In September 2010, shortly before the inauguration of the Mansion as the base of Politistiko Ergastiri Ayion Omoloyiton, I was in Athens. I was with Popi Moupayatzi. Despite my initial hesitations after our meeting, I left with a bundle in hand. During my flight to Larnaca I was holding it tight in my arms .. The debt of it’s transport to Cyprus was heavy .. it’s journey is like a fairy tale but yet you find the humanity through the fairy tale. humanity  .. which has the power to make reality look like a fairy tale … (Panayiotis Theodorou, 2010)

DEBT REDEMPTION

When, about a month before the inauguration of the Ierodiakonou Mansion, Panayiotis Theodorou was returning  to Cyprus from a short day trip to Athens, he took with him a piece of my family history. After much thought – and the permission of my son, of course – I had entrusted him with the things that had left to me from my dying grandmother, Kalliopi. Kalliopi Moupayatzi, of the generation of Antonios Polatoglou, who came from Silly of Asia Minor (Ikonion region) and, like so many others, had arrived in Greece in 1922, uprooted from her birthplace.

Her own story, along with her relics, now housed in the Ierodiakonou Mansion, the base of Politistiko Ergastiri Ayion Omoloyiton, I will tell you here. But first I’ll tell you when I was really convinced that I had made the right decision

On the evening of the inauguration, while sitting in the courtyard of the Mansion, we heard his landlord, Mr. Akis Ierodiakonou, tell us in his glorious way old stories about the Mansion and the neighbourhood. 

“A,” he said at one point, “how many times I have not remembered the cool breeze that suddenly blew through the summer nights and took the whole heat of the day from Nicosia .. .”The air of Karamania was blowing “we used to say then.” “Still blowing …” the children told him. And we laughed. Then I thought of asking Christiana in the summer nights to leave the windows open, from time to time so that my grandmother would cool off from the air of her own place, “homeland”, as she used to say until her her death the area of Lycaonia opposite.

When the order came to gather their stuff and and leave, Kalliopi did not believe it. It was the Winter of ’22. And heavy one it was. As winter is almost always on Taurus, “the largest mountain range of Asia Minor, dominating the Mediterranean”. That winter she was alone. Alone with her two children, the eldest nine years old the youngest two. Without her husband. It was almost a year that he was missing at the Labour Battalions (Amele Taburu). 

Man of the house was Hasan, since a long time. A Turkish-old man – old she considered him although he was not even fifty years old.  A trusted man was Hassan, a man of all jobs. And from the time they took Theophilos to the Labour Battalions, the man of the house.

Hasan had three sons. At the birth of the youngest, who was the age of her John, his wife died. Since then he had settled permanently, with all his family, in her home. And the little orphan grew up in her arms, along with my father. 

The order to leave, she could not believe. They had gone through this before the Great War, when they were out again and stayed for almost three years in Bey-Shehir. Why would things be different now? However, she had to obey.

In the evening he called Hasan. She was waiting for him sitting on her red heavy silk beddings, with Persian designs. He came in, dragging his feet. She smiled at him “How can you?” He asked her with his heavy, Karamanli-speaking accent. 

“What can I do?” She asked. 

“Alone … with the two kids … and the master is missing. Even if he lives, we don’t know. How can you leave your place, your life … “

His voice rattled, and he, a direct descendant of the proud Seljuks, found himself on his knees, crying  and sobbing.

Kalliopi stood up: “Come on, you are loosing your head old Hassan. Where am I going? At Alexandretta I thought we could go, it would be better. We won’t disappear, though. There, may God, bless us,  Theophilos will find us. His service, the French Railways, told me that they knew where he was. And they will make sure to send him to us. Six months, a year at the most … and here we will back again. What has happened struck you, God, and are you acting like this?” He took her hands in his. The sobbing now become a quiet weep.

“God is great, My Lady. Let things come as you say. And here we will be, waiting for you. The house clean and the garden cared for as you like. And the vine with the savoury grape, which you love so much, you’ll find fruitful. Your wish from your mouth to Gods the ear. ” 

“As I tell you, it will happen, Hassan, you will see. Only this time a key to the house will hold too. You don’t know what’s might happen … we might be come back in the summer, and you’re with the kids in Silly … “

 Silly, just  twelve kilometres outside Ikonio, was a purely Christian village. In the summer, when humidity and mosquitoes became unbearable in Iconio, everyone left for Silly, to the countryside home. Living in vineyards, gardens with aubergines and melons was that home. Hassan, early in the morning, was picking up his young son, Abdel, waking John up and leaving the three of them in the fields to set up bird traps in the vineyard.

Kalliopi only asked Hassan for a favour that night in November 1922. Well, she was taking the key of the house with her. But her bridal gown and the formal costume of her birthplace, no, she would be silly to take it with her. After all, the orders were clear: a bag of clothes were entitled to each and nothing else. And she needed warm clothes for the children, as the train journey from Ikonio to Alexandria could take days – you never know what they would meet on the way …

The wedding dress was immaculate. Christians and Turks had been dazzled when they saw her, with her face uncovered, coming out of her father’s house, holding the arm of her older brother, Daniel, to go to church on Sunday morning. She did not want to have the wedding at home, as was usual in their homeland at the time. Her wedding dress was ordered by her father shortly before he died. But he died  all of a sudden before seeing her as a bride. His innate desire is that the marriage should not be delayed. And since he wouldn’t be there to see her, the wedding would be in the church, so the eyes of all would enjoy it. And so it was.

So Kalliopi came out, resting on Daniel’s arm, and everyone was silent. Bathed in the morning light, with tears in her eyes but with her body firmly wrapped in white, as a cloud with the twinkling gemstones forming a bouquet of roses sewn on the wedding dress. On her neck, her father’s last gift, the “rose”: a big diamond, tied around with other, smaller ones … 

It was the summer of 1912. Since then it has been ten years … Now, winter of 1922. Daniel had fled to Cyprus since 1918, with her mother and her little sister. Theophilos hesitated to follow them and they took him to the Labour Battalions.

She took with her the “rose” as well as the key to the house. But the wedding dress and the costume no, she could not… For these she is asking Hassan for a favour. He brings a small, painted chest. Kalliopi opens it, removes the wedding dress once more, lays it on his red being, lifts one end of the cloud and brings it to her face. The silk underneath shines in the low light of the arch. She embraces the white garment: her father, husband, brother support her. And dumb, two steps behind, Hassan. These clothes  she asks him to keep for her. Just these. Blessing and curse: to keep them for her.

Forty-four years have passed. 1966. My grandmother Kalliopi was already seventy. John, my father, was fifty. And the “little one” was forty-six years old and since the disaster he had only memories of his mother, the scattered words of his brother, and the big picture of his father, in his railway uniform, and below, with artistic letters, signed by Photo GK Solakian, KONIA. Of course, there was another Theophilos  in the family: my brother. I was to go to the fourth grade of Primary School that year.

The phone call from Thessaloniki confused us. Grandma got it at noon. At the other end of the line someone was asking her name. Her baptismal name. He said he had a phone call from Adana. But even though they were refugees, no one in their home spoke Turkish anymore. They were not well understood. Again the Turk called them from Adana. But this time with someone who spoke a little French. With an effort  they understood something. They were searched by their their own surname; – which was the same as ours. But the Turk was calling for Kalliopi. madam Kalliopi. They told them, “We don’t have Kalliopi in the family.” More phone calls … Finally, the family in Thessaloniki holding our surname looked us up. The surname, after all, was not common at all. And they found my grandmother. They gave her a phone number: “Ask for Ali Bakirel.”    “Bakirel …”

My father and my uncle raised their shoulders wondering. My grandmother didn’t say anything. She proceeded with slow steps to the living room. She opened the left cabinet of the old marble buffet, pulled out of the bottom a box of drawers – i think a box of “Menounos” cologne – and, slowly turning her body, rested a heavy iron key on the table. “Bakirel … That’s how Hassan’s name was, I’m sure,” she said. My father was nervous. Something like remembering …

The follow up was short but interesting. Yiannos, my father, phoned this Ali Bakirel in Turkey. He had to respond to several questions: – His own name and the name of his brother; the ages of both of them. – The profession and the name of their father. – The mother’s mother’s surname, the profession of grandfather, the names of all her brothers. – Where was Iconion house and where Silly’s estate – behind the old Town Hall was the first, at the root of Ayia Thekla the second … And many more, which he, a child of nine years in ’22, could not remember. “Ask your mother later since you say she lives. If he doesn’t live, we’ll see … ”Ali Bakirel insisted. 

My father asked her. And she answered what they asked for. Eventually they asked for her address in Athens. They gave him that too. After two to three weeks, maybe even less, a large envelope arrived. Inside, a small rusty padlock key and a letter. I post it

Respected Mother,  For six years, when our father, Yassan Bakirel, left this vain world and went to meet our mother and our big brother, we have been searching for you. We used to talk about you every day before, but our father never wanted to look for you. He was sure, he said, that you did not need it, for you would come to take from his hands whatever you entrusted to him. With the “exchange”, of course, they took us out of the house, but we rented two arches next door and your house is always standing, even if foreigners have been living in it.  Only in the death  bed did our father decide that you would not be repatriated to this world. And then she told us, “wish and curse I lay on you to find kona Kalliopi and return her what she left me”.  And that’s what we did. He also left us with the obligation, if it was not convenient for you to come here, to answer correctly all that we asked our brother John, and let us be sure from the responses that it is you. Now, we that we have fulfilled our debt, we can live in peace and face our father when the time comes.  We kiss your hands with tears Ali and Abdel Bakirel

In the next days a parcel arrived by train: a wooden box. My father and my uncle went to the Station together and received it. We opened it in grandmother’s living room. Inside it, dazzled after so many years but intact, the small, painted chestnut case. The grandmother, silently, takes the small key of the padlock and unlocks it. We hardly breathe. She leans, embraces the white garment. She grabs it by the armpits and lifts it up amongst us. With a slight tinge, the silk, rotted from time to time, breaks down into a silver powder. She embraces the garment tightly on her chest.

My grandmother lived another fifteen years. She did not stop feeling regretting, and  having a remorse: “I shouldn’t … I didn’t do well when I took the key back then. Otherwise Hassan would keep the house. So he let it be occupied, thinking i would keep my word and I would return to ask for it. We shouldn’t have … “ 

We buried her with her key, she couldn’t give it to Hasan, as she wanted.

The white robe and the other she did not want them with her. She left it to me, with one condition: to write their story once. Now I have done my own debt.

March 2011

Popi Moupayatzi

The costume stands at the Mansion, a prideful and agile. It is housed in a showcase provided by the Leventis Municipal Museum with the contribution of Loukia  Hatzigavriel, tidy, laid out, taken care of with love and respect by Christiana Papadopoulou.

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