Literary Researcher and Writer
Born in 1930 in Lefka
In the Name of Turkish Literature
The old Saray Hotel was just the place for Harid Fedai
and I to meet, a place where stories and destinies of the last 50 years sit in
all corners and niches, happenings which no paint can cover up, they are there,
locked into the atmosphere of the place.
When I entered the hotel coming in from the glare of
the streets of old Nicosia I could just make out a long figure rising from an
old-fashioned armchair in the entrance hall. “Are you the lady I am supposed to
Together with Nazif Bozatli, our mutual friend and
confidant, we moved up to the top floor of the hotel where in the days before
the opening of the thoroughfares in the dividing border wall, people came to
catch a glimpse of a neighbour and brother in the South.
Harid Fedai carried with him an suitcase on wheels and
we asked him if he intended to travel after our meeting. He answered with a
twinkle in his eyes: “Oh, I thought I would stay overnight here, should our
talks take longer than expected.” In it, as I correctly guessed, he had a
collection of his 26 published books and material as back-up to our interview.
from the article “NASREDDIN HODJA OR ASLANI HODJA IN CYPRUS”
is very natural that the jokes of ‘Hodja Nasreddin or Nasreddin Hodja’ are alive among Turkish Cypriots who
are an extension of the people of Anatolia. These anecdotes encourage people to
laugh, to learn lessons from events by mixing them with the humour of Hodja and with the purpose of making
little of the obstacle you are facing. Hodja’s
ownership of the jokes is not strictly necessary; it is enough just to
give his name.
as Alpay Kabacalı claims, they are not ‘Jokes by Nasreddin Hodja’ ,
but they are ‘Nasreddin Hodja jokes’.
a researcher can meet very few Nasreddin Hodja jokes when he or she scans the Turkish Cypriot press, it is
obvious that they are very often used in the daily exchanges between the native
folk. Our Nasreddin Hodja is the self-invited guest at coffee
house chats, private conversations and family reunions. When well-educated
people expose contradictory attitudes, we use to define them as ‘men like
Nasreddin Hodja’ and this proves his wisdom in addition to his bizarre manners.
our Hodja a joke-character of our
own, a type belonging solely to Turks? No, he was also adapted amongst the
Greeks who fully accepted him, without taking his roots into consideration.
there is only one difference; they know him as ‘Aslani Hodja’ with the letter (i) added to the
adjective, because this is what they do to the words they take from Turkish.
Additionally, the joke type Aslani Hodja is
interpreted as ‘Priest’ instead of ‘Hodja’ (the colloquial meaning of which
is ‘teacher’) as the Turks view him. As it is obvious with this example, the
Turk still needs the lessons of his or her Hodja and the same goes for the Greek with his or her Priest and this means that the humour
and the weirdness continue to be relevant for both of them. So in general,
different people like to amuse themselves by making fun of the personifications
of each other with ‘Nasreddin Hodja’ and the ‘Priest’.
He is a thoughtful and professional gentleman, in the
true sense of meaning; a man who has witnessed the destiny of his generation
and his people and has – since his early days – gone far beyond the existing
and available evidence in the form of documents to find out about Cyprus’
roots. He is an archaeologist of literature, a digger, a detective, a Sherlock
Holmes investigating the Ottoman background; this is what he has been named by
colleagues in the literary world.
Harid Fedai comes from Lefke, a place which is imbued
for me with a very special sweet and fruitful air and atmosphere, and where
special people have lived among the orchards ,where the cool waters have a different taste and where I saw high
royal palm trees and fruit-bearing citrus trees in the winter months standing against the
backdrop of the snow covered Troodos mountains. Harid Fedai told me, that “while
one of my ancestors, Haci Pasa, the grandfather of my mother’s father, a
Commander during the reign of Mahmut II (1808 – 1839) who had fought under
Cezzar Ahmet Pasa in the Ottoman army against Napoleon in Egypt and won the
battle of Akka, was on his return journey on his ship to Istanbul, he passed Cyprus near Lefke and smelt the
scent of orange blossoms and learnt that it came from Lefke. He ordered the
captain to anchor and he disembarked in Gemikonaği. Once on land, he was
immediately seduced by the charm of the area. Going back onboard and getting
all his belongings unloaded, was the first step; buying a big piece of land and
settling in the Lefke area was the next. ” How easy it was in those days!
He continues: “Another root of my family is from the
Bodamyalizade family. There are three noble and old families in Cyprus: the
Menteşizadeler, the Kaytazzadeler and the Bodamyalizadeler. My grandfather’s
father, Hasan Fedai, known by the nickname of Battal Ağa, was an Ottoman clerk
in the times of Abdul Hamid II. Hasan Hilmi Efendi (first half of 19th
century) who was given the title ‘Greatest Poet of the Ottoman Empire’ during
the reign of Sultan Mahmud II, was from the Menteşziade family. Necmi Sagib (1897 – 1964) the owner and
director of the Shakespeare School which contributed to Turkish Cypriot
education for many years was from the Bodamyalizade family. The Shakespeare
School was active from the end of the 1920s to the beginning of the 1950s. The
members of these three families are still notables of the Turkish community.”
There were big citrus farms, but wheat and barley were
also grown; the workers were brought in from the Sudan together with their
families. Many traditions surfaced and got mixed with the local ones “For
example, it was believed that if a noble lady, having given birth to a child, considered
breastfeeding not only her own baby but also the baby of the servant of the
house, this one would also become noble. When my father’s elder brother was
born, my grandmother breastfed the servant’s son and thus the children became
milk brothers. Unfortunately, this young boy became greedy with money and
eventually killed his milk brother in 1917. He was convicted and hanged. Many descendants of these black workers still
live in Cyprus, having intermingled with
the native population. My grandparents were very unhappy to have lost their
son, so they left Lefke and settled in Nicosia. After the death of my
grandparents (1926 and 1929) the large estates were left to two inexperienced
members of the family, my father and my other uncle.”
During the global economic crisis in 1930, the wealth
of Harid Fedai’s family could not be maintained and they suffered great losses.
Those were difficult times when Harid grew up, between
two wars, but still, he was a boy and played boy’s games, football and other
games with the boys in the street and his schoolmates. There was a typically Cypriot game with sticks
– çelik çomak or lingiri. How is it
played, I ask. “It is a game with two sticks, a short one placed on two stones
and the other longer one is used to tip it and flip it into the air for the
others to catch and one shouted “Maza-Göza-Andariza”.
“Nazif Bozatli interrupts and adds: “There is a
similar game in Great Britain, it is called Tip-Cat, it dates back to the 17th
century and was played at the beginning of the last century and later in
Harid Fedai continues: “My primary school was near our
house and I remember that I loved to get cookies from the school usher. Images
pop up when I think back to those days in Lefke. You know, our houses had front
gardens where we played, visiting each other”
In 1943 Harid Fedai finished primary school and out of
300 students, 60 were allowed to go to lycée in Nicosia after they had passed
their exams, and he was among the 60. There was just only one lycée for Turkish
Cypriots in Nicosia and in the whole of Cyprus. “Our school was near the Saint
Sophia / Selemiye Mosque and I was able to stay with my aunt who lived in
Nicosia. Our school headmaster was British, Mr John George Harold Wood, a very
just and fair man, although he was married to an Armenian wife from Istanbul
who hated us Turks. Our teachers were mostly Turkish. My favourite subject was
the Turkish language and I knew early enough that I would make it the subject
of my future studies.”
There was great poverty in Cyprus between the wars,
and when World War II broke out and reached all corners of the Mediterranean,
there were no jobs to be had and the only way for the men to support their
families was to join the British army. The island population had been dwindling
for a long time and the causes were many and varied. There were 50 years of drought; there was
malaria; there was syphilis brought in by the seamen and there was the constant
threat of pirates from all sides. And, not to forget the events in October 1931
when the Greek Cypriots led by nationalists and church leaders declared enosis.
Read the comments by David Carter on the internet if you want to learn more
Harid Fedai remembers: “One day, near the village of Kırnı
where I stayed as a boy during the summer holidays, I saw a German airplane shot
down who had tried to bomb the British. The pilots had come down by parachute
and were taken prisoner. There is a story that they saved a man’s life there in
prison who had been taken ill. They asked to be allowed to collect herbs in the
mountains and from that they brewed a concoction which saved him. Isn’t that a
very special story?”
Anything was possible in those times. One asks oneself:
how do people survive under such conditions? People do, they just continue existing,
reducing their demands. From my own childhood experience I know that those who
owned a piece of land used every bit of it to plant the basics for their
families to survive, exchanging what they had with what they lacked and people
drew closer and tried to help each other.
“When I finished lycée in 1949 I wanted to go to
Turkey to study Turkish language and literature but my family refused as my
mother’s brother who had studied medicine in Istanbul in those days had become
ill with lung disease and had had to return home. There were no antibiotics so
lung infections usually ended with death. They also had heard that tuberculosis
was raging among the people of Ankara who were also very poor then. The only
thing I could do was to take up a job locally. I began working as a clerk in
the Jetty Office of the CMC in Xeros, a small office at the edge of the
harbour. First I worked on the jetty but
took courses to train in technical drawing. I was transferred to the Main
Office in Skouriotissa and later to Mavrovouni and worked there as a tracer until
1951. I bought myself a BSA motorbike, so getting to and from work was easier.”
How was life in general, was there a change of
atmosphere in the mixed society, I asked.
“Beneath the surface of society we all noticed a
change to idealism among the Greek Cypriots, young people were brainwashed and
often got into trouble, some of my close friends, too, and I am still sorry
today that I did not fully recognize the entanglement.”
Thanks to a scholarship, Harid Fedai was able to
enroll at the Gazi Educational Institute to become a teacher of Turkish
“All those years I had been seeking books and
documents to find traces of the history of my nation. There was nothing
mentioned in the newly written literature. When Atatürk introduced the Latin
alphabet to use for our language, documents in the Ottoman language slowly
disappeared into the background and from our life.”
I had heard too, for example, that many of the old
documents were used in grocery shops to wrap up goods.
“I was desperate”, Harid Fedai continues, “to find evidence
and I went to Istanbul to continue my studies (1956 – 1960) and I learnt the
Ottoman language in order to be able to read and understand the old documents.
This decision of mine proved the turning point in my life. From that time on I
never stopped digging for new documents and old manuscripts.”
Nazif Bozatli threw in a comment on this passion of
Harid Fedai: “My friend here is known over the places to buy rare finds. And not only documents, but also coins!
I remembered my visit to the National Archive in
Kyrenia, where I had talked to the Director not so long ago; it was on the
occasion of an exhibition of old documents discovered just recently. I was
taken to see the old treasures in the archive, beautifully hand-painted Ottoman
documents and I can understand the interest of wanting to understand them
In 1952 Harid Fedai published a first translation of a
book by Anthony Hope ‘The Prisoner of
Zenda’, but because of the inter-communal troubles, he only started further
publications of his concentrated research work over all those years in the 80s.
But let us continue following the thread of Harid
Fedai’s life because all experiences lived add to the intellectual capital one
works with later in life.
“I graduated from the university in Ankara in 1953 and
worked as a secondary school teacher in Ktima (Paphos) for three years. During
that period we had a severe earthquake in the Paphos area in September 1951 and
I will not forget the time when we had to hold our classes in tents in the
Efkav Park. Also, the days when the British would leave the island were
approaching. Teachers and state officials were offered scholarships for further
education abroad while payment of salaries continued, but on the condition that
they passed the entrance exams. I was one of the winners and now my higher
education began at Istanbul University, in the Faculty of Science and
Literature, at the Department of Turkish Language and Literature.
After I graduated in 1960 I came back to Cyprus with
my heart full of ideas. I was refused my first job as a teacher because of a
speech I made in public. The refusal
came from a Mr Lightbody from the MI 5 Intelligence Service who had very strict
ideas, but thanks to the intervention of friends and colleagues I started working
as an Inspector of Turkish language and literature in the Turkish Educational
Directorate. I was also teaching at the Turkish Teachers’ College seven hours a
week. One day I heard of a vacancy for a deputy director in the Cyprus
My application was accepted and I left the Turkish
Educational Directorate with unpaid leave and started working for the radio
department in February 1963 until December 1963, when all cooperation between
Greek and Turkish Cypriots was ceased. I was the last one to leave the
It was a time of desperate struggle that followed. The
Turkish Cypriot community had no mechanical means of communicating amongst
themselves and efforts were undertaken to establish radio stations and to
distribute radios to the villages.
“In January 1964, taking advantage of a week-long
ceasefire, I and my family went back to Lefke, my hometown, where I was offered
a job as Director at the newly founded local broadcasting station. I stayed
with them until 1968. BRT in Nicosia had started service at the same time.* In
addition to this job I was assigned by the Administration of Lefke to some
other organizational missions such as the irrigation of the gardens***, and
representing the property owners in the mine prospecting processes of the CMC.
After 1968 Harid Fedai was transferred to Nicosia and became
BRT programme and administration manager and top executive as from 1968 until 1983;
in 1976 he founded BRT Television which took him eight months to set up.
“I worked hard to achieve it. Did you know that the
first voice calling out into the universe Bayrak Bayrak Bayrak was the voice of
one of our best actors, Kemal Tunç. Actors and actresses were speaking the first
news and programmes, such as Ayla Haşmet, and Üner Ulutağ.
In 1983, I was appointed Director of Examinations in
the Public Services Commission. I worked in Girne American University, Lefke
European University and the Eastern Mediterranean University as academic and
executive. I am still teaching Turkish Cypriot Literature at the EMU. In 1988 I
retired to focus completely on my studies and research on Turkish Cypriot
When did he start to write , I asked. “I have always
been writing, he explained. “for Masum Millet**** and Kibris Newspaper. My ‘nom
de plume’ was then Ahmed Peykan. I also
wrote for Turkish newspapers; from 1949 – 50 I wrote for a famous newspaper
founded by Atatürk himself. I met Nazif, our friend there, and Mr. Ecevit, journalist
and poet, later Prime Minister of Turkey.”
the introduction part of the paper entitled “Mehmed Aziz Bey, The Man Who
Eradicated Malaria in Cyprus” submitted at the 38th International Congress on
History of Medicine held in İstanbul on 1-6 September, 2002.
defined generally as the “blight of malaria menacing the entire world from
Indonesia to Venezuela and from Haiti to Iran”,
caused huge numbers of casualties on the island of Cyprus in the East
Mediterranean particularly until the years of the Second World War (1939-1945).
As a matter of fact, it is possible to explain the decreasing population and
the frequent migrations from the island within the historical process, as due
to epidemic illnesses such as the plague and cholera also prowling around the
island besides malaria, the destruction caused by plagues of locusts from North
Africa and the economic depression of the drought periods.
became a great problem for the English who set foot on the island to capitalise
on the opportunity of being on the route to India with the opening of the Suez
Canal in 1869. Primarily, this meant that their top executives and the military
personnel would come into close contact with death. This threat was sufficient
for them to take the necessary precautions. Thus, before the end of their
presence on the island for a quarter of a century, Larnaca District Health
Supervisor Dr. G. A. Willamson recorded in 1900 that 470 of the 503 examined
patients had malaria. In 1912, High Commissioner Sir Hamilton Gould-Adams
informed the Foreign Ministry of Britain that malaria was widespread on the
island, emphasizing that the approaches made by the local government were inadequate
and he proposed that more efficient precautions be taken. Sir Ronald Ross was
sent to Cyprus upon this request. The meeting of such a renowned scientist with
young Turkish Cypriot Mehmed Aziz Bey is viewed as a milestone in the
eradication of malaria.
From that time on, Harid Fedai has published 30 books and more
than 300 articles and proceedings. When I go through the list I can recognize
some tendencies which stand out: besides articles he has written in newspapers
and proceedings of conferences, there are collections of poems for example of Aşik Kenzi in 1700, or Kibris Müftüsü Hilmi Efendi
(first half of the 14th century) , Handi biographies of famous
people such as Dr. Hafiz Cemal Lokmanhekim, Bashakim Zeka Bey, …Cyprus history
written by Ziver Bey in (?) often supported by lists of vocabulary and old Ottoman
manuscripts. Harid Fedai writes his own
poetry too of which I have a copy: “Koza” which means “Cocoon”.
First of May
is 1st of May... But what for being in the bed...
early in the morning I am...
just the dawn broke.
the hoopoes came top of the morning
all the scents of the Mediterranean filling the garden
the bitter oranges necessarily...
nice it is to respire you with the flowers!..
washed my face with dew drops then,
your name loud and loud,
make your ears ring
you are in sound sweet sleep
worry, if it is me in your dreams
effects much more,
it is spring in the mornings...
Harid Fedai, from
his book “Koza”
by Nazif Bozatlı
As we lean back at the end of our talks Harid tells me
a little more of his family background: “Did you know that I have French blood
in my veins? One day a high-ranking Ottoman officer came visiting a wealthy
Lusignan plantation by the name of Potamia on matters of control and tax, but
he forgot all about it when a beautiful young girl entered offering the usual
Ceviz (walnut) preserve as welcome present. There was no longer a question of tax
because he got married to her.”
Note by the Author:
-The interview was done in 2010 and 2012.
-*see Volume I of my book about my encounter with
people of the first beginnings of BRT.
-**) His nickname was Kasabanin Muallimi/Teacher of
-*** Harid Fedai is a most talented narrator; he told
me that the Lefke gardens in his young days had names such as Angona, Aimama,
Bunga, Barevolia, just to mention a few. The black snakes were sacred and treated
well as guardians of the garden; they were fed with hellim and milk which they
liked very much. The gate to these gardens were called ‘Gancelli’ obviously a
term taken over from the Venetians.
-****) His second published book was a collection of
articles he had written for Masum Millet (Innocent Nation) (see above).
Mahkûmları (The Prisoner of Zenda, Anthony Hope), İstanbul 1952.
Masum Millet Olayı, İstanbul, 1986
Âşık Kenzî Divanı, I, II, III, İst. 1989, Ankara, 1993, 1993
Mecrûh, (Ortak Çalışma) Kaytaz-zâde Nâzım Efendi, İst. 1993
Cezîre-i Kıbrıs, Pîrî Efendi ve Kıbrıs Tarihçesi, Ârif Dede, Ankara 1997
Sanayi Mektebi, Ankara 1997
Mevlevihânesi, (Ortak Çalışma) Ankara 1997.
Dışındaki Türk Edebiyatları Antolojisi-9: Kıbrıs Türk Edebiyatı, Ankara 1997,
Şiirleri, Harid Fedai, İstanbul, 1997
Efsâneleri, Hikmet Akif Mapolar, Lefkoşa, 1997
Kitap (Ortak çalışma, İngilizce’siyle birlikte) : The Book Without Title,
Târihi, Zîver Bey, Ankara 1999
(Ortak Çalışma) Fâdıl Niyazi Korkut, Magosa –Kıbrıs, 2000
Müftüsü Hilmi Efendi, Şiirler, İlâveli İkinci Baskı, Lefkoşa 2000
Yaşantı, Dr. Hâfız Cemal Lokmanhekim, İstanbul 2000
-Kıbrıs Türk Kültürü. Bildiriler-I, Ankara 2003
-Başhâkim Zekâ Bey, Lefkoşa 2002
-Handî Dîvanı-I Gazeller, Ankara 2003
-Kıbrıs Türk Kültürü, Bildiriler-II Ankara 2003
-Cümel-i Müntehâbe-i Kemal, Ankara 2003
-Yâdigâr-ı Muhabbet, (Ortak çalışma. İngilizce’siyle
birlikte) Kaytaz-zâde Nâzım, 3 cilt, Lefkoşa 2004
-Kıbrıs Türk Kültürü, Makaleler-I, Lefkoşa 2005
-Eski Şeyler, Ahmed Rāik, Lefkoşa 2006
-Avrupa’da Seyahat Hatıraları, (Ortak Çalışma) Dr.
Şerafeddin Mağmumi, İstanbul 2008
-Silik Sayfalar, Harid Fedai’nin Anıları, Sivil Savunma
Teşkilât Başkanlığı Yayını:3, Lefkoşa 2009
-Dîvân-ı Şeyh Mustafa Zekâyi, (Oruç Baba), Ankara 2009
-Eyyâm-ı Girîzân, Manastırlı Behâe’d-dîn Beğ, Lefkoşa
-Kuş-Hasanlar, nâm-ı diger, Hasan –Bulliler, Kıbrıs’ın
Eşkıyâsı, Lefkoşa 2011
-Tesâlyâ’da Bir Cevelân ve Dört Aylık Seyâhatım, Süleyman
Tevfik, 1899 (1315)-2011
-Türk Toprağında, Dr. Ignác
Kúnos, Budapeşte 1911, (ortak çalışma), Ankara 2011