By Theo Panayides
It was a good year for bar owners: Christos Koukkides (a.k.a. ‘Moulos’), who runs Savino Rock Bar in Larnaca, followed a few months later by Panayiotis Kyriakou, the soft-spoken chap who ran Romylos Pub in Nicosia for 39 years (we spoke in late September, just after the pub changed hands). It was a good year for grandes dames of diplomacy and politics: Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis of Cyprus and Margareta Wahlstrom of Sweden, former Foreign Minister and UN Special Representative, respectively.
It was a good year for leaders of thriving village communities: Yiannakis Papadouris, the man who’s transformed Kalopanayiotis, followed by Yiannis Karousos, the mayor who’s hoping to do the same for Ayia Napa.
I profiled 43 people in 2018, for the Living section of the Sunday Mail. They ranged from a rapper to a lifeguard to a casino manager to a transwoman. Kevin Jared Hosein (winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize) told me about life in Trinidad, while Umberto Mondini told me of a life studying remote tribes and piloting passenger planes. The most well-connected person I spoke to was probably Demetrios Pierides, scion and standard-bearer of one of the most prestigious Cypriot families, whose private quarters at the Larnaca museum that bears his name include photos of everyone from Sean Connery to the exiled King Simeon of Bulgaria. The most famous was probably Abel Ferrara, the volatile, formerly drug-addled film director who gave me an hour of his time during Cyprus Film Days in April, and spoke of trying to go straight in his 60s: “I lived a very un-spiritual, fucked-up life. Y’know? And I did it for a long time. I’m trying to make amends for that.”
Overall, it was a good year for Sunday profiles – but my favourite, if I had to choose one, took place around 11 months ago, at the very end of January when I crossed the checkpoint to the occupied north and walked about 200m to the offices of Afrika newspaper and its editor, Sener Levent.
Context is important here. A few days before our interview, Afrika had published an article likening Turkey’s Afrin operation in Syria to its occupation of the north. An incensed Erdogan had called on “my brothers in north Cyprus to give the necessary response” – and an angry mob had attacked the newspaper’s offices, intending violence to the staff and Levent personally (police managed to stop them just before they stormed inside). Meanwhile, across the checkpoint 200m away, it was just before the first round of presidential elections, with three tepid candidates exchanging bromides and banalities about the Cyprus problem. The contrast was striking, lending almost a pang of guilt to the occasion: there he was braving death, while we wallowed in politics-as-usual.
The atmosphere was charged. I rang and rang the buzzer in the street downstairs, next to the small handwritten sticker reading ‘Afrika’, wondering if I’d somehow misunderstood. (Levent had been friendly, but a little vague, on the phone.) Upstairs, the office was dingy. The windows had been smashed by the rabble, and hastily boarded up with chipboard. I took a photo of the man himself in a storeroom piled high with old newspapers, and at one point freaked out his associates with my questions – just standard questions, the ones I ask of every profile subject, ‘What hours do you work?’ and ‘What do you do in your free time?’, but the fear was that divulging information about his daily routine would make him a target. Only Sener himself seemed unconcerned – a languid, nonchalant figure who cheerfully told me of two previous attempts on his life, and took advantage of the pause for translation to sneak a peek at the latest issue of Afrika.
Why did this one profile stand out? Partly, no doubt, I connected with Levent’s plight as a fellow journalist, especially one working at a small paper (the Cyprus Mail offices are also rather dingy). Partly, I assume it was exciting being so (vicariously) close to physical danger. But there was something else, as well. “History is written by the brave minority,” Levent told me. “The majority is a scared, fearful crowd, and I never wanted to be like them.” Even before his latest act of defiance, he’d always been a “marginal”, as he put it. In a way, this Sunday profile represents all the other profiles, and the whole philosophy behind them – viz. to midwife all sorts of people into the spotlight, however niche their jobs or unusual their lives. From rappers to lifeguards to casino managers to transwomen – and authors and filmmakers too, and art dealers and snooker players, and wedding planners and medal-winning gymnasts and dog-lovers and stunt riders, and indeed bar owners and community leaders. It was a good year for them all.