My history teacher at school told us that ‘history cannot be pigeonholed’.
I recently visited for the first time (I’m 35 years old) the Imprisoned Graves (more commonly known in Greek as Filakismena Mnimata – Φυλακισμένα Μνήματα). Like many other Cypriot school children who didn’t attend public school, I was not one of the masses herded into this fenced off area, beside the Green Line.
For readers who may not know the history of the Imprisoned Graves, they are located next to the Central Prisons in the Ayios Andreas area of Nicosia. Most importantly, they house the graves of the EOKA fighters (or heroes as they are known in our national rhetoric), who were killed during the EOKA struggle against the British, between 1955 and 1959. The Filakismena Mnimata is considered a sacred monument to the struggle of Cypriot Hellenism and union with Greece.
We arrived just ten minutes before it was said to be closed to the public (it was not a planned visit!), and was therefore grateful to the former EOKA fighter, bookshop employee and all-round EOKA fountain of knowledge, who opened up the gate to the graves for us.
For me, the most shocking part was not the graves themselves, but it was being led into a small, rectangular shed-like room where the British would hang men suspected of being part of the struggle. The room was cool, damp perhaps even freshly-painted.
I must have been looking down when we were led in, because I was startled when the noose seemed to suddenly enter my line of view. The trap doors beneath the noose had been flung open and the whole area was encircled in glass, lest someone accidentally fall beneath.
Our guide must have thought we knew what was in there, so didn’t bother to warn us. Only I didn’t know.
A few minutes before our eager guide led us to the graves, he was keen to find out where we were from. He had a book listing EOKA fighters by village alphabetically. Potamia had two who took part in the struggle.
Our guide’s eagerness to know about us and any connections we may have with persons who had been part of the struggle, was met with hesitation on our part. It was hesitation to part with any kind of information that might ‘get us into trouble’. Here, within these walls, Hellenism has been memorialised. There are no Turkish Cypriots, no Latins, no Maronites and no Armenians, and we too had to play the part.
For me, this part of our history does not necessarily depict heroism or some heroic act by a group of Cypriots (Greek) against a once global power. As my teacher said, history cannot be pigeonholed and neither can this four-year period in our history. Perhaps it was the end of good relations between the island’s two main communities, Turkish and Greek Cypriots? Was it a catalyst for divisions? I can’t claim to know the socio-political ramifications of this period, however like many key events of our island’s history, it felt like a lone puzzle piece that had purposely been left out.