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Cyprus

The Cypriot diaspora online

By Alexia Evripidou

NEARLY FOUR decades of archived Greek and Cypriot diaspora research will finally become available for general public viewing, in Kings College London and on-line in digitised archives later this year.

Dr Maria Roussou, a Cypriot born academic has spent much of her life studying people’s stories; mainly from the Greek and Greek Cypriot diaspora. With one of two degrees in Classics; Greek and Roman constitution and a doctorate in Social Anthropology, Maria has spent her long career travelling, talking and collating information on the Greek and Cypriot experience of leaving their respective motherlands. No stranger to the tribulations herself, Maria moved to England in 1978, making her a late first generation immigrant.

The story goes that there are so many Cypriots scattered around the world, that if they all returned to Cyprus and stood side by side, they would never fit on the island. One thing Roussou’s research has proved, is that there are indeed many Greek Cypriots living abroad, with Britain housing the largest communities at around 300,000 Greek Cypriots just in London.

“Nobody knows exactly the number of Greek Cypriots abroad, as it’s always evolving and changing. With intermarriages leading to the loss of their Greek/Cypriot identity,” explained Roussou. Her research has led her to interview Cypriots from around South Africa, Britain, Egypt, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, North America, Canada and Russia.

“I was inspired by one of my professors, the Hellenist Robert Browning. He believed that the best way to know yourself is to understand your culture and where you came from,” she said. So Roussou set off on her career teaching Sociolinguistics and Social Anthropology, concentrating on migrant communities from around the world, looking at language and identity.

With identity seemingly a resonating issue for the latter generations of the diaspora, many have struggled to hold onto their language and culture whilst being accepted in their new homeland.

“Identity is important for everyone’s survival because you need to know yourself to be a good person, whether in London or Chile.”
As a result of these challenges, especially those faced by the second generation diaspora, in 1991 Roussou set up The Diaspora Centre Trust – a non-profit charitable organisation – as a way to help them. With the support from her MA and PhD students, other professors and professionals, the centre was set up to promote the study of the historical roots and the evolution of Diaspora Greek and Greek Cypriot communities world-wide.

It does so through the collection of oral history materials by finding, collecting and preserving records and other memorabilia of historic or public interest and cultural importance connected with the Greek and Cypriot diaspora worldwide.

Greek Cypriot and Nobel prize winner Christopher Pissarides from the London School of Economics and Constantinos Leventis (founder of the Hellenic centre 1993) are also involved in the centre. Financial assistance came from the ministry of education and culture and from various donations as well as from Leventis himself.

With the research contribution also from others, Maria produced a three part book series; ‘Greeks outside Greece’: Studies of Communities, Sociolinguistics; Language and Identity and Study of Literature in the Diaspora.

“We did this in order to give the second and third generation of Greek Cypriots abroad a voice. Addressing what they felt and why it was important for them to have a voice,” she said.

The first generation did not have these problems of identity, their place was to survive, to work hard in their new countries and put a roof over their family’s heads with food in their stomachs. In the meantime, they had to send back money to Cyprus to support parents, brothers, aunts, uncles and dowries for their sisters etc.

Many Greek Cypriots went on to build up empires around the world in catering, rag industry, selling Lefkara lace, ostrich farming and ultimately pumping the money back into Cyprus. Some even brought the business back home like the ostrich business which went from South Africa, to Texas and now Malounda.

The first Greek Cypriots began to arrive on British shores in the early 1930s, getting involved in the catering and clothes industry. Slowly they brought over friends and families (chain migration). The first immigrant to the UK is thought to be Father Ierotheos Kykkotis. Research has shown that these first immigrants shared certain characteristics; they were adventurers, often leaving their homes for work and education.

They went over by boat from Larnaca to Alexandria (Egypt) or Athens, then took a bigger boat straight to Calais, another boat to England and a train to London Victoria. Not an easy journey.

“The weather was a big shock for all of them; horrible grey skies. Also there were language problems, struggling to find their way around, showing their address to bus drivers and which were sometimes wrong. One person couldn’t find the people that invited him to Britain, so he stayed sleeping on a table in a coffee shop, helping out by making coffee and food to give back something,” Roussou said.

Holding on to their Greek Cypriot heritage was vitally important to these first generation immigrants, especially for those going to England, as foreigners were not readily accepted there. A strong sense of ‘Britishness’ forced immigrants to assimilate in order to survive, often anglicising their names e.g. from Kyriacos to Charlie or Chris. Even the language adapted, fusing Greek and English words such as ‘to baso’ (bus), ‘Polizjmano’ (policeman) etc to try and fit in.

“It’s sociolinguistics that acts as a coping mechanism to help them integrate,” explained Maria. This is why the second generation struggled with identity; they were not encouraged to keep their culture and language, especially in the UK.

The Australian Cypriots however, found it a lot easier, as back then Australia was more tolerant to foreigners and their traditions.
“The British Cypriots really suffered more than any other Cypriot migrant communities in other countries,” she said.
“The areas where the language and identity survived are the areas where the Greek Cypriots went in big numbers and started communities. The church helped. Being a traditional institution in nature, it does not accept change easily, so it kept people together, offering Greek schools.”

Roussou’s research has showed that education played a key role in maintaining the language and culture.
“Where education in general accepted the migrant experience and the languages of the community, the community felt stronger and therefore held onto their roots more. This can be seen primarily in Australia and secondly South Africa. However, South America is the weakest in maintaining the Greek and Cypriot identity, partly due to the friendliness of the people there. So much so, that many intermarried. Plus most of the sermons are carried out in Spanish with only a little Greek.”

Roussou wants to leave a legacy. Her next project involves archiving all the information and digitising the archives. She handed over the research to Kings College London archives department in 2004 to catalogue the work. The ‘Greek Diaspora Archives’ will be available this year, describing the parallel collection of Greeks and Greek Cypriots experiences from around the world, looking at the commonalities and differences between these communities.

She is also in talks with TEPAK (Technological University of Cyprus) that have a lab for the digitisation and preservation of culture. This digitised cultural heritage will become available on-line on Europeana.eu soon.

Roussou is also in the process of setting up a sister centre; an independent charitable company to the Diaspora Centre here in Cyprus called KEMEDI, the Centre for the Study of Diaspora Greeks.

The work will involve looking at repatriated Cypriots in Cyprus and what their experiences are like here, how they survive and why they are leaving Cyprus again. Though funding is tight in Cyprus, they are anticipating European support and potentially assistance from local universities here.
The Greek Diaspora centre http://www.diasporacentretrust.org
Famous emigrant

Sir Reo Stakis (born Argyros Anastasis) was born in Kato Drys in 1913 and left for Great Britain in 1928, aged 14. He started selling his mother’s handmade lace door-to-door and gradually headed north, settling in Glasgow.

feature alexia - Sir Reo Stakis (right) from Kato Drys who took Lefkara lace to England to sell before building a  a hotel and restaurant empire

By the 1940s, Stakis was involved in his first restaurant, the Victory in Glasgow, whose affordable prices began to change the way Scottish people dined out. By the 1960s, he had a chain of 30 restaurants and hotels throughout Scotland.

In 1962, he bought the run-down Dunblane Hydro Hotel, which he returned to profit within six months. Stakis was to make his home in the grounds of that hotel.

Stakis opened Scotland’s first casino, the Chevalier, in 1964 and gradually added several other casinos to the Stakis group. However, his flagship hotel, The Grosvenor, was destroyed by fire in 1978.

He was knighted in 1988. His empire was sold to the Hilton Group for £1.2 billion in 1999.
Stakis died in Stirling on August 28, 2001.


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