Sunday 18 June 2017

Beautiful Stories 1- From Varosha to Paphos

We need to start telling the beautiful stories

We - Turkish and Greek Cypriots - have lived through bloodshed, fear, pain, loss and longing. We have been pulled apart, divided and scattered to different corners of this island. We have been poisoned with nationalism, hatred and enmity for decades; and we forgot that we were once brothers. And we have told about and heard all the ugly stories… 

There are beautiful stories on this island too. Stories of our common past; our friendship, love and solidarity that flourished amidst the hardest of times; beautiful stories in the making right here and right now… Beautiful stories that prove Cyprus can be one again… And I believe it’s time that we start telling these beautiful stories… 

By Esra Aygin
Sergis Hadjiadamou, a 17-year-old boy at the time, was shocked when an American Embassy vehicle pulled up in front of his house in Paphos, loaded with his late father’s long-lost artwork.
It was almost 20 years since his family had fled Famagusta in 1974 leaving everything – including the invaluable statues and paintings of Andis Hadjiadamou – behind.
“My mother immediately recognised the sculptures; she was in tears,” recalls Sergis. “It was like a revelation; like a message from my father from beyond this world saying ‘I am here, I am looking out for you’.”
Baki Bogac, a Turkish Cypriot architect and sculptor, had entered Andy’s art studio in the closed-off city of Varosha in Famagusta in 1982 as part of a team assigned with making an inventory of the properties.
“As soon as I stepped into the studio, I knew these were not ordinary works,” says Baki, his eyes lighting up with passion.
I thought to myself: ‘How would I feel if this studio was mine and I had to abandon it?’ And I immediately knew I had to save as many pieces as I could.”
Entering the city was forbidden – as it is today – except for those on official duty, who had to be escorted by military personnel.
“It was risky, yes,” admits Baki. “But I didn’t care. I had to get them to their creator.”
Baki managed, with the help of a couple of his friends, to covertly carry as many pieces as possible into their vehicle and covered them with the big rolls of maps they had handy.
Among the piles of broken glass and scattered paper on the studio floor, Baki also found an exhibition catalogue, which had the picture of one of the sculptures he had just saved, with the name of its creator.
“I had the name I had to look for, but I had no means of contacting him,” says Baki. “So I kept the artwork in my home’s storage, hoping that one day I would find a way to return them.”
Communication and crossings between the northern and southern parts of the island were almost impossible before 2003.
In 1992, Baki sought the help of the American Embassy, which was the organiser of a bi-communal exhibition that included his art.
“There are two kinds of people,” he says.
“Those, who grow as big as the obstacle they are faced with and go beyond it; and those who become smaller in the face of the obstacle and perish.
“I have always belonged to the first group. When the Americans saw my determination, they decided to help.”
One morning in 1993, unfortunately three years after Andy had passed away, an American Embassy vehicle delivered all the artwork Baki had managed to collect from the Varosha studio, to his family.
“I was astonished,” says Sergis.
“When you are 17, you don’t understand something like this right away. Greek Cypriot education had created in my mind these monstrous creatures called ‘Turkish Cypriots’ and this incident initiated a process in my soul, which is still going on.
“My soul is changing so rapidly, exploding. I am questioning. Why? Why Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots have come to be like this? And up to today, I still don’t know what is going on. I still don’t know what is dividing you and me.”
For Baki, receiving the telephone call from the American Embassy informing him that the artwork had been delivered to Andy’s family was a huge relief.
“I found peace,” says Baki. “A great burden was lifted off my shoulders.
“Maybe he did not see his artwork being returned, but I am sure he felt it,” Baki said.
“Some days, after long hours in my studio cutting and carving stones, I can no longer lift my hands. And whenever that happens, I suddenly feel something lifting me up, giving me strength. I named that sudden flow of strength ‘Andy’.”
Baki was only able to meet Sergis and the rest of Andy’s family after 2003 when the travel restriction on the island was lifted.
“When I visited their house in Paphos, Andy’s wife showed me to a room,” recalls Baki. “She said: ‘This room was built for Andy, but he never got to use it. Now it is yours’.”
Sergis remembers being shocked when he first saw Baki.
“I was expecting a big, muscular guy,” he says with a soft smile.
“We are talking about a Turkish monster! Very bad people! But he was short, gentle, he was wonderful. He was nothing like what they told me. This guy was amazing.”
As part of the Paphos 2017 European Capital of Culture, Sergis has organised an exhibition titled ‘Risky Travels’ that will display the returned artwork of Andy along with the sculptures of Baki.
“I am doing this for Baki more than my father,” he reveals. “This is my way of thanking him.”
The ‘Risky Travels’ exhibition is at Palia Elektriki cultural centre in Paphos until June 4.

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