Dr. Hale Erel who had been a very small child in 1963 continues to write her memoirs from Kaymakli (Omorphita) as they could not escape and stayed behind… I want to share the memories of this child today with you… Dr. Hale Erel, whose writing we shared before on these pages, writes:
`We are in the car, I am sitting in my mother’s lap, we are trying to go somewhere but we are prevented. Around the car are men with long guns in their hands. We want to escape but we can’t. Guns are pointed at us, some people shout, I don’t understand. My father does not speak, he has sons, he has daughters, his face is getting red but he is silent. If we had gone a little bit further, we would reach the Turkish Cypriot border and we would be saved. We can see the REGIS factory on the horizon. We are escaping, why we are escaping from home, I don’t understand. There are soldiers who are blocking the car, they all have beards, some of them hold cigarettes – then a bit further up another commotion happens and their attention is diverted there, the front of the car now is open, I can see a man’s body lying on the floor, he only has his pants on, the boots are crushing his naked back, four boots, two of them are on his head, the others on his
back. First I see this and my mother tries to cover my face, my father says, `Let’s go back`. `It is Ruso` he says, I don’t know who he is. The car is crowded but there is dead silence, no one speaks. My mother also says `Let’s go back` and we go back.
I get to know failure that day and I say I will never have failures in my life. We go back home. We cannot escape from this imprisonment. We go in and my mother sends me under the table again. A little while later the door is almost crushed with fists. My father opens the door. We hide under the table, few kids, numerous soldiers walk in our house with guns in their hands. They run here and there. We have a lot of kids, a lot of women, grown up youngsters and fathers in the house.
Boots go around the house, I only watch the boots from under the table, when I peek out I also see the guns and the barrels of the guns. They shout at my father, my mother speaks to them half in Greek and half in Turkish and tries to tell them we don’t have guns and that the children are very frightened.
They go upstairs. I hear the sound of the boots in the rooms, these are mixed with human voices that I don’t understand. There comes someone in a black coat, with a gun over his shoulder and hand guns in his hands, he stops in front of my father with his red eyes… `Don’t do it again` he says to my father, `don’t try to escape…` Some Turkish, some Greek words. He holds my father by his shoulders and pushes him to the couch.
They gather up and go but their smell and fear remains behind. `It was …` my father says, with this one word everyone understands what he says except me, I am too young to understand the magic of this word. `We must escape immediately or they will kill us` he says. Once again we get in the cars. We must escape, we must go and never return. This is also a short adventure since they’ve cut the roads, men with guns. They stop us again and there are so many guns around us. They shout at us, pointing their guns at us. It is like a theatre, everyone lifts up their hands. I don’t understand why they lift up their hands. My arms are next to my body and there is a soldier walking towards me. He shouts at me in a language I do not understand, I want to cry but I look forward and I meet the eyes of my brother, he has his arms up and he smiles at me, I smile at him for giving me courage.
We played a lot of games but it’s the first time that we are playing `lifting your arms up` like this and everyone is playing with us. At that moment the slap in my face is so painful but I do not cry. I look up at the owner of that hand, I cannot see his face because of his gun but I understand that he is not a human being. I know that a human cannot hit a desperate child. I do not lift up my hands. I learn not to bend my head that day. That day I learn how to smile at life when I feel real pain and when my heart is really broken. No one understands how broken I am, my mind rules my heart, I put a smile on my face. I remember theatre and I wait for it to end.
Again those big boots prevent us from leaving. We go back in the car again. I sit in my mother’s lap, my auntie kisses my cheek, I smile at my brother, I hold his hand as he takes me under the table again. `You stay here nice and calm` he says.
My life under the table does not last long. The door is almost crushed again with fists, in the front the man with a long beard and a long coat, with a lot of men with guns are everywhere. That day I swear that neither the real, nor a toy gun will ever enter my house, I will never be near a gun ever. I know that man, my father had said …, I remember. They shout and they search the men, they enter the rooms, they push everyone. I get out from under the table, my brother comes running and holds my hand, my eyes search my other brother, he comes and holds my hand.
Then they take away all men above 11 years old, 17 men away and I learn what is mourning in a house. The voices of women crying for their brothers, women crying for their husbands, women crying for their children and children crying for their fathers get mixed up. Big sisters start collecting from the ground what has been thrown out from cupboards, my mother learns what is it to cry and it’s as though she teaches us this, my auntie throws herself around for her brother, the baby in the couchette learns how to cry again. I wrap myself around the skirts of my mother, for my father that I will never see, my mother does not see me, she does not feel me, she does not recognize me, she does not recognize anyone, she just throws herself all over the place. She forgets us, she actually forgets herself…
How many days have gone by, how many hours, no one knows. There is a commotion in the garden, there’s voices, there’s a knock on the door, there’s men voices in the garden, this time I understand what they are saying, my auntie hugs her children who came back, she asks about her brother but no one knows what happened to her brother. `They didn’t let my uncle go` says someone. The shrilling cry of my auntie is mixed with my mother’s voice, one of them is crying for her husband, the other for her brother. Having a bullet in his pocket has prevented my father’s coming home, that bullet that had broken our window, had gone on the refrigerator, my father had taken it from there and had put it in his pocket and had gone in haste, having forgotten about it. That bullet that had come out of numerous guns pointed towards us, having found its target. The owner of that bullet had big boots, men with beards, spoke in a language I did not understand,
couldn’t understand why they were trying to kill us.
They could not kill, the UN had come in time to save them. Again … comes and brings us back our father as though giving him as a pawn to us, saying he will come back and pick him up, he wears that black coat, with his long beard and red eyes. He says he will pick him up in the morning and leaves. What a bad thing to have one’s father like a pawn. How bad is it to have one’s husband as a pawn for one night. I don’t like men with long black coats. I don’t like people who hold guns in their hands and I don’t call people `humans` who hurt other people.
Morning doesn’t come but time goes very quickly. As the door knocks, my father gets ready to leave to the unknown, he looks behind at my mother, at me, I jump to his lap. His beard that has grown hurts me but I do not cry, perhaps I have no more tears, they don’t flow. My father opens the door slowly as he says goodbye to us with his eyes, like a victim but as we meet the eyes of the soldier at the door we understand that he is saved. He is tall and has a clean face. My mother jumps up towards the door, my brothers run to the garden before me, an English soldier takes me in his arms, then we walk together towards the door, we pass the garden, we come near a military car, the boot opens and I see the most wonderful sweets and gums there… I don’t know if it is the sweets that make me cry or my mother and father watching us. I don’t remember. The only thing that I remember from that day is that my big brothers carry the sweets and biscuits home,
my father hugging my mother, me tasting the best chocolate in the arms of a soldier. Then I remember that they call me `Watery eyes`. When I am happy, when I am sad, when I remember the past I have wet eyes and they call me `Watery eyes`. We have a bayram without it being bayram… And words like bullet and gun never cross our minds anymore. We forget everything. Sweets, chocolate, biscuits, tall smiling English speaking soldiers. I only remember those. I forget the guns, I don’t know what a bullet is, that slap on my face never leaves a mark. I never remember those theatre players who have become soldiers without first becoming humans. Those who are not human, those who are just in a format of humans never enter my games anymore…`
(*) Huseyin Ruso is still `missing` from Kaymakli (Omorphita) since 1963.
Photo: Hale Erel as a child…
(*) Article published in POLITIS newspaper on the 22nd of March, 2015 Sunday.