By Bejay Browne
TALA OFFICIALS have refused the second long-term British resident in less than two months a plot in the local cemetery, this time defying a direct order from the Paphos district office stating that the practice is against the law.
When Tala resident Betty Rippengal, 96, passed away recently, she and husband, John, had been living in Cyprus for 30 years, the past 24 in Tala.
A request by family members to bury her at the local cemetery was turned down by the community leader on the grounds that she “wasn’t a local Cypriot”.
Daughter Katherine Williams told the Sunday Mail that she and sister Bronwen had been unable to persuade community leader, Areti Pieridou, to let them bury their mother in Tala.
“We were told by the mukhtar that the plots at the cemetery were only for local Cypriots. Although we said this is discrimination it didn’t make a difference,” said Williams. “We tried very hard to argue the case, but she wouldn’t budge. We gave up in the end because my father was very distressed by all of the bad feeling.”
Williams said that her parents regarded Tala as their home, yet the mukhtar put every obstacle in their way.
Betty Rippengal was finally buried on Wednesday in Chlorakas village cemetery.
“I hope this doesn’t happen to any other families. We are very upset,” said her daughter.
And if the emotional toll wasn’t enough, the family also had to pay 4,000 euros for the Chlorakas plot, whereas it would have cost nothing for a plot in Tala because Rippengal had been a resident.
“It’s not about money, it’s the principle. My parents paid all of their taxes in Tala for the last 24 years, why should my father have to pay again?” Williams asked.
In August, a British woman, who has lived in Tala for a more than a decade, was also refused permission to bury her late husband in the village cemetery because the 22 remaining plots are being saved for local Cypriots.
This incident prompted a local councilor to complain about discriminatory practices to the Paphos District Office. On September 26, the District Office responded and in a letter warned the community board that refusing to provide a non Cypriot with a burial plot was against the law. The board was told that in future it had to act in accordance with the law “with no exceptions”.
Mukhtar Areti Pieridou’s defiance of that order and her refusal to allow Rippengal to be buried in Tala has angered many councilors on the board, including John Moffat who had filed the original complaint.
“The District Officer letter confirms that refusal to allow all Christians the choice of being interred in the village cemetery is contrary to the law,” he said.
According to board members, Pieridou’s refusal was not supported by the council, the majority of whom supported the family’s wish for a Tala burial.
Councilor Christodoulos Charalambous said all residents, whatever nationality, should be treated equally in life and in death.
“Everyone is the same, and we have to do something to try and change what is happening in Tala,” he said.
Pieridou declined to comment on the latest incident.
Moffat said that a recent extension to the existing cemetery in Tala was paid for out of taxpayers’ money and should therefore entitle all residents the right to be interred there.
The extension, created over a year ago, opened up 27 new plots. Twenty-two still remain unused, Moffat said.
Shortly afterwards, Pieridou sought to introduce a management programme whereby plots would cost €850 for local Cypriots and €2000 for expats and repatriated villagers, he said.
“This is discriminatory, but shows that for money, there is space for all. It was only after the district office declared the practice illegal and the costs unacceptable and suggested the continuance of providing plots free of charge that a ‘shortage of space’ occurred.”
The councilor said that whilst he appreciated the dilemma facing the Greek Cypriot villagers who want to keep space in the over-crowded cemetery for families who have lived in Tala for generations, he found his sympathies rapidly diminishing.
Particularly galling for both Moffat and Charalambous is that the church has donated land for a new cemetery but objections from nearby landowners meant plans have stalled.
Moffat said that if the remaining spaces in the present cemetery continue to be reserved solely for local Cypriots, this would remove the urgency to establish an alternative local burial ground, as the existing space could suffice for years.
Maureen Watt of Angel Guardians Funeral Homes made the arrangements for the bereaved family. Watt set up her business with a Cypriot partner three and a half years ago. In that time, she said that they have never been granted permission to bury an expat in Tala cemetery.
“The plots are kept for the ‘locals’ and this isn’t fair. Residents of whatever nationality live in Tala; have paid for land or homes and pay taxes,” she said. “It’s very upsetting to have to inform already distressed relatives, who are emotional about the passing of a loved one, that they can’t be buried in a place they feel is their home.”
Watts underlined that the situation in Paphos and a number of surrounding villages is dire, the municipal cemetery is almost full, and some families are being offered plots at the British cemetery in Erimi in the Limassol district, which is a two hour round trip for people from Tala.
“This is a long way to travel to visit a loved one, especially if the relatives are elderly.”
She added that it again high lighted long-standing demands for cremation to be allowed in Cyprus.
Moffat could not agree more.
“While the mounting shortage of available space for burying purposes could be greatly offset by the provision of a crematorium, non
Cypriots are denied this alternative and are expected to find over priced remote burial spaces, because of the archaic beliefs of those unwilling to share the limited facilities available.”