• Δευτέρα 27 Ιουνίου 2022

Articles in English

The last Greek Cypriot living in Kyrenia

IN 1960 Kyrenia was a small market town with just 3,000 inhabitants, of which only 100 were Turkish. Today everything has changed. From above, Kyrenia looks like a large city: all its northern shores have been built-up and the town has joined up with large villages along its northern shores, inhabitation now runs dozens of kilometres east and west of the city. Today more than 60,000 Turks live in Kyrenia. Amid this Turkish crowd lives Kyrenia’s last Greek Cypriot.

 

Angeliki Yiasar is 80 years old. She has spent her entire life in Kyrenia with her Turkish Cypriot husband Sami Yiasar. Her paternal home is a traditional Cypriot house with an upper floor and internal courtyard, flowers planted in tin pots and a well that’s run dry, in line with the town’s Greek character. Angeliki has fought tooth and nail to safeguard this personal sanctuary, living in conditions of isolation for decades.

 

Today, under clearly better circumstances, she is enjoying the last stages of her life with her husband and has only one hope: to live to see the reunification of Cyprus and the return of even just a few Kyrenians to their homes.

 

The couple’s personal adventure started on the dramatic morning of July 20, 1974 when Kyrenia awoke to explosions from bombshells being fired from Turkish ships’ cannons that blasted the Pendadaktylos mountainside. Terrified, Greek Cypriots abandoned the town in great haste. Angeliki remained behind with Sami.

 

 

Although her husband was a Turkish Cypriot, the couple lived in a Greek neighbourhood and at home only spoke, and continue to speak, Greek. Her two children learned to read and write at a Greek school and according to fate they became the last Greek speaking permanent residents of Kyrenia.

 

The couple’s story goes back to a time of Cypriot innocence. To the beginning of the 50s, before nationalism clouded peoples’ minds. Sami was the family chauffer. He fell in love with Angeliki and asked her father for her hand in marriage. Her father agreed. Angeliki did not want him because he was of another religion. She later compromised and made what today she evaluates as the best decision of her life.

 

She and Sami were married in a civil ceremony at the offices of the Kyrenia colonial administration. They had two sons, Andreas and Anthimos. Not long after, the struggle for Union (with Greece) began. This finally resulted in a maimed independence, made up of two communities that had already been divided. In 1952 two people had married in a civil ceremony, in 1960 this was inconceivable, not only politically but also constitutionally. The Cyprus Republic’s constitution banned mixed marriages. Greeks and Turks of Cyprus had founded a common state, and yet they were forbidden by law to intermarry.

 

Fifty-six years after their marriage the couple are still in love. “I’ve been very lucky in my life to have married this person,” Angeliki says today, who took us into her home. “Cyprus has been destroyed by fanatics. They started out for Union and didn’t know that the other side would respond with partition,” said Sami, who is hopeful that through the new political situation in Cyprus, the Cyprus problem can finally be solved.

 

Today their life is much easier. With the opening of the checkpoints and free movement they come and go to Nicosia and have been in touch with Angeliki’s relatives. Her neighbours visit her often and her life has become more interesting.

 

But this was not always so. The first years after the invasion, their life was tragic. Kyrenia was flooded with Turkish troops. One of their sons, due to the unsettling situation in Cyprus, left for America in 1973 where he worked and studied simultaneously. Although he didn’t live through the pain of the invasion, he experienced the anxiety of what had happened to his family. Their youngest son, aged around 20 then, was the only young person who spoke only Greek in a town under military occupation. “For six months he didn’t leave the house. They asked me to hand him over, I refused. I said, first bring back the ones you took as prisoners,” remembers Angeliki.

 

At the time Sami worked at the American radio station in Karava, west of Kyrenia. With the Americans’ help the couple managed to get their son out of occupied Cyprus and sent him to the USA where he joined his brother. He was married there, started a family and today is the manager of a pasta manufacturing company. His older brother had a less favourable fate. He was killed in an accident in the USA.

 

Near Angeliki’s home, in Pano Kyrenia, is the neighbourhood church dedicated to St George. It was built in 1952, the year she married Sami. It is where she baptised her two children and after Kyrenia was abandoned by its inhabitants she undertook the responsibility to preserve it.

 

Nearly all the churches in the occupied areas were either destroyed or turned into mosques. St George’s Church in Pano Kyrenia has remained undamaged. It is exactly how its residents left it in 1974.

 

“I was asked for the keys many times so that they could turn it into a museum but I refused to give them to them. I will give them to the priest and the church committee that will take it over following a solution to the Cyprus problem,” she said.

 

Angeliki Yiasar cleans the church and at her initiative, a Kyrenian, Takis Neophytou, has taken on its renovation. The Church of Cyprus, which she’d already turned to, had shown zero interest.

 

Today a lot of Kyrenians who visit their town go by and pay homage at the Church of St George. Angeliki, who keeps the keys in her pillow, opens the door for them and then treats them to coffee in her colourful Cypriot yard.


Makarios Drousiotis

Cyprus Mail

18/05/2008