By Marina Christofides
In April 2003 when the checkpoints were opened, many Greek Cypriots surged across to the other side to visit the homes they had lost thirty years previously.
My sister Celia and I were amongst them, but unlike almost everyone else, we were denied access to our home by the sea near Snake Island in Kyrenia. A barricade blocked the road leading up to it and a sentry stood in our way. We weren’t surprised. We knew this was because our house was in a military zone and had been taken over by none other than the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash himself.
The only way we could see the house was with binoculars from St Hilarion castle. From there we could make out the tree our mother had planted and lovingly protected from the strong Kyrenia westerlies.
Snake Island, where we used to anchor and swim, had acquired a harbour, becoming a depot for the Turkish army. On Google Earth we could even see the pool we used to spend hours in. Shaped like an irregular polygon, it was the result of the inebriated scribbling on a paper napkin by a famous architect, who our father ambushed at a cocktail party (“design me a pool”) in the ’60s.
As the years passed and there didn’t seem to be any willingness amongt the political leadership on either side to solve the Cyprus problem and sort out the property issue, we decided to take things into our own hands and applied to the newly established Immovable Property Commission in the north for restitution or, failing that, compensation. We also sent word to our ‘tenant’ that we wanted to visit the house.
We heard nothing for a long time. After going through all kinds of hassles in preparing our application, such as figuring out the procedure involved, getting a decent valuation for the house, and avoiding being taken advantage of by unscrupulous lawyers, I thought it might be fun to write a book recounting our frustrations.
The Traitors’ Club, the book I finally wrote, inevitably ended up being about the much bigger frustration that all of us living on this island face, the Cyprus problem.
While I tell my own personal story – the bliss of growing up in Kyrenia, the harrowing experience of the war – I also tell the story of every Cypriot – the inconvenience of the border, the pain of the Turkish Cypriots in the ’60s, the sense of loss of the Greek Cypriots in ’74, the frustration of the years of stalemate and the dashed hope of the 2004 referendum.
The narration unfolds through the wonderful banter of a group of friends I meet up with for coffee every Saturday at the Buyuk Han, the Ottoman inn in old Nicosia. Consisting of people from both sides of the divide, they are the true heroes of the book.
I wanted to share their views of the political situation, often the opposite of what the media would have us believe, but also to show how much we have in common as Cypriots.
I wanted all those who, for whatever reason refuse to cross, who viewed us as traitors for going over to the other side and fraternising with the enemy, to be able through the book to get a glimpse of what a united Cyprus would look like.
A few years ago, the possibility of visiting our house arose again after a chance encounter I had at the Buyuk Han with Denktash’s son, Serdar.
He told me that his father had agreed to the visit and we set a date. At the time Denktash senior was in hospital, so my sister and I and our respective families had the bitter-sweet experience of being shown around our beloved house by Serdar. I describe it all in the book.
Now, as the talks on a solution are reaching their endgame, I’m getting more and more hopeful that I will soon need to write a final chapter to my book, one that will give the story a happy ending!
The Traitors’ Club is available from the Solonion bookshop and CVAR in Nicosia, Kyriakou Bookshops in Limassol, Galeri Kultur in northern Nicosia, and online from www.thetraitorsclub.com. It will soon also be available on Kindle.
Marina Christofides is also the author of the award-winning illustrated history of Cyprus, The Island Everyone Wanted.