the Presidential Palace in October 2016 was very enjoyable and filled with emotional discovery of long forgotten memories. It was amazing to rediscover the old spots and our memories that related to them.
Although we were impressed by the gardens above around the Palace we were taken back by the state of the gardens below. Towards the end of our visit we discovered why! As we met the sole gardener and had a chat to him. He was an elderly gentleman who said he is the only gardener looking after the Palace gardens. In our father’s time there were upwards of twenty men and women working around the gardens.
We thanked the lovely security lady who welcomed us and the policeman escort who showed us around and said our goodbyes. We are also very thankful to Poli from Frozen Cypriots who made it possible for this nostalgic revisitation of our childhood home and the gardens we were part of until 1962.
Looking back at our home after 54 years we are delighted to include a video we treasure showing our father and Lady Foot in the gardens around which, we used to scamper as small children and you can read more of our childhood adventures by clicking here and clicking here.