my Cyprus, my Κύπρος, my Kıbrıs

Putting the past to rest

Roses for Gülsün. Credit

Güller Gülsün için
Roses for Gülsün

Funerals are always difficult; whoever they are, whatever age the loved-one is and the feelings that follow are unexpected in some ways.

Two weeks ago we buried my 95-year-old Nene (grandmother) in Potamia’s Turkish Cypriot cemetery, where a number of ‘Potamites’ (people of Potamia), whom I had grown up with, attended the funeral and the small reception afterwards to pay their respects.

Ordinarily, I shy away from writing about experiences that I consider too personal, or at least ‘too raw’. However, in every painfully emotional situation there’s always a little comic relief or something to ease the heavy atmosphere.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, for many years I, as well as my brother, have spoken to some of our relatives in Greek (or to be more specific in the Greek Cypriot dialect), which has managed to turn my identity issue on its head – you’re a Greek Cypriot you speak Greek, you’re a Turkish Cypriot you speak Turkish.

There are times I say ‘we’ and mean Greek Cypriots, but there are times I say ‘we’ and mean Turkish Cypriots. These are confusing times.

However, to a certain extent I hadn’t realised how this one very significant social construct – that of identity – had affected my own family, until the day of my Nene’s funeral when my brother said: ‘Oh I forgot Nene was a Muslim!’

For any devout Muslims out there I apologise in advance that we could be so flippant about our Nene being a Muslim, but when you spend years speaking to your Nene in Greek it may be inevitable that at some point you may forget what community and religion she belongs to. Apart from that, I never remember her visiting any mosque after my Dede (grandfather) died in 1984.

Again it seems only natural to relate Greek with Orthodoxy and Turkish with Islam, so if, like us, you are not adhering to that you may find yourself forgetting who you are.

Meanwhile, at my cousin’s mother’s house (she’s my auntie by marriage) the famous imam Shakir Alemdar of the Hala Sultan Tekke in Larnaka, sat in the living room surrounded by Greek Cypriots. I kept thinking that this must be the only funeral he’s had to perform while being surrounded mainly by Greek Cypriots. What must he have thought of the situation!

It seemed despite the sadness, there were a few light moments to teach us about the importance of embracing diversity – or similarity however you want to see it –  within a community and within a very typical Cypriot village.

2 thoughts on “Putting the past to rest

  1. Senay

    Your posts always resonate strongly with me as I explore and negotiate my own Turkish Cypriot and Irish roots. Your point about diversity or similarity is particularly interesting. Having been in Cyprus for four years now, it is the similarities between Greek and Turkish Cypriots that strike me more than ever. But as a child growing up in London, amongst Turkish Cypriots, I had the impression that Greek Cypriots were from another planet. Thank you again for another thought-provoking post and my sincerest condolences on the loss of your Nene.

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