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Benefits and problems from the EU membership.


Postby brother » Wed Jul 20, 2005 1:50 pm

History will teach us
By Stefanos Evripidou

THE CYPRIOT merchant Abdülhamit Bey built a tobacco factory in his hometown of Larnaca, served as a Turkish Schools Inspector, a Larnaca Hospital Committee member and a Larnaca Municipal Councillor three times before his death in 1918.

This we know because it is the first name listed in the fifth edition of Aristides Koudounaris’ Biographical Lexicon of Cypriots, 1800-1920, including for the first time the names of Turkish Cypriots who contributed to the historical life and soul of the island of Cyprus.

The first edition was published in 1989, containing the names of 657 Greek Cypriots, Armenians, Latins and Maronites. It took Koudounaris a decade to collect and assimilate information on the great names of Cyprus, investigating books, periodicals and private records, while travelling to London, Athens and Egypt to collect information personally. He assures us that, in literary circles, “oral history” is an accepted source and very often encouraged.

The latest edition is double the size, with 1,358 names of Cypriots who contributed politically, intellectually or through education to Cyprus, and includes, for the first time, 125 Turkish Cypriot names.

Koudounaris explains that the book was incomplete without Turkish Cypriots who made “fascinating contributions to Cyprus” but it was only possible to collect this information once the checkpoints opened.

Since then, he has been a regular traveller to the north, arranging visits with family members of older prominent figures in society.

“You would be surprised to see how big the intellectual participation of Turkish Cypriots who contributed a lot to Cyprus without the knowledge of the Greek Cypriots. I believe it is time to write an objective history of Cyprus,” he said.

Ozel Vasif, a former tennis star of Cyprus, helped by providing her house as the meeting place. “She is the niece of the barrister Sir Münir Mehmet Bey (1890-1957). Thanks to her, I was able to invite Turkish Cypriots to her house for tea. They would come with information on their ancestors. We often stayed until 3am talking with these people who brought records and files of the accomplishments of their grandparents,” said Koudounaris.

It was one such evening when the historian learnt of the first Turkish Cypriot mayor of Nicosia, Podamyalizade S¸evket Mehmed Bey (1873-1955).

Now the book is in high demand in education circles and among the Turkish Cypriot community. “I have 20 new names of Turkish Cypriots and hope to collect another 40 before I make a new edition, and translate it into Turkish and English.”

So why is the book considered so valuable a piece of history?

“About 25 years ago, it occurred to me that Cypriots did not know anything about the people of the past, despite roads being named after many of them. If I asked about Yangos Tornaridis for instance, a great literary man who went to Athens, no one knew of him. I decided someone had to collect this data and put it together,” explains Koudounaris.

And what better person to do it than the studious historian who studied at Trinity College, Dublin, as a youth because it was devoid of Greeks, forcing him to speak the English language.

His flat in Nicosia is covered wall to wall with eclectic paintings, wooden furniture, but most of all, books. This is a man who loves his jobs.

“You must research personally. I went to London, Athens and Egypt for research and got a lot of information from people directly, including the Patriarch of Alexandria Partheniou, who loved Cypriots very much.

“I will keep going north and working on the list of Turkish Cypriots, even in the pouring rain, I couldn’t care less, I love it.”

“It’s amazing the contribution they made. I was so absorbed at times talking to family members. They kept all the information intact. Turkish Cypriots feel very proud of their ancestors whereas Greek Cypriots tend to take their accomplishments for granted. They were very willing to co-operate once they realised that I wasn’t compiling two separate lists.”

A name some might recognise in the book would be Raif Mehmed Hüseyin Bey (1882-1941), father of the familiar political figure Rauf Denktash.

“Raif Bey. I read his obituaries in Greek Cypriot papers. It is amazing how popular he was. He started out as a policeman and the Brits rightly thought to appoint him as a judge because he was so clever. He was successful and very fair as a judge and left a fine memory, the complete opposite to his son,” said Koudounaris.

Asked why he limited the biographical book to the period 1800-1920, he replied: “You must let history pass a 100 years to judge impartially. I am not trying to do a ‘Who’s who?’ of Cyprus. I chose something more difficult, to do a ‘Who was who?’ based on the Oxford model,” he said.

“Time must pass before you can study whether somebody broke away in life, whether they left traces. It’s harder to do but you get a great satisfaction by realising which people contributed towards humanity and how present people lack this.

“The contribution of offering rather than taking in life: it’s a great principle they followed in those days, which is why they were successful. Taking is very normal nowadays. People cannot think in terms of contribution.”

The book is written in the “language of the literary minded people”, different from katharevousa and demotic Greek.

“I stuck to this mindset because I was quoting from the papers and sources that I found. You would be surprised what I found on Turkish Cypriot dignitaries in Greek papers. In those days, they mentioned weddings, funerals, and engagements, but now less so. I also included quotations from travellers and missionaries to Cyprus, particularly in the 19th Century,” he said.

One of the high points of the laborious research undertaken was the many afternoons Koudounaris spent beneath the House of Representatives reading minutes of assembly sessions recorded from 1884.

The archives are in perfect order, a hidden gem locked in the basement of the House away from the public eye.

“There are amazing details in there starting from the first minutes of the House. I got to read statements from both communities in the late 19th Century. Even back then, they were discussing union with the motherlands. The one time they got together in parliament was in 1925 when all Cypriot deputies agreed to stop paying tribute to the Brits. A Turkish Cypriot proposed the discussion. This was the first time both sides worked together on something.”

“It is a fantastic archive and should be open to the public to see.” Koudounaris highlighted the need to encourage scholars to research more on the history of Cyprus. “The PIO should be more helpful here, and the same with the libraries. They close at a time when most researchers work. We need to do something to encourage more scholars and researchers to look at these archives.

“Look at the Grand Code at the Archbishopric, full of all important historical facts. It documents the 40-year reign of Archbishop Sophranios the Third, who started during the Turkish rule and ended in the British. It is closed to the public. Nobody knows anything about his personal correspondence with the pashas and the rest of the world, somebody must do that.”

This is something Koudounaris feels very passionate about… the importance of history.

“If you read historical books and are interested in history, you may realise by comparing to the present day, if there were any mistakes committed in the past, and in so doing avoid them in the present. This is the significance of history. This is how we keep repeating our mistakes ever and ever again and never find a solution to the Cyprus problem.

“It is a characteristic of today’s society, without a doubt, they are less informed and less interested in history,” he concludes.

This is the most beautiful part of history in Cyprus and one man (bless him) has taken the time to reserch it and present it to us the cypriots so we can all acknowledge our forefathers achievements

p.s. I felt this only happened after cyprus got into E.U hence it should be in this forum.
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Postby Yiannis » Wed Jul 20, 2005 5:16 pm

That should be a briliant book.Do u have any info on where i can buy this book brother??
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Postby brother » Wed Jul 20, 2005 5:20 pm

Not yet Yiannis but i will come back soon with some details as i too want to buy it.
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Postby cannedmoose » Wed Jul 20, 2005 5:24 pm

You can get the earlier one from Moufflon Bookshop (my favourite bookshop in the whole wide world). So I'd guess if you contact them they can let you know when it's in.
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