By Bejay Browne
THE TALE of a village in the north whose Greek Cypriot residents were torn apart and displaced by the Turkish invasion has been eloquently and lovingly resurrected by two foreigners with only indirect links to the village.
A book, and then a film containing photos of the residents of Phlamoudhi before the invasion, have given the refugees a precious link to a way of life which has now gone forever, and which they were forced to flee leaving all their belongings behind – including photos.
Ian Cohn came first. The American photographer and architect came to Cyprus in 1972 to take photos of an archaeological dig taking place near Phlamoudhi, on the coast east of Kyrenia.
“I was invited to be the official photographer for the Columbia university expedition for eight weeks. Everyone was very welcoming, even though I had an outlandish appearance. We were the first foreigners who had ever lived in the village,” said Cohn, smiling at the memory of his massive Afro hairstyle.
He fell in love with the village and ended up taking photographs of some 250 villagers. Little did he know that these pictures would come to mean so much, becoming a sort of family album for a now diaspora community.
Cohn said he first photographed his assistant, villager Georgios Hadjipapaphotiou and his family, and the project grew from there.
The detailed photographs show what everyday life was like in a traditional Greek Cypriot village in the north of the island. Just two years after the pictures were taken, the villagers fled, taking nothing with them and Phlamoudhi was abandoned as Turkish forces invaded.
Cohn lost touch with his new friends and the photographs were stashed away for almost 35 years until a conversation with Pavlos Flourentzos, the director of the Cyprus Museum in 2005, resulted in the architect being invited to hold an exhibition at the Cyprus Museum.
“I had made notes in 1972, but they were far from complete, so I began an email correspondence with Savvas Georgiou, a villager I had taken pictures of when he was eight,” said Cohn. “He was able to identify everyone in my photographs and the locations where they were taken. In that sense he’s a historian. I realised that this isn’t just a historical reference but something deeper. It shows the special relationships these villagers had with each other and the land they loved.”
One of the villagers Cohn had photographed died in the invasion, the shepherd, Lysandros Lysandrou, who features on the cover of his book. “I didn’t know this at the time and the villagers view him as a hero.”
The photographer said that he was overwhelmed by the response of the displaced villagers to his photographs. Most people have pictures of their homes, their parents, or grandparents, but they had left everything behind because they thought that they would return, he said
“Savvas said that until he met me again, he thought his life in the village was a dream, as his family was displaced to London. People talked about life before but no-one had a photograph,” said Cohn
In 2009 Cohn was giving a lecture in London about his book, Faces of Phlamoudhi. In the audience was the second foreigner in the story, British filmmaker Rupert Barclay.
Barclay’s wife is Cypriot and although she grew up in the UK, both of her parents are refugees. Her father is from a neighbouring village to Phlamoudhi.
”The lecture grabbed my attention; I was really touched and felt a real connection. The photos were compelling and subsequently one of the main characters in my film is Savvas Georgiou, my wife’s cousin, who had also helped Ian with his book,” said Barclay explaining how he felt compelled to make a documentary.
A year after Cohn’s London lecture, Barclay asked Cohn if he could make a film based on the book. The photographer agreed as he thought that there was a story to be told. The film is a combination of reminiscences by the villagers about daily life and how it changed. The photographs also feature.
Barclay began filming in 2010, having to fit it around his own busy work schedule as a member of a TV production unit. He finished filming at the beginning of 2013.
The documentary had its first showing to an audience of refugees from Phlamoudhi this week at Verochino in Oroklini. The response was overwhelming, said Barclay, just as it had been to Cohn’s book a few years before.
Cohn features heavily in the film and says he was overjoyed at reconnecting with the villagers and is honoured to have been officially declared as a member of the Phlamoudhi community.
“They have all accepted me into their families with open arms and hearts and it’s wonderful,” said Cohn.
“They say that I gave them back their childhood and their youth. Now they can say – this is where I lived. These are my parents, these are my grandparents. It’s overwhelming.”
Cohn added that audiences outside Cyprus should see the film as it’s relevant to numerous current and historical situations, as there are many significant global conflicts taking place, leaving displaced people everywhere.
“The story can be viewed as a universal one,” he said.
The photographer has not only a deep rooted love for the villagers but also a huge amount of respect for how they have managed to preserve their culture and sense of community, despite all of the obstacles in their way.
“They frequently get together; they talk and try to maintain a set of values they knew as villagers,” he said.
Most of the refugees still live in Cyprus, although some also reside in London and Paris.
“It’s now a community that is based on common memory and not rooted in the soil as it was 40 years ago. And that’s a community that can last for many years to come.”
Barclay said he aims is to show his documentary at as many film festivals as possible, in Cyprus, the UK and France. He is also hoping to get it shown on Cyprus TV.
Barclay said he is particularly grateful to the community leader of Phlamoudhi, Michalis Tziortas, as he was instrumental in helping him film in Cyprus. He organised a schedule of interviews and accompanied Barclay to the north to film at the village.
“This is my first film and I have undertaken the entire process myself. I’m the producer, director, camera and sound man. I also did a rough edit but had help with the final cut,” he said.
The editor is a Greek Cypriot who grew up in London and speaks Greek which was a great benefit.
“His family members are in the film as well,” said Barclay. “There is a real connection between everyone on so many levels.”
The film has both English and Greek subtitles.
To find out more about the book: – www.facesofphlamoudhi.com