Since re-learning Turkish some time ago now, certain new linguistic avenues have opened up to me. And with the re-acquisition of a language, comes a kind of responsibility, especially in a country like Cyprus, which has Greek and Turkish as its official languages, but where few young people speak both.
I was recently asked to translate the foreword of a book from Turkish to English (a whole six pages!). I have to admit when I first said yes, I had no idea I was saying yes to translating a whole six pages of Turkish. Otherwise, I certainly would have been more intimidated – who wouldn’t be. I was volunteering to translate from a language that I had spent most of my life not speaking.
Most importantly though, the foreword was dedicated to Djus Bayada, a prominent and inspirational figure over the last few decades within the bi-communal movement/struggle and one of the founders of the New Cyprus Association. When the New Cyprus Association was founded in 1975, bringing the two communities together was indeed a struggle, if not impossible.
Djus Bayada, was born to a Latin father and a Greek Cypriot mother.
The foreword, written by Bekir Azgin, states that Djus, in order to satisfy the religious beliefs of both his parents, would visit – or attend mass – at both the Orthodox and the Catholic church (I must draw the reader’s attention to the fact that Djus was in fact a proud atheist). At this point in the translation, a chuckle escaped my lips.
I had only ever met Djus very briefly some years ago now, when I first ‘entered’ this – quite alien to me at the time – realm of bi-communal work. I say ‘alien’ as I knew very little of it and of the people who were and continue to be, prominent within it.
At the time I was a Turkish Cypriot who didn’t know many other Turkish Cypriots and during many of these bi-communal meetings sat with the ‘other’ community.
Coming back to Djus, through translating the first couple of paragraphs, I had already begun to feel a sort of kinship with him. By going to both churches, he seemed to want to satisfy both communities (or both of his parents as the case may have been).
It reminded me of when my mother and I had the somewhat obscure idea of attending the Catholic Easter mass this year in Greek (it’s offered in both Greek and English). We had actually chosen to go to the Greek language mass entirely for practical reasons; the time suited us better.
I’ve only ever heard the Catholic mass said in Latin and English, why would I want to hear it in Greek? Hearing it in Greek though, made me think about what it means to be a Catholic Cypriot, and more specifically one belonging to the Turkish Cypriot community. It made me stop associating the Greek language with a particular religion and ethnicity. In those moments, it was a language that did not belong to the Greek Cypriot community; it belonged to all Cypriots and to all who have a love of the Greek language.
It made me feel like I had a connection with this inspirational man who was never afraid to stand up for his beliefs; even in the face of utter hopelessness and defeat.
Note: Latin means belonging to the Latin community of Cyprus. Typically, these were families of Lusignan and Venetian descent. According to the Cyprus constitution of 1960, the Latin community is of Catholic denomination.