Last month, 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, Queens in response to CYPRECO’s invitation to attend its special program dedicated to “The Sad Story of Famagusta”, 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 very well organized evening highlighted the story of Famagusta before and after the invasion through video, speech and poetry that was beautifully incorporated together making the presentation very moving as well as very inspiring. 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 and all of Cyprus.
Speakers shared personal stories about Famagusta and their longing for return, while at the same time they spoke with optimism about the future. The President of CYPRECO, Elena Maroulleti after welcoming all in attendance and after 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”.
Then followed a video featuring file footage of Famagusta as well as AKTINA TV exclusive footage shot in the occupied city 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. The question of Famagusta is a test of Turkey’s good will” Galanos stressed adding that if this is not accomplished he fears that there will be a partition in Cyprus “and the efforts of Cyprus President Christofias will go in vein and a very dangerous situation will be created in the heart of Europe”.
In his letter which was read by Ms. Maroulleti, Mayor Galanos calls for the immediate implementation of U.N Resolution 550 (1994) which was also adopted by the European Parliament on February 10, 2010 in its report on Turkey’s EU progress. The EU adopted report asked Turkey to “withdraw its forces from Cyprus, return the sealed-off section of Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants in compliance with Resolution 550 of the U.N. Security Council, and address the issue of the settlement of Turkish citizens on the island”.
Guest 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 Famagusta. The first was the church of Aghia Trias and the second Aspelia hotel situated behind the church. 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 him 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”.
The 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 she noted. The return of Famagusta is the first step to a solution to the Cyprus problem she further stressed.
A greeting message was conveyed on behalf of the Consul General of Greece to NY Aghi Balta by Greek Consul Vagelis Kyriakopoulos congratulating the organizers and the President of Cypreco for presenting this event. “It is important that we do not forget” Consul Kyriakopoulos emphasized further stressing that, “at this point the negotiations are at turning point”. Now more than ever the Cypriot and Greek governments work hand in hand, and this is the most encouraging message he further noted.
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 enhanced the event 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. There were mixed thoughts about the film which includes a collage of points of view from Greek Cypriots mainly members of the filmmaker’s family and Turkish Cypriots which were regarded as controversial. The young filmmaker admitted that this was her first project which she launched as an amateur and also agreed that it needs editing and improvement to become more balanced.
In thanking again the participants of the event and the public that attended, Ms. Maroulleti urged the public to make their reservations early for cypreco’s next program which is taking place also at the Stathakion Cultural Center in Astoria on Friday, June 4th at 8pm with free admission. This new event entitled “SALAMIS, The Ancient City of Teucer of Telamon” named after a documentary by Elena Maroulleti, will feature a screening of the documentary highlighting the rich history and culture of Salamis currently under Turkish occupation in northern Cyprus, poetry and a guest speaker. For more information and reservations please call 718-545-1151 or visit us on line at www.aktina.org