By Serpil Kadılar ……
The morning began as any other – awakened by the 6am sunshine illuminating our bedroom through the sliding balcony doors. I rose from my slumber and stepped outside to be met by the glorious view before me – the village of Büyükkonuk, the mountains, and the aroma of sweet flowers and trees which rejuvenate my senses every day.
As I walked through the corridor, I checked on my children and niece who were still soundly asleep – in the bedroom to my right, my niece, who somehow ended up at the foot of the bed, and my son who had one leg flopped over the edge of the mattress, and the bedroom to my left, where my elder son contorted his body into a position unknown to man, although I didn’t have the heart to move him, for he appeared so content.
I went downstairs, and like any other day, my mother-in-law, Havva Osman Tibet (who happens to be one of the strongest, smartest, skilled and most determined women I have ever met) – had already begun her morning routine.
Even at 84 years old, she will ensure that, every morning, her chickens are fed, provided with fresh water, their coop swept and the vegetables and fruit in the garden which she lovingly grows are irrigated. Aided by her wooden walking stick, she will spend up to an hour and a half doing this, every single day.
I had previously, on many occasions, offered to do these tasks for her. To which she replied “No – you’re a wimp- you’re afraid of insects, how will you do this work? This is my daily exercise, let me be” I giggle inside, because she’s right. I fear no man, and yet, the bugs and insects hosted upon our island absolutely paralyze me.
So, like any other day, I commence with my duties – I swept and mopped the floors to get rid of the daily dust that comes with village life, made the beds, fed the cats, the kittens, the dog outside the gate who gazes longingly at the cat food, I left bread for the birds beside the basin my mother-in-law had filled with water so the birds can drink and bath. All the while thinking to myself that surely, with all these animals (not forgetting the guinea fowl and chickens) – I must be an elephant short of a circus by now….
We commune in the kitchen, where my husband had thoughtfully made coffee ready for us after completing our duties and, as any other day, I made breakfast. Shortly after, my husband had left to take care of some unfinished business, my mother-in-law sending prayers behind him, and as with any other day, my mother in law and I got chatting. Except today, I noticed a somewhat sombre expression on her delicate features.
My heart sank. Özkan was her younger brother. I knew he’d died a violent and untimely death in the early days of the Cyprus conflict, but I never knew much about him. So I asked my mother-in-law to tell me about him.
Born to Hussein and Emine ‘Meduri’ in 1942, in Büyükkonuk, Özkan was the second youngest of 9 children.
A sweet natured and compassionate boy, Özkan enjoyed school, and exhibited exceptional intelligence and maturity for his age even as a small boy. “But they threw him out of secondary school” said my mother-in-law. “Why mum?” I asked. She explained that one of his peers, a boy in the same village – “I can’t remember his name, but I remember his face!” – had told the school headmaster that Özkan had threatened him with a knife. For this reason, Özkan was expelled. “He did no such thing – Özkan was a gentle boy with a good heart – that other boy was jealous of him. My brother was handsome, clean and always smartly dressed- he knew how to present himself and he was loved by everyone – the boy did this because he was jealous of my brother”.
The headmaster of the secondary school knew only too well of the potential Özkan possessed. For this reason the headmaster had arranged a school placement for Özkan in Girne and offered Özkan a chance to continue his studies elsewhere.
Nowadays it takes around an hour and twenty minutes on the newly built mountain roads to get to Girne from Büyükkonuk.
My mother in law told me that Özkan had refused this school placement and said “why should I travel such a long distance to study? To do so will be to accept a punishment for something I didn’t do. I did not threaten that boy, I refuse to be punished for his lies”.
Özkan moved into his elder brother Ahmet’s home in Samanbahçe in Lefkoşa. He began work as a metal solderer, and visited his village often, assisting his parents wherever he could. He was still just a child himself at 15 years old.
“One morning, it was dawn, he was riding his bicycle up this road (she points to the road behind us) and as he came around the corner he was waving an envelope in his hand, gleefully shouting ‘my passport’.” A lump formed in my throat because, although I knew little, I did know that he didn’t get the opportunity to travel. I kept a firm grip on my emotions so that my mother-in-law could continue.
“There was a lady who lived in Samanbahçe, not far from my brother Ahmet’s home. Her name was Perivan. She was so beautiful, always had her hair styled nicely. She went out to Lefkoşa one day for her daily duties and the Greeks shot her”.
My jaw dropped. “A young woman? They shot her in the street? Just like that?” I asked. “Yes, they shot many harmless people in the street just like that Serpil. I’ve seen it all”
Of course I’d known about the many women and children who were brutally murdered in this conflict, but it doesn’t make it any less shocking to me when I hear yet another personal account.
It was because of these incidents that Özkan joined a local resistance group.
The word resistance seems utterly futile in this case. It was 1957, they had no weapons, no guns, no rifles. Özkan was a messenger for his elders. Often, Greek gangs would set upon Turkish Cypriots with random attacks – Özkan would keep watch and would report gangs of Greeks to the elders, and the elders would hurriedly arrange as many men as possible and show strength in number in order to try and deter attacks.
At this time, there was no protection and no Turkish army to save them.
The following details which my mother-in-law confided to me shocked me beyond even my own comprehension. “And then the British betrayed us. Some of the British soldiers would go and try to identify Turkish resistance men and boys and throw paint on them”.
I felt sick to my stomach as I knew what this meant. It was branding – a mark for death. But I dared not ask why this was the case.
“So the Greeks would target and kill the boys with paint on them. They (the British soldiers) caught my Özkan and threw paint on him. The local Turkish families saw the paint and one family brought him into their home. She told him ‘run before the Greeks catch you and kill you’ and only through running from garden to garden he retreated to safety “.
This knowledge angered me. Because when Greek Cypriots were attacking British police in the name of ENOSIS, it was the Turkish Cypriots who enlisted to protect them and now it appeared the British had been ordered to turn on the very people who had protected them.
I struggled to keep these thoughts behind my lips, so not to infuriate my mother-in-law who is still in as much pain now as she was then. After 60 years, the loss for her is still difficult to bear.
“One day, during the summer – exactly as it is today – my brother came back to the village. My Özkan was allergic to red meat, so he went to Argaca mountain behind the village to catch some birds. He went with Ali and my uncle Celal’s son Nedayi. They wanted to catch 3 birds for dinner.
The neighbour Eleni heard that they were going to the mountain. She told the Greek men in the village where the boys were going and quietly, like thieves in the night, they divided into 3 teams and went after them. The Greeks found them and shot all three of them. Ali was shot twice in the stomach and Nedayi was shot through the buttock as he ran. He hid in a trench, and they both survived. My Özkan was shot in the head”. She drew in her breath and continued.
“My uncle Celal had to go up that mountain and bring my Özkan’s dead body to the village”. Özkan was 16. “He was just a boy” repeated my mother-in-law.
“Those people watched him grow since he was a baby. They knew he was still of child age when they shot him. But they still shot him. Don’t be fooled by his mature pose and smart clothes. He was just 16. He was a boy”
“And what of Eleni?” I asked. “She got married and moved to London. I saw her once in the Archway, and only by my faith in the justice of Allah, I didn’t say or do anything to her”.
Just like that, the story of Özkan was over, because of course he didn’t live for it to be much longer. “I loved my little brother so much and now he is but a handful of ashes, laying beneath the soil…”. With that my mother-in-law took her walking stick and slowly made her way into the living room. After hearing my mother-in-law’s story, I sat there for a while, feeling numb, mulling over what she had told me.
Images of my own grandmother flashed before me, and I wondered, how on earth did she possibly cope, as a mother, when news came that her young son, my uncle, Kadir Mehmet, had been shot and killed in an ambush in Lefkoşa, he was 23 years old and left behind a pregnant wife and 2 children.
I boiled the kettle and made Mum a cup of coffee. I walked into the living room, she had dozed into a light sleep. Hardly surprising after her morning chores.
As I turned to leave I noticed the picture of Özkan – a picture I’d seen a hundred times before but this time I studied him. Yes, he was a very handsome boy, he was smartly dressed and well presented. What a waste of a young life. He was mature beyond his years – he had the age of a child, the heart of a lion and the bravery of a thousand men.
So I ask you to remember Özkan today. One of too many who risked it all and paid the ultimate price.
Thank you, our young warrior. It is in your name, and the names of those who lay beneath the soil, of which we will forever raise our flag and continue to seek justice for our nation. Your sacrifice will never be forgotten.
In loving memory of Özkan Hűseyin ‘Meduri’
1942 – 1958