News was spreading fast on social media and foreign media over the weekend that a missing Turkish Cypriot man’s remains from 1974 were uncovered after a fig tree grew out of a seed in his stomach.
The story initially published in Turkish newspaper Hurriyet last week has been picked up by the British tabloids, MSN and other outlets. According to the MSN account, Ahmet Hergune was killed in 1974 but his body was not discovered for decades until the fig tree connection.
“It was eventually discovered because the tree which grew from him was unusual for the area. Incredibly, the dead man had been taken into a cave with two others and both of them had been killed by dynamite that was then thrown in after them,” the report said.
“Yet the dynamite also blew a hole in the side of the cave, allowing light to flood into the darkened interior which in turn allowed the fig tree to grow from the man’s body.”
It goes on to say the tree was spotted in 2011 by a researcher who was curious as to how the tree had ended up in the cave and especially in a mountainous area where it was not usually found.
“While carrying out his research and digging around the tree, he was then horrified to find a human body underneath and raised the alarm. On digging further, police recovered a total of three bodies.”
The tale is fascinating but not quite an accurate description, according to Cyprus Mail sources close to the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) on both sides of the divide.
But there is also much more to the story than was gleaned either from the short news reports, or the information obtained by the Cyprus Mail from the CMP sources.
According to the CMP sources, the case dates back to 2006 when the committee received information that there were Turkish Cypriot remains – three people – in a cave close to the sea and they went to excavate in accordance with their mandate.
The Cyprus Mail sources said it involved cave close to a beach in Limassol, and indeed there was a fig tree that had grown out of the cave. Over the years the tree had grown to the point where it caused the roof of the cave to collapse.
The entrance to the cave itself was underwater and blocked off due to the dynamite blast but the roots of the tree were inside the cave – some three metres down – and the tree had grown there for decades.
The remains of the three Turkish Cypriots, the sources said, were found several metres away from the tree roots during the excavations, suggesting it did not grow from a seed inside the deceased man. “There were similar news reports at the time that the tree had grown from the remains,” said one source.
Sources in the north close to the CMP also concurred that the remains were found away from the tree, adding that scientifically it was not possible that it happened the way it was related by the family. “It’s their belief,” the sources said. They added that sources said Hergune’s family wanted to believe that it happened that way. “It helped them with finding closure.”
Hergune’s sister Munur Herguner, 87, said, according to the MSN account: “We used to live in a village with a population of 4,000, half Greek, half Turkish. In 1974, the disturbances began. My brother Ahmet joined the Turkish Resistance Organisation (TMT). On 10th June, the Greeks took him away.”
She added: “For years we searched for my brother in vain.”
But she said that unknown to her, the grave had ended up being marked by the fig tree that grew from the seed in his stomach.
“The tree was spotted in 2011 by a researcher who was curious as to how the tree had ended up in the cave and especially in a mountainous area where it was not usually found,” the report goes on.
“While carrying out his research and digging around the tree, he was then horrified to find a human body underneath and raised the alarm. On digging further, police recovered a total of three bodies,” it added.
Munur Herguner said her brother was believed to have been the one that had eaten the fig, and blood samples from her family matched DNA fragments which confirmed it was her brother’s final resting place.
“As detectives investigated the killing, they discovered that the brother Ahmet and the other two had been killed by dynamite in the cave, and the blast had made a hole in the cave that let in light. He had apparently eaten the fig shortly before he died,” the report added.
His sister said: “The fig remnants in my brother’s stomach grew into a tree as the sun crept into the cave through the hole made by the explosion. They found my brother thanks to that fig tree.”
But there is even more to the story.
Turkish Cypriot journalist, author and peace activist Sevgul Uludag recounted the tale in 2008, two years after the find and just before the funeral of the three Turkish Cypriots whose remains had since been identified by the CMP.
Uludag was visiting by chance the same beach without making the connection between the ‘fig tree’ story from 2006 and the location she was currently at, Ayios Georgios Alamanos, until someone mentioned the connection.
According to her account, back in 1974, Ahmet Cemal was taken by three Greek Cypriots from the coffeeshop of the village Episkopi and was taken here to be killed together with Erdogan Enver and Unal Adil who were taken from the Chiftlik area of Limassol. According to Uludag, there was no entrance to the cave inside the rocks from land, so the three must have been brought by boat.
“The last thing Ahmet Cemal ate that day on the 10th of August 1974, was figs from his garden. But these were `Anadolidiga` type of figs, growing in his garden. This type of fig did not grow anywhere – it could grow in Episkopi and it only grew if it liked its soil… So the fig tree growing with hundreds of roots from the cave and coming out at the top of the cave and showing where the `missing` Turkish Cypriots were, this type of a fig tree called `Anadolidiga`,” she says.
Uludag observes that an ordinary person would not notice the significance of that fig tree on the beach but the beach was also a favourite beach for Xenophon Kallis, a Greek Cypriot, and head of the foreign ministry’s humanitarian affairs directorate who was deeply involved in missing persons issue, so in essence not some random person as related by the media over the weekend.
“Gradually as the fig tree grew, Kallis noticed the change in the scenery on the beach. What was that fig tree doing there? Kallis checked old photos he had of this beach – he drove for kilometres on this coast but there was no sign of another fig tree. And there was no place for the birds to perch on to poo inside the cave – the whole area was rocks and shinya,” wrote Uludag.
She said he discovered the fig tree was of the type `Anadolidiga` and as he deepened his research, he found out that the three Turkish Cypriot `missing`, among them Ahmet Cemal from Episkopi, was killed and buried in that cave.
“When the dynamite exploded [at the time], the UN had heard and had made a report about it. And Kallis discovered that the last thing Ahmet Cemal ate was `Anadolidiga` figs from his garden,” added Uludag.
“Maybe this `Anadolidiga` fig tree grew because of the last meal of Ahmet Cemal – maybe the bats had eaten this type of fig and came to the cave or maybe there is another explanation. But whatever the explanation, what was important was that this fig tree led Kallis to finding these `missing persons`. The fig tree had shown him the way…”
Uludag’s full account here: