This post is an acknowledgement of the profound impact my grandfather has had on me. A man who has led an inspirational life. A righteous man. A kind man. A man who my aunt humorously describes as Clark Gable and the Turkish James Bond. In a world where we crave powerful and heroic figures to both look up to and aspire to, it is easy to forget that the bravest and strongest people can often be those closest to us.
As the school term draws to a close, I found myself wanting to do something more impactful than a video for my final lesson with my year nines. Being one of my most character-filled classes I teach, I thought it would be a nice idea to teach them about my own history, about Cyprus and about my grandfather. My goal being to encourage my students to research their own history and to feel how meaningful this could be.
From the moment I started my lesson they were gripped. Barely containing themselves from blurting out questions. In them I saw a piece of myself. As I retold my grandfather’s stories, interwoven with the history of the island, I recalled being told them myself.
Each year my brother and I would spend one hot evening sat outside under the hanging grape vines. Nothing but the sound of crickets and my grandfather’s voice breaking the nights silence. Sitting, Raki in hand, and occasionally singing a türkü (turkish folk song), he would recount his war stories. Now, I feel obliged to clarify at this point that these were not your typical, old man ‘during the war stories…’ My grandfather has a special ability to tell stories, pausing at the right moments and including theatrical dialogue where appropriate. Hours would pass as he relived his youth through his stories, he would often pause to clear his throat and look off into the darkness to contemplate what had once unfolded – almost as if he was not just telling the story to us, but to himself.
The children in my class responded well to his story and seemingly engaged in the history too. However, my most profound realisation came later that day when I bumped into one of my students who enthusiastically told me; “Sir, your grandad’s a G!” Not so elegantly put but I understood the compliment. Indeed my grandfather is an incredible man. My students thought he was so cool, I already knew he was but I needed them to remind me.
Much of the conflict of this period was more akin to guerrilla-style resistance than total war. Having fought both in 1974 and more sporadically throughout the fighting of the 60s, my grandfather had always been a nationalist, a man with a deep love for his country. His example has taught me that nationalism does not dictate an intolerance of others. Given the context, his nationalism is a reaction to the threat the Turkish Cypriot community was under throughout much of his life. This is a common response seen throughout history, when a group’s identity is under threat their response is to cling to that identity more staunchly. Today, his body is too old to fight physically so he uses his words to defend his beloved land, frequently writing on contemporary political issues for a national newspaper. Perhaps, it is because of him that I write and fight.
As a culture we see the appeal of celebrity. We look up to those who have the love of many. In Cyprus my grandfather certainly holds this celebrity. Even today it is impossible for my grandfather not to be recognised across the island. Bare in mind that his popularity was before the age of the internet, so one can only image his notoriety and actions during his youth – albeit Cyprus is a small place.
“Ahmet Amca”, “Ahmet Amca” a voice calls from the crowd behind us. (Amca being a title of respect often given to the older generation) The Sunday market is bustling with people buying fresh produce. My grandfather turns around to the greeting of a man he does not recognise. He smiles and is respectful nevertheless. After a brief explanation the stranger reveals that he is the son in-law of a man who’s uncle once knew my grandfather, a very detached connection. Nevertheless, he seems in awe and is pleased to have kissed my grandfather’s hand (a Turkish custom for respecting your elders). Alas, these moments become more sporadic as the new generations have less and less regard for the sacrifice of the older generation. Such is the transitory nature of life.
Today, my grandfather is a humble farmer who likes to hunt game in his free time – he has always prided himself on being a good shot. The fire for adventure still burns inside him, I see it. Today however, he directs his energy into his family. His fighting days are over. All that remain are his memories, some of which he will not share. Undoubtedly, intertwined in every great hero’s tale lies deep pain and regret. unfortunately some stories will always be lost to history, perhaps this is for the best.