By Heidi Trautmann
“….one of my ancestors from my mother’s side, a Commander during the reign of Mahmut II who had fought in the Turkish army against Napoleon in Egypt, was on his return journey to Istanbul when he anchored near Lefke. He went on land and immediately fell under the spell of the area. He went back onboard, got all his belongings unloaded, bought a big piece of land and settled.” This said Harid Fedai to me. Harid Fedai was born in Lefke in 1930, a literary researcher and writer, one of the literary personalities from Lefke.
I had expressed my wish to him to be introduced to the history of Lefke or rather find out about its magical atmosphere which I always feel whenever I get there. On the occasion of a book launch in Nicosia Mr. Harid Fedai introduced me to a part of his family and I was recommended to his cousin Mr. Ferid Fedai who together with his wife is a resident of Lefke since he was born.
What is it, this charm, I wondered for a long time; already when you leave the north coast and cross the foot hills of the Kyrenia mountain range with Camlibel as the first village on your way to Güzelyurt, you become aware of it for the first time. The wind blows differently here, the vegetation is different, the trees are bent by the hard west wind, the soil is dark red. Some straggling farms and sheds, the fields freshly ploughed. Shortly before you reach Kalkanli, the moment when you see the university campus on top, there I know the mysterious and ancient olive grove. Then, when you have reached the top of the road, you should stop at the rim of what once used to be the southern coast of one of the two islands of Cyprus. Just as I did again on my way to Lefke a short while ago to meet Ferid Fedai and his wife. The vastness of the Mesaoria with the Trodoos mountains on the other side; the Olympos still carrying a white snow cap end of April. The soil in the Mesaoria is the colour of lime, once the bottom of the sea, and when you dig you will still find shells buried. I took some home as a reminder of history, of evolution.
I was driving through the vastness full of small golden suns along my way, the fruit still not harvested in the many orange plantations; the visitor will come along this way when wanting to visit Soli and Vouni and will certainly stop at one of the huts selling fresh juice. The area is not a tourist resort, time stands still in the villages along the coast of the vast Morphou/Güzelyurt bay, where we had come along with our sailing boat one day when returning from Egypt to Kyrenia. We had entered the bay to reconnoitre the coastline and discovered the old landing jetties in Gemikonagi/Xeros, reaching far into the sea, rusting away since the 70s, leftovers of CMC Cyprus Mining Corporation. A dreamy small town this Gemikonagi.
When I entered the KOOP Bank there for a question of direction, I saw that time has not moved on for the last decades, just three people sitting at old wooden desks in the vast room looking a little lost. In this village I turned off to Lefke following Ferid Fedai’s car who had come to meet me, and we were heading towards the foothills of the Trodoos mountains. Along the road small miners’ houses as in Gemikonagi the copper ore was loaded onto ships. Copper, cuprum… Cyprus was famous for its copper resources. In fact the very word copper is derived from the Greek name for the island ‘Kupros’, it is said. Cypriots first worked copper in the fourth millennium B.C., fashioning tools from native deposits of pure copper, which at that time could still be found in places on the surface of the earth. In the beginning of last century an American Charles G. Gunther read about it in old books and began prospecting. In 1916 CMC - Cyprus Mining Company was established by Colonel Seeley W. Mudd and his son, Harvey Seeley Mudd. It had brought jobs and wealth to the area and Lefke began to develop.
We came to Ferid Fedai’s house, a beautiful British colonial style house built in 1925; Ferid Fedai bought this house in 1954. I was invited in and met his wife. What a noble house this is with very high ceilings and glass partition doors between rooms. We settled down for Turkish coffee on the front porch facing a small river with high Eucalyptus trees along its course. A murmur of the water over stones, nothing else, no cars, which I am told, makes people sleep so well. An enchanting atmosphere where you expect any moment some ladies of hundreds of years back appear in their muslin clothes.
Mr Ferid Fedai starts to tell me the story of Lefke passed on from generation to generation: “There was a farm in this region a long long time ago, a plantation. As time went by houses were built around it and that was the beginning of Lefke. It is known that Byzantines lived here, later during the Frankish, Venetian and Genoese periods, people of higher standing came here to live, also during Ottoman times the officers and clerks in higher positions chose this area as their home. The area was known as being very fertile and plantations started to grow the famous Jaffa oranges but also soft fruit like apricots, peaches, strawberries. I have my own citrus plantation where I spend half of my day, supervising the workers and experimenting for different kinds. You have to taste it, you have never tasted anything better.”
That is true, I think, the Jaffa of Lefke do taste just great; I make my marmalade only from Jaffa oranges. It is the mild climate. On one of a former trip to Lefke and Yesilirmak I bought a mango tree which never carried fruit at our place on the northern side of the Kyrenia mountains. There is a legend of a girl named Lefke who was very sick and on the brink of death; they brought her to the place that was known for its formidable climate and she recovered and they named the place Lefke after her.
I asked Ferid why there are so many orchards not being harvested at the end of April and he replies. “What we cannot sell to a whole seller we have to leave on the trees. We cannot afford the costs of picking.”
Harid continues, assisted by his wife: “We are an old family and have never moved away from here, just as so many other families of the area didn’t. Nothing ever changes here, that is perhaps the mysterious enchantment of our place which you are after. We have hardly ever married outside our community. The branches of our family trees reach far back, hundreds of years. We have two children, our daughter Nober is in the Foreign Ministry and TRNC representative in Rome. She left yesterday after a holiday with us.”
I look around, yes, he is right, that could be the reason, it is an enchantment of endlessness, things have retained their values. The houses have retained the character of Ottoman architecture, later some Colonial style houses were built. No concrete, no influence from outside. The trees are so big, no fire has destroyed them; the huge palm trees, date palms….and when the wind goes through them, be it the sea breeze during the day or the cool mountain wind at night, the same noise for one hundred years or more. And the smell of clean air, the smell of orange blossoms in winter and spring, and the many rivers and rivulets carrying the waters from the mountains, rich of minerals.
“The palm trees you see around Lefke were planted by the CMC people, hundreds of them,” Ferid said. “When the Americans came, workers were needed and they came from the villages around Lefke, 2000 mine workers and more - you have seen the workers’ houses down below and up here near the mines; and the people employed were very well cared for. There was no need to change anything. Until the troubled years the community consisted of Turkish Cypriots mostly and a few Greeks, who went away later although we all got along fine. We never had to leave our homes, we were not forced to move to other places as the people from Paphos and other villages in the south were, for example.”
What was he doing for a living, I asked him. “I was the chief clerk at our municipality and I retired after 39 years of activity. The municipality is an old institution, the first one in Cyprus, established in 1900 with many cultural activities today, also thanks to the Lefke University with about 3000 students.”
Ferid Fedai had invited Tamer Dayioglu to come and meet me. He is the head of the Environment Society ‘lefkecevre.eu’ , an NGO taking care of the many problems caused by the poisonous debris left behind by CMC when they left. There were many conferences in cooperation with the university as I can see from the book he brought me on the subject.
I will certainly keep in touch with Tamer. We talked about Inci Kansu, the well known artist who was working on her art project CUPRUM for eight years on the basis of findings on the old mine sites; he had met her during this time of research.
After a most delicious lunch consisting of freshly harvested broad beans, olives, yoghurt, delicious dolmas and their own jaffa oranges, Ferid took me on a tour through the area, the centre of the town with the men sitting in the village café near the old municipality building, through the narrow lanes with the beautiful Ottoman houses, to the barrage lake with its sunken mining houses and the old hamam still standing, where people of the area come and have their Sunday picnic despite the rather weird surroundings, as we did ourselves one day in the past. There are the mine dumps with its poisonous green waters collecting in hollows.
Just above the barrage lake is the town cemetery, I have visited before and in my opinion the most beautiful cemetery in Cyprus. I would love to be buried there, it is so peaceful, and the stones of many tombs have stories to tell.
Lefke is home to some poets and artists I know, especially Fikret Demirag, a poet I have talked to shortly before his death and whose poems I love dearly, with one street named after him in Lefke. Besides Harid Fedai whom I have mentioned before, there are Urkiye Mine Balman, Necla Salih Suphi, Nazim Beratli and Cumhur Deliceirmak.
There are so many more stories to tell of this place such as the breathtaking story of Sheikh Nazim al-Haqqani, a Turkish Cypriot Sufi Sheikh and leader of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Order who has lived in Lefke and to whom believers and guests come and seek his advice. But this story must be left for another occasion.
I said goodbye to Ferid Fedai who has given me his time to talk about his town and I am sure, I’ll come again. On my way home I stopped at a place where I had a governing view on the river and Lefke in the background and I remembered the first verse of Necla Salih Suphi:
Whenever I close my eyes to remember the past
My village’s mill appears in front of my eyes
Like a dry leaf in the wind I wish I was blown about
That the wind dragged me away and bury me there.
Necla Salih Suphi (1926-2000)