Cyprus’ Sleeping Beauty

Members of the Greek Cypriot and Greek American community of all generations and ages, including an impressive number of people from the general audience, packed the Stathakion Cultural Center in Astoria, New York, in response to CYPRECO’s invitation to attend its special program dedicated to “The Sad Story of Famagusta,” perhaps the only “ghost city” in the world and one of the many towns under Turkish occupation following Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus.

The event moved everyone in attendance but at the same time it offered a sense of optimism for the future.

The President of CYPRECO, Elena Maroulleti, after welcoming all and acknowledging the dignitaries and those who sponsored the event, shared for the first time her personal story and tragic experience when she had to flee Famagusta in August of 1974 amidst Turkish bombing. “As we sped away in our car, I witnessed in horror my beloved town being bombed. I saw bullets falling off the sky and almost hitting us… I saw people lying in the streets wounded with missing limps, people wondering around like lost souls. Since then my life has changed completely, but what has not changed after that morning are the nightmares that followed and which continue to this day.” After crossing to the occupied side was allowed a few years ago, Marouletti went back to see her house put for sale by the people who took it.

The event highlighted the story of Famagusta before and after the invasion through video, speech and poetry. All speakers referred to the 36 year long Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus and the longing of the Cypriot people for the re-unification of their island through a just a viable solution, but at the same time, they also spoke with great sense of optimism about the future of Famagusta. Then followed a video featuring file footage of the city as well as AKTINA TV exclusive footage shot prior to the implementation of free movement between the occupied and the free areas of Cyprus. Produced by Elena Maroulleti, the video is enhanced with the poem “A Dream of Famagusta” by the late Lucy Maroulleti and the song “Ammochostos” by Niki Katsaouni, lyrics, and Michalis Christodoulides, music, performed by George Dalaras.

Famagusta Mayor Alexis Galanos conveyed both a video message and letter to the CYPRECO public. He thanked and congratulated CYPRECO for its activities all these past 30 years and in particular for the production of the event dedicated to Famagusta. Mr. Galanos also extended his gratitude to the American citizens of Greek Cypriot descent for what they have been doing “in order to terminate the Turkish occupation of Cyprus” and urged them to intensify their efforts to “see more involvement in the part of the United States and more active involvement regarding the termination of the Turkish occupation.”

Keynote Speaker Theoharis David, FAIA, in his brief but very inspiring speech enhanced with slides and entitled “Famagusta: A remembrance and thoughts about the future,” shared his family’s story regarding his hometown Morphou also under Turkish occupation. Referring to his close ties with Famagusta the Professor explained that it all happened when he was first starting out as a young architect and after he was commissioned by the Archbishopric of Cyprus and then President Archbishop Makarios to built two structures in the city. The first was the church of Aghia Trias and the second the Aspelia Hotel. Building the church of Aghia Trias, as he explained, was the most challenging project because many found his idea of building a modern structure as shocking, however, Archbishop Makarios who “was open to new ideas” approved the project and the young architect was justified. Professor David shared some recent photographs of his returning to Famagusta and glancing at his structures behind the barbed wire noting “this is a very painful moment for an architect.” However, he spoke with much optimism about the future when Famagusta is returned. In rebuilding the city, “all emotions must be set aside as to how we knew and loved the city,” Mr. David stressed adding “a renaissance of Famagusta must be a reconstructive representation to its returning citizens of its many layered history through its significant modern and ancient architecture along with new architecture which is yet to be imagined and realized.” Mr. David cautioned that we cannot return to the mistakes of the past by building structures two steps from the beach, noting that “this is unacceptable.”

Consul General of Cyprus to New York Koula Sofianou who also comes from Famagusta, talked about the unlawful occupation of the town by Turkish troops stressing the immediate need for U.N. Resolution 550 to be finally enforced. In describing the tragic aftermath of the city which is locked behind the barb wire for 36 long years and deprived of its inhabitants, Ms. Sofianou stressed that this is an absurd situation, “snakes, rats and other predators” now inhabit the city. The return of Famagusta is the first step to a solution to the Cyprus problem, she further stressed.

The President of the International Coordinating Committee Justice For Cyprus Philip Christopher after congratulating CYPRECO and Ms. Maroulleti, conveyed a very inspiring message of solidarity and unity stressing that the Greek American community will continue to work very hard until Cyprus is reunited.

The event was also attended and addressed by the Washington-DC-based attorney Athan Tsimpedes who is currently undertaking a court case in the U.S. against Turkey on behalf of Greek Cypriots. One of the linchpins of his case is that Turkey used US made weapons in its invasion which were not intended to be used in such an aggression.

Poet/lyricist Polys Kyriacou embellished the evening with his recital of four different poems which revived Famagusta’s rich history over the centuries but at the same time also expressed the pain for what has happened in 1974, the betrayal and violence that followed on the city and its once-inhabitants, the longing for return as well as the missing.

The event ended with a screening of the documentary “Hidden In The Sand” and discussion with its creator Vasia Markides.

CYPRECO’s next presentation will take place again at the Stathakion Cultural Center on Friday, June 4th, 8pm. A documentary by Elena Maroulleti, titled “SALAMIS, The Ancient City of Teucer of Telamon,” will be screened, highlighting the rich history and culture of Salamis currently under Turkish occupation. Admission is free. For more information and reservations call 718-545-1151 or visit www.aktina.org


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