Alaniçi: visiting Atlilar monument (6/end)


After the astonishing visits to the monument for Murataga-Sandallar and the Sehitler Müzesi, a last visit in this area remained: the finding place of the bodies of the Atlilar massacre. 37 people were killed and bulldozered into their grave in such a way that bodies could not be separated any more when the massacre was uncovered.
When I walked on that specific spot, the most striking aspect was the normality, the field-like aspect of the place. That spot looks like ‘the middle of nowhere’ and everybody knows nothing happens in the middle of nowhere. So how did these heavy things occur right here? It would be reassuring if a place where very bad things happen, had some kind of special sign or mark. But there is none. Of course now there is a monument and a man made statue in the former mass grave. Information boards tell visitors that abnormal activities took place here; but this information board is broken. Somehow, remembering does not seem to be serious business. It really irritates me to find broken information boards in memorial places like this, like I wrote in the blog about Murataga-Sandallar. How serious do officials take their own history? And how come locals don’t force them to do their duties and take care of the boards?
Also, we got more here about the ‘sehit’- approach (see my blog moving memories and then the last part) on one of the remaining, non-damaged information boards: this monument was erected in memory of these 37 martyrs who did not flee from their village, and defended the honor of the Turkish flag on the cost of their lives‘. I found it difficult to read this text neutrally.
How can I describe a visit to the Atlilar monument? If you go there directly without visiting other nearby places, it might be very interesting. If you come to Atlilar after Sandallar-Murataga and the Sehitler Müzesi, the question is not so much to find something ‘new’, but to honour the dead, the individuals who died here without maybe even knowing why. If you do not care at all about any interpretation of what happened, you will feel just sad, maybe even overwhelmed by the cruelty and heartlessness of the events. And your understanding of the Turkish community in Cyprus and the role of Turkey will deepen.

Davet – Nazim Hikmet

Dörtnala gelip Uzak Asya’dan
Akdeniz’e bir kısrak başı gibi uzanan
bu memleket, bizim.

Bilekler kan içinde, dişler kenetli, ayaklar çıplak
ve ipek bir halıya benziyen toprak,
bu cehennem, bu cennet bizim.

Kapansın el kapıları, bir daha açılmasın,
yok edin insanın insana kulluğunu,
bu dâvet bizim….

Yaşamak bir ağaç gibi tek ve hür
ve bir orman gibi kardeşçesine,
bu hasret bizim…

 

Alaniçi: moving memories of 1955 – 1974 (5)


In the Şehitler Müzesi that I found by accident (see blog 4 in this series) I bought a book that was published in 2015 under the title: 1955 – 1974 Step by Step Genocide – Murataga – Atlilar – Sandallar. It is a rather simple, straight forward book and therefor impressive. It contains the stories of survivors of the massacre in 1974 along with pictures of the victims. The stories are quite different, there is no sign of an editor or anything. They are not always logical or consistent and that gives it a pure and attractive style. It flows the way locals tell a story and you follow their story line without even breathing.
There is only one lesser thing to tell about the book, and that is the English translation. I am sorry that I did not buy the Turkish version because on several occasions the English translation is so bad that it is difficult to find out what was meant originally. I could have bought even both versions, for 10 TL per book it is very affordable. But I didn’t, alas. Now, I give you my analysis of some aspects of this book.

Remembering
It matters to remember and to personalize the victims. A news item like “89 women, children and elderly were killed in Murataga – Sandallar” is terrible and then quickly disappears. This book shows the list of individual names and photographs of these 89 persons and those killed in Atlilar. It gives names and faces to the people we remember; it makes the crimes committed come much closer to our hearts and minds.
Most people on the pictures do not smile. Apparently being photographed was serious business at the time. This somehow increases the impression that is made on the observer. Some photographs are vague, it seems that that was the best they could find for the book. At least some memory is given to us, even though it is imperfect.
Remembering in this book is a mixture of photographs of those who were killed with the stories of the few who survived. This is an influential way of remembering. As a book, there are quite some technical failures – but that is maybe why this book is so interesting. It is pure and it is a direct message both from the deceased and from the survivors. There was clearly nobody ‘in between’ to interprete, to correct or to think about how to get the message across. The message is just the message. Remembering in this book is about hearing and listening to authentic stories.

Different memories
Authenticity also means that memories differ. My impression is that some memories were influenced by actual events in the Middle East. For example two survivors say that they saw decapitated corpses when the victims were excavated. As said in an earlier blog, the corpses were bulldozered when they were buried. Other survivors say they saw loose body parts at the excavation, which is, combined with atrocities elsewhere in the Middle East, probably the explanation for the idea that there was decapitation. There are some claims that the attackers threw locals from the mosque, raped the women, dragged them on a rope behind a bus or burned the bodies. There are also claims that victims were buried while still alive.
Some survivors state that UN officials knew what was happening or even witnessed some facts; that they helped the locals afterwards but did nothing to prevent or intervene. Others do not speak about the UN at all.
This book is not a scientific study. The truth for all this is that we do not know exactly what happened. This book should be considered as a good start to deal with this past.

Peace, justice, nationalist and islamic influences
No one was punished for the massacres at Murataga, Sandallar and Atlilar. In 1974 Cyprus was simply split in a Northern and a Southern part and initially it seems that people just wanted to forget about the past. Several victims that tell their story in the book call for justice. Others just rely on Turkey for protection. They feel that nobody except the Turks helped and will help them and this is more or less true with the exception of Kofi Annan who organized the 2003 referendum (where the Turkish Cypriots said yes to reunification but the Greek Cypriots said no).
All seem to agree that remembering the massacres is the only way to prevent that such cruelties happen again. The calls to remember go hand in hand with calls to be human:
“The struggle of Turkish Cypriot in order to exist in Cyprus has not finished yet. The form has only changed. Maybe, it is going to continue a few generations more. The thing to do is to reach the honoured peace and carry on this struggle, knowing the past by not forgetting it and, without being slave under the emotions of anger and hatred. Remembering the past is not for bearing a grudge to somebody, it is important to know who and how much we will trust in”. (p.122)
I am giving this message to the youth. Do not forget your past and think your each step learning from the past. Do not be deceived. We are not trying to affect you to hate. Be kind and humanistic, and do not do anything Greeks did. Do not concede from your freedom and land. Live with your honour. This is the gift for you from our martyrs” (p. 193)
And there it is, the word ‘martyr’, in Turkish (and other languages in the Middle East): şehit. Talking ‘martyr’ instead of ‘victim’ has a meaning. Martyr is related to islam: he who sacrifices himself in the nationalist and islamist Turkish fight will go directly to heaven, a Grey Wolf adept explained me with enthusiasm: ‘me myself I have made many mistakes but if I fight in a war for Turkey and die there, they will all be wiped out’. In the 21st century narrative, the locals that died in this massacre, in my eyes as innocent victims – from a 16 days old baby to 95 year old elderly – become strong people who stood up for the Turkish flag and the Turkish identity and thus deserve martyrdom. The word ‘şehit’ is on the museum, on the graveyards, on the roadsigns and in the book. I like to refer here to the exposition I saw in the Stockholm National Historic Museum that questions who is telling your history. In Cyprus there is now a nationalist and islamist narrative in place that was not there 20 years ago. It is clear that the making of this book derives from that narrative, even though not every local in the book shares it. The question is why people interested in this narrative have taken on the making of a book about the Murataga – Sandallar – Atlilar massacre; it is worrying and likely to effect the peace process as well as the islamisation of Turkish Cypriot identity. However, the question is also why nobody in the 3 decades before was interested in the making of a book about the Murataga – Sandallar – Atlilar massacre and in justice for the victims….

“I was teacher in the semester of 1973-1974. I had twenty five students in the class. They were all murdered and martyred. I cried for them (…). There were two deaf students among the students in the class, one of them was a girl, and the other was a boy. I can’t forget them. (…)
I remember how Uncle Rüstem come back from captivity. He lost his wife and four children. Who would console? Everybody was wounded, and was so sad. We cried all together.
Then, all of us were unhappy in the village. We wanted to run away and be freed from all pains. Elder people in the village offered to go to Dörtyol, and we went together. It wasn’t like we thought, because our pains were with us, as well. There is still fire burning inside of us. It is something that will never end inside.
I hope that the ones, who hurt our hearts, are going to be punished. I really desire this.” (p. 162-166)

* 1955 – 1974 Step by Step Genocide Murataga – Atlilar – Sandallar, published by MASDER, the association to keep alive the memories/martyrs. Published Cyprus 2015 (no ISBN)

 

 

 

Alaniçi: a school as Şehitler Müzesi / Martyr’s Museum (4)

A school serves as Şehitler Müzesi, the Martyr’s Museum for Murataga, Sandallar and Atlilar where massacres took place in 1974. I passed this museum by surprise, on my way from the monument and mass grave of Murataga and Sandallar to the one in Atlilar. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a museum, maybe it is of rather recent date. It is quite small and somehow one of the saddest places I have ever been.
The school lies in a kind of courtyard where there is enough place to put your car. I was the only visitor that day and the day before me there was also only 1 visitor. As you can see on the picture, there are information boards on the left (in Turkish) and the right (in English) along the path to the Şehitler Müzesi and they are really good. Of course the perspective of the information is the Turkish Cypriot perspective; this is not the place for an interesting two-sided history. If you go to the Şehitler Müzesi, you look through the eyes of the locals of Murataga, Sandallar and Atlilar. As their perceptions are rarely found in the news or other sources of information, I found it very enrichening for a better understanding of why things are felt the way they are in Northern Cyprus.
The school of Murataga-Sandallar was not very old. Until 1958, children used to go to the mixed school of Alaniçi (in Greek: Pigi Peristerona). There had always been some pressure on the Turkish Cypriot children but the heavy troubles of 1958 chased all Turkish Cypriot children away and forced the last Turkish Cypriot inhabitants of Pigi Peristerona to leave and move to the smaller village of Murataga (in Greek: Maratha). Murataga welcomed the ‘refugees’ and built houses for them. At that time also a school and a mosque were made. Who could imagine that on August 14, 1974, 29 children (their names are in the picture) of that school would be killed, bulldozered and buried in mass graves?
However, what affected me most, was the guide of the museum himself… At the time of the massacre, most Turkish Cypriot men were in camps where the Greek Cypriots kept them as prisoner; some young men like himself had already gone to places where the fights took place, in his case Famagusta (in Turkish: Gazimagusa). While they were absent, the women, the children and the elderly were murdered. The men who survived and returned to Murataga, Sandallar and Atlilar, found out that they lost almost everybody. For the museum guide this meant: his mother, his five sisters and his brother – you can see them in the lower row on the picture to the right – and his aunt and her seven children. Only his father who was a prisoner at the time of the massacre, survived.
Now, this man is every day in a museum that – compared to museums in Amsterdam where I live – has hardly any visitors and he stays in that school alone facing the pictures of his murdered family members and all the other victims every day…
The museum has a video (Turkish only) about the event but I didn’t watch it.

If you are interested in the history of Cyprus, I do recommend the Şehitler Müzesi even though it might cover you with a blanket of sadness; it will highly contribute to your understanding of the Turkish Cypriot soul, and why they put safety first in all the negotiations with the Greek Cypriots.

The Şehitler Müzesi has published a book under the title: 1955 – 1974 Step by Step Genocide – Murataga – Atlilar – Sandallar. I bought the book and will tell you more about it in my next blog.