Mention Rizokarpaso and the image is inevitably of a sad, derelict, remote village, which was home to the dwindling numbers of Greek Cypriot enclaved living isolated in the north since the Turkish invasion, until the opening up of the checkpoints in 2003.
Almost certainly, it is not widely known that Rizokarpaso was once the island’s biggest village, a bustling commercial centre with private medical practices, schools, a bank, a cinema, home to beautiful women and proud of its rich history dating back to ancient times.
This version of Rizokarpaso is the one that 85-year-old Dr Andreas Georgiades, a clinical psychologist by profession, is eager for us all to know.
He is presently working on a book on Rizokarpaso which will be a fascinating combination of historical data, anecdotes, documents and genealogies of all the families that lived in the village until 1974.
Georgiades has used this all-encompassing, encyclopedic approach in several other books, all focusing on villages in or near the Karpasia peninsula.
A native of the Karpasia village of Gastria, Georgiades has written books on Gastria-Patriki, Ayios Elias-Bogazi, Komi Kepir, Trikomo, and Yialousa-Ayia Triada, all of them featuring the history of the villages and genealogies of the families that lived there.
The end product is a treasure trove of information for historians, sociologists and the general reader.
The story of ‘Beautiful Helene’ is one example of what readers can find in Georgiades’ series of books on the region.
Karpasia was known for its beautiful women, Georgiades said. In 1928, journalists of the National Geographic magazine visited Yialousa and Rizokarpaso where they photographed a 12-year-old girl called Eleni from Rizokarpaso. She was from a poor family and was spotted, along with her mother, breaking rocks for the construction of the Rizokarpaso-Apostolos Andreas road.
In the ensuing article “Unspoiled Cyprus”, where the first coloured photographs of life on the island appeared, the magazine printed a photo of ‘Beautiful Helene’ in her best clothes.
“Eleni was so beautiful that several men from the US had expressed the desire to marry her,” Georgiades said. He added that in 1952, another National Geographic crew came to Rizokarpaso and photographed Eleni again, by now a married woman with seven children and working in the fields.
Georgiades’ foray into Karpasia’s history started by accident but has developed into a lifelong fascination.
Georgiades founded the state mental health services in Cyprus and was appointed in the early 1960s as an educational psychologist at the Greek Communal Chamber, the body regulating educational affairs before the establishment of the education ministry in 1965.
He was later appointed as the first clinical psychologist at the health ministry and founded the Athalassa psychiatric hospital, as well as schools for children with special needs.
In the mid-1970s he was searching British archives for material to write a book on the history of medicine and psychiatry in Cyprus. He accidentally came across a large number of documents including petitions from villagers of the Karpasia peninsula to the British administration on a wide range of issues and immediately saw their potential.
He created his personal files from copies of these documents and gradually enriched his collection after visits to archives in Venice, Istanbul, and the Archbishopric in Nicosia.
“I created a large archive with data on the villages of the Karpasia peninsula and their history,” Georgiades told the Sunday Mail.
From this, and with the direct input from the villagers, he has built up as complete a picture of the region as possible, all of which has been included in his series of books.
The book on Rizokarpaso is proving to be the most challenging.
“I was approached by a number of Rizokarpaso people and asked to write a similar book about their village, which is quite a task as it is the biggest village in Cyprus both culturally and population wise,” Georgiades said, adding that the sheer number of Rizokarpaso families makes compiling their genealogies very complex.
Rizokarpaso was a border town of Karpasia during the Byzantine era (330-1191AD) and in ancient times had been located on the north-east coast of the peninsula.
“During the Arab raids in the 8th century AD, many residents of the ancient Karpasia and the nearby town of Ourania were killed, and many were taken as hostages and sold in the eastern bazaars,” Georgiades said. “Those who survived moved further inland, away from the beach and built Rizokarpaso.”
Rizokarpaso started to boom at the end of the 19th century, and by the mid-20th century had become the biggest village in Cyprus, with a population of 5,000. The population shrank during the early 1960s following a large wave of migration to the UK, Australia, and South Africa.
“This trend stopped in 1970, and in 1973, migrants started to return to their land to manage their large properties,” Georgiades said. “In 1960 its population was 3,151, which slightly decreased to 3,000 in 1970.”
By the time of the Turkish invasion in 1974, Georgiades said, the village had a municipal market, a police station, a fire service, a co-op bank and market, the private practice of Dr Georgios Pallikaros, a dentist practice, the Louiziana cinema, four olive mills, two flour mills, ten butchers, two quarries, a primary and a secondary school.
Following World War II, much of the region’s income came from tobacco growing. Yialousa and Rizokarpaso were the main tobacco producing areas of the island, as they had ideal climate for tobacco to grow. By 1965, around 30,000 acres of tobacco were being cultivated in the area and production was reaching 2,500 tons. Proceeds amounted to half of the area’s agricultural income.
While happy to share the general history of Rizokarpaso that will appear in the book, to be published next year, he was reluctant to reveal ahead of time any of the juicier personal and documented anecdotes that have made his other books such important pieces of social history.
Georgiades is well aware of the value of his archival accident more than 40 years ago. On a personal level his research has also been driven by his love for his birthplace.
“I was driven by my love for this place, where I too come from, and my desire to make known the history of these villages to the world, and to the younger generation that comes from that area but does not know much about it, so that they can get to know their roots,” he said.
“Those who do not know their roots have no future.”
Dr Andreas Georgiades’ books are available in Greek directly from the author on 99216756
Excerpts from Andreas Georgiades’ 2007 book on Yialousa-Ayia Triada
One of the biggest challenges faced by the British colonialist authorities after their arrival in Cyprus in 1878 was to stop locusts from destroying crops.
The methods they developed intrigued Sir Henry Rider Haggard the renowned writer of adventure novels such as King Solomon’s Mines.
Haggard, who was also involved in agricultural reform throughout the British Empire, gives an account of the method used in Cyprus to eliminate locusts, in his book A Winter Pilgrimage (1901) he narrated his impressions of his travels to Cyprus, Palestine, and Italy.
The system to fight locust “consists of an erection of screens of canvas many yards in length edged at the top with shiny American cloth, in front of which screens are dug deep tranches,” Haggard wrote in his book.
He explained that the success of the system was based on the fact that fifteen days after young locusts hatch, they fly away in search of food, and in their attempt to do that, they were flying onto the screens, “which they find barring their path, their feet slip upon the leather and down they slide backwards into the ready-made grave beneath”.
The ditches were then covered with dirt by men standing by, to prevent them from escaping, and the screen was moved “a few yards further on” in front of another trench and so forth.
When in 1894, a large number of locusts “invaded” Karpasia, centres for fighting the intruder were set up in Ayios Theodoros and Rizokarpaso, Georgiades said in his “Yialousa” book. The 1885-1886 campaign in Karpasia “was a huge success” as they managed to collect millions of locust eggs.
A 1893 article of the newspaper Foni tis Kyprou (Voice of Cyprus) highlighted Yialousa’s need for a police station as crime was on the rise, and residents were feeling helpless.
The article, dated October 4 and titled “Rascals in Yialousa” reports the kidnapping of the daughter of one Paraskevas Pavlou by “five ruffians holding guns”, who broke into the house at night while the family was sleeping.
“They covered him and his wife while they were sleeping with the bed cover and captured his 12-year-old daughter and took her unknown where”. The next day when the police were notified, they sent an “Ottoman officer”, the article said, who could not communicate with them as “almost no one of the villagers spoke Turkish,” and efforts to locate the girl were not successful.
“It is inconceivable why the government does not rush to set up a police station in Yialousa,” the article concluded.