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Turkish Cypriot whose great love inspired a movie, dies aged 79

Hassan and Hambou (Photo: Agnieszka Rakoczy)

By Agnieszka Rakoczy

A LEGENDARY Turkish Cypriot goatherd whose great love inspired a Cyprus-made Romeo and Juliet movie that was screened at the Venice Film Festival has died at the age of 79.

Hassan Moustafa, who lived in the Akamas village of Androlikou, passed away on Wednesday in hospital in Polis.

It was the story of Hassan and his wife, Hambou, that led to the film Akamas, directed by well-known Greek Cypriot filmmaker Panicos Chrysanthou and shown in Venice in 2006.

Hassan fell in love with Hambou Pournoxouzi from the neighbouring Greek Cypriot village of Droushia in the late 1950s. Overcoming convention, community, family and religion, they were to become the first mixed couple to be married in the newly independent Republic of Cyprus, although at the time the law did not provide for an Orthodox Christian to marry a Muslim.

“I fell in love with a Turk, married him, changed my faith. Many people didn’t like it,” Hambou recalled many years later. She had to change her name to a Muslim one in order to move in with Hassan.

The marriage caused conflict between the villages and the army and police had to be placed on guard to protect against the possibility of a violent reaction.

Thanks to the intervention of then-President Archbishop Makarios however, peace was restored. In a Solomon-like judgment that is still quoted far and wide in the Akamas, Makarios famously pronounced: “Mohammed won’t become richer and Christ won’t become poorer if Hambou and Hassan are married.”

The couple settled in Hassan’s Androlikou, at that time one of the richest Turkish Cypriot villages in the region, with many donums of land and large herds of goats and sheep.

When in 1975, over 600 of the Turkish Cypriot villagers left for the north under terms of the post-war population exchange, Hassan and Hambou opted to remain in Androlikou, hopeful that the Cyprus problem would be solved soon.

“We thought they’d be back soon,” said Hassan in an interview a few years ago.

But the fates decided otherwise, and the abandoned village, now more or less isolated, saw many of its assets stripped as it went into a slow decline.

“We were completely alone. There was nobody to talk to. Relations with Greek Cypriots from neighbouring villages varied. Some people were nice, some bad,” remembered Hambou in the same interview.

“We didn’t have water. We didn’t have electricity. Life was very difficult. It was just work from dawn to night. We lived very poorly. But we didn’t want to leave. We never thought of going somewhere else. It was our place. Where would we go? Our home was here.”

The family survived because they had sheep and goats and kept on doing what they knew the best: producing and selling meat and halloumi.

But the very goats that helped Hassan and Hambou feed their four children also contributed to the eventual destruction of the village’s abandoned, adobe-built homes, as they steadily chewed their way through the crumbling mud-bricks to get at the straw within them.

The combination of voracious goats and the harsh elements of Akamas made heavy inroads into the derelict buildings of what had once been a thriving community. By 2006 (when I interviewed the couple and their son Ezgur Hassan Moustafa, who had become Androlikou’s first post-74 mukhtar), there were seven residents living in the village and about as many intact houses still standing.

Hambou died in 2007. She was buried at the cemetery in Androlikou. Hers is the only grave marked by a cross there. On Thursday, Hassan was reunited with her.


Hassan Moustafa’s life credo:

“I praise the Lord, who created everything with such order. He doesn’t discriminate. Be it Turk, Greek, English or whatever. They all come and go. We are all passers-by. We come, we see, we go. You can’t say, ‘I will avoid it. I have millions, I can pay to escape death.’ When your time comes . . . Like the English who stand in queues to get their food or their guns and go, the same way – that’s how we go. There are others behind us. We go and they take our place.”

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