The Christmas memory of a child…

Dr. Hale Erel from Kaymakli (Omorphita) writes her childhood memories of the dark days of December 1963 and later on of 1974… She was barely four years old in 1974 and she remembers all the details that made a mark on her heart and soul… In her real life story called `A Christmas Memory` she remembers how they were hiding in their house in Omorphita… I want to share her story with you… Here is what Dr. Hale Erel writes:
`There is a knock on the door. We start listening intently. It’s too early in the morning – as though if it was later, anyone would come to visit.
`No!` shouts my father, `don’t open it!`
My mother, as calm as always asks:
`Who would come, Bey?`
I am under the table.
I am not sleeping but I can’t get out of there, for a long time I live there… We are in Kaymakli, in our house, it is end of December 1963.
Another knock on the door, just a single knock.
`Let’s open it` my mother says.
`Noooo!` says my father, `It must be the wind, maybe it swept something towards the door!`
There is fear in their eyes, they look at each other. Two `leventis` come in the room, two young boys who haven’t yet grown beards and who had to grow up too quickly. My brothers… The house is overcrowded, I am alone under the table. I am barely 4 years old… Probably I learnt what loneliness means from those days…
There is a long silence, I am afraid, then another knock on the door. It is clear that the door is being knocked. This sound is not the sound of that cold winter, neither the sound of the wind.
`I will open it` my mother says, `someone is knocking at the door!`
`No!` my father says, `we have children!`
He can’t finish his sentence, the door opens.
`Who is there?` says my mother quietly, as though no one to hear… `Who is there?`
`It’s me neighbour, it’s me…`
The voice comes from afar with a Greek accent, like a whisper, as though no one should hear…
My mother asking again, `Who is there?`
I hear my mother’s whisper but no one else does. I hear the voice answering her from where I am, under the kitchen table in the kitchen, near the kitchen door.
My mother with no more patience sticks her head out of the door.
`What is it neighbour?` she says, moving her right hand with a gesture as though asking what is going on.
I cannot endure it any longer and I get out from under the table to go and grab the skirt of my mother, I am too small and can’t even reach her waist. I look from the door towards the garden, there is a man crouching almost invisible watching us from the fence. He makes a sign with his finger, putting it towards his nose and mouth, making a `be silent` sign, showing a basket on the floor to my mother. I see it too.
`Neighbour` he says, `today is Christmas, children should not go hungry, take this, my children ate, let yours eat as well…`
My mother lifts up her hand again, she is afraid to speak it seems, she signs with her hand – actually she is thanking him.
She looks back at my father, my father is standing as though saying `What are you doing? Come back inside!` but no one is listening to him. My mother is holding my hand now.
`Come on Hale` she says, `go and get that basket!`
The kitchen door is only open as much as I can pass, I look at the basket standing next to the fence in the garden. I don’t even think if I can lift it up, I sense that I am growing up. After so many days for the first time someone has asked something from me and I walk, I hold the basket from its handle and start dragging it towards the house. It is too heavy but since I feel that I grew up, with that strength and courage, I drag the basket towards the kitchen door.
My mother leans out and takes the basket from my hands, she looks left and right, controlling if anyone is there, if anyone has seen what is happening and we go in, close the door and lock it again. It’s as though the lock protects us from all evil…
It is Christmas day. We open the basket. Inside the basket are colourful eggs. There is halloumi and how many! There is chorek and bread and even olives. My mother looks at my father, my father is looking at my mother…
`A good person` says my mother, `he thought about our kids, while we sleep hungry, he could not eat…`
The eggs are coloured, bringing a little bit colour to the dark days.
It is Christmas day, 25th of December. We are prisoners in our own house, we hid in our house so no one would harm us, we are overcrowded in the house. The Greek Cypriot neighbour behind our house across towards the right knows that we are in the house and knows that we are hiding. We have been neighbours for many years, we had our morning coffees together, the children playing together. He did not forget us on this Christmas morning, knocking on our door like he did on every Pasha, every special day and he put aside something for us, so that the children should be happy… We hide but from whom I don’t know, someone frightened us with death, why I don’t know that either, why we are afraid and from whom, I don’t know that either but I know that we are not hiding from our Greek Cypriot neighbour, I know that we are not afraid of our Greek Cypriot neighbour. Really why did we hide and from whom? With whom did we fight, who tried to kill us? If not us
and our neighbours who were these people?
For a short time it is a festive time in the house, we had almost run out of food and now we have a little bit more. As always, first the children are fed. I choose a yellow egg, from then on yellow becomes the colour I love most. I get to meet coloured eggs on that day.
Wherever you are neighbour, be good, be very good, if you have passed away from this earth, be the light, rest in peace…`
If this Greek Cypriot neighbour is alive, Hale would very much like to meet him and his family…
(Hale is one of the five children of Dervish Erel who had been a carpenter… I had written about his family in POLITIS back in May last year… Dervish Erel was a carpenter… He was from Ortakeuy, his wife Bahire from Istinco-Paphos… Around 1955-56 he had bought land in Kaymakli and built a house and they had moved there… This had been a mixed area, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots living together and the Erel family had Greek Cypriot neighbours, both good and bad as it happens in all the communities of the earth.
Dervish Erel had five kids so he had bought land and built five houses, one house for each kid… He was a hardworking man and since the big house they were living in was built with cement, when the intercommunal fighting began on the 21st of December 1963, around 40 Turkish Cypriots would come to take shelter in this house… Most of the Turkish Cypriots from other areas of Kaymakli (Omorphita) had left for Hamit Mandrez but the Turkish Cypriots from this area could not leave – not that they did not try… They tried to leave twice with cars but the Greek Cypriot police would intervene and stop them and told them to go back home, they could not leave… This was happening around the area where there is a bus terminal now in Kaymakli. So they had to go back and continued to stay in the house of Dervish Erel. There were women with small babies who needed milk but there was no milk, no food whatsoever… Bahire, the wife of Dervish Erel would make pittas
from flour since they could not find bread. The good Greek Cypriot neighbours of the Erel family would try to help, bringing to them eggs, bread and other stuff to eat while the bad neighbours would be shooting at the kids playing in the street as Ali, one of the sons of Dervish and brother of Hale, remembers… One day Sampson himself together with 20-30 of his men with machine guns would come and surround the house, they would take all males above 14-15 years old away… Sampson and his men would take this group inside Omorphita to a spot and line them up against a wall… They would give a cigarette each – the last cigarette to smoke before they were executed or at least that had been the impression they wanted to create. But the Turkish Cypriot group had been `lucky` since just at that moment two British women officers were passing by and saw the scene and started a big argument with the Sampson group about the Turkish Cypriot prisoners. Perhaps
the group was `saved` because of this coincidence of the British passing through there – the group would be taken to the Regis Ice Cream Factory and they would be beaten severely… Later on, a Greek Cypriot police sergeant would accompany the group back to the house of Dervish Erel, telling them that `They cannot leave, they should stay where they are…` Perhaps because of the British women officers’ worries, a British soldier would be sent to sit in front of the house in a jeep 24 hours a day and sort of `guard` them…
Ali remembers that around the 10th of January 1964, there came a truck to take them away… The truck was accompanied by a British jeep and they were told, `We will take you to inside Nicosia…`)


Photo: Hale Erel as a young child…

(*) Article published in the POLITIS newspaper on the 25th of January, 2015 Sunday.

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