80 years of Lefkoniko Municipality (1)
You had a different grace(2)
From all other villages
You Λευκόνοικο πολυαγαπημένο!
You were a charm
The pride of Mesaoria!
Blessed be the land of Lefkoniko!(3)
Greek terrain, that of Achaeans and Mycenaeans, of Homer’s heroes. The archaeological hoe has brought to light from the 7th century B.C. the Sacred worship place of Apollo, god of light! (4)
The statues that decorate the Museum of Cyprus are undeniable witnesses.
I would like to sincerely thank my dear friend, Sarajevo mayor, Mr. Abdulah Skaka, for his kind invitation to attend the 30th General Assembly of IAPMC at the (5)historic city of Sarajevo, a city that we are familiar with ever since our student years but also from its more recent passions and we come here to pay our respect to the resilience and greatness of its people.
Hence, since we are in a city that went through so much pain, I would like to talk to you about a similar pain.
I will tell you a story of when I was 19 years old in 1974. The year before, in September 1973, I spread my wings to (6) fulfil my greatest dream; study Greek Literature and History at the University of Athens. Early July, I went back to Cyprus for summer vacation.
It was a breezy Saturday morning. July 2oth. Along with a friend of mine that I was hosting from Athens, we were on the veranda preparing a traditional food called (7)“koupepia”, a recipe of minced meat mixed with rice, ground tomato and spices in vine leaves. All of the (8)sudden, the koupepia fell off our hands. A flock of planes flew over us, bombing us. The sound was deafening. (9)
We panicked. We ran scared inside. Didn’t know what to do. Right across, north of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, towards the mountains the sky filled with falling paratroopers. The sky was full of paratroops. Smoke on the horizon. The war started. Young men rushed to enlist in the army to confront the Turkish invaders. Attila, as (10) the Turkish operation was called, invaded our defenceless island by force at the end of the 20th century, had come to Cyprus. The war continued for three days, until Monday afternoon, when truce was made.
During those three days, we decided to stay at our neighbour’s house that had three tiers in order to protect ourselves from the bombing.
We watched the planes flying over us and bombing. We had several deaths and numerous damages in our town. (11)
During the first phase of the invasion, the Kyrenians were displaced. As for us, sitting in the comfort of our homes, we would look at them and say “Oh, poor them!”. We were truly sorry but we were home, nice and comfortable.
We really understood what a refugee is on August 14th, when the planes started flying over us again at 4 in the morning, and we rushed to a nearby village in panic to save ourselves from the bombing, under the trees. We took watermelon, halloumi cheese and bread to get through the day.
In the afternoon, we started returning home but soldiers stopped us at the outskirts of Lefkoniko and instructed us to move south of the island because the Turks were moving towards Lefkoniko in tanks. (12)
We were in flip flops and a summer dress when we left home. Everything was left behind. (13)
All of our dear belongings. Photographs, books, needlework, silverware, jewellery, woven, clothes, cars, porcelane…(14)
And us, in a car ride to salvation. Over us, the planes.
We became refugees on August 14th 1974. The first night, we slept in the car. Then, wherever we could find. Half of the island was packed on the other half. Such a great pain when we heard that many of our brave men were lost at the war. (15) That’s when you stop thinking about material things. The lost properties. The houses and the land. Only human lives count. (16)
We have been refugees for 45 years now. (17)
We survived through deprivation, hard work and perseverance. Hope for reunification of our island kept us going. Hope for a peaceful coexistence with our Turkish Cypriot compatriots in conditions of security and prosperity. We, as Lefkoniko Municipality, have built good relations with the Turkish Cypriots who live in our town and we try to find communication channels, because we want to return to the land of our ancestors. (18)
This year, we celebrate the 80-year anniversary of our Municipality displaced. A Municipality that used to be a commercial, financial, intellectual and cultural hub, that used to blossom in all sectors and was home to its worthy (19) children, men and women of high ethical standards, learners, intellectuals, with a developed sense of social contribution and solidarity. (20)
The birthplace of a National Poet, Vassilis Michaelides, of a septic and illuminated Hierarch and a true patriot, Kyprianos of Kitium, two pioneers of the Cooperative Movement, (21)Ioannis Economides and Marcos Charalambous, Noble Protapsalt, Theodoulos Kallinikos, the economist Christofis Economides, several freedom fighters of our home that responded to every call of Greece, heroes and martyrs for the freedom of our island, (22)
noble, respectable and dynamic Mayors,
(23) former Ministers and Members of Parliament, simple men who worked the land, great farmers, famous technicians, smart, beautiful, educated, active and (24) talented women who ran households.
Since the late 1930s, Lefkoniko had the Superior School and then the Lefkoniko high school,
(25) that was inaugurated on May 26th 1968 by Archbishop Makarios as well as the Ceremony Room of our high school, as a donation of our great benefactor, Georgios Ksmintzis.
The countess of Mesaoria, as Lefkoniko was called, pioneered in all sectors, first and foremost the agricultural and technological sectors and had the first threshing machine of the island, (26) was the granary of Cyprus, has big grain storages, a Court house, hospital, land registry, (27) agricultural department, banks, municipal market, post office, associations, a mixed four-voice municipal (28) choir, pharmacies, private doctors, entertainment spots like “Panorama” vacation center, summer movie theaters and a movie theatre called the Agrihouse of Lefkoniko, (29) patisseries and restaurants, jewellery shops, warehouse shops, often the prototypes of the whole island and many more. The first Agricultural Expo was held in Lefkoniko in 1920.
Today, as we celebrate our 80-year anniversary, I would like to inform you that Lefkoniko Municipality is a very active entity in displacement. (30)
We own our own lodge that was built with the help of donations by our citizens and friends, in which we organise many cultural events in order to preserve our culture and the memory of our traditions. (31)
We love our town dearly, even from afar, we love our people, we preserve our culture and we transmit it to younger generations. Among our events, we honour our outstanding citizens, like two years ago, when we honoured our National Poet, Vassilis Michaelides, (32) we honoured 50 teachers of our high school in collaboration with the Holy Monastery of Mount Athos,(33) we honoured the mothers of many children, (34) a hero of the Frankish rule, Re Alexi, we participate in festivals and we have organised traditional feasts for our pasta, (35) our “ofton”, (36) we organise excursions for young people to meet their hometown (37)and whenever we are granted permission from the Turkish authorities,(38) we hold messes in our churches, among others. (39)
Mainly, our mission is to raise awareness both inside and outside Cyprus. This is why we have produced a documentary film with narrations of people of a certain age that is shown and promoted in Greece, ((40) (41) London, (42)Vienna and this year, Berlin. Also, in Brassels (43), Volgogrand (44)
and Washington. (45)
Moreover, in my capacity as Mayor, I visit schools to talk to children about my municipality, (46) I participate in various radio and television emissions as well as publish articles to the Press so that our refugee status is not forgotten.
Today Lefkoniko is a memory to us and a deserted place for our children, our land doesn’t typically belong to us. But mentally and substantially, it will always be ours. We only have our culture as the legacy of our ancestors to get us through these times of sorrow and test. We have spirit against material, measure against insult, beauty against ugliness. (47)
With our culture, as it is well noted by Costas Georgosopoulos, we will flood the decision-making centers that won’t listen to us. Maybe then, they will realise that this land carries three thousand years of Hellenic history.