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Memory of lost Cyprus home haunts three generations
By Isabelle Wesselingh
Nicosia (AFP) Jan 9, 2017

More than four decades have passed since the Kyriakou-Savva family fled their hilltop village home in Cyprus overlooking the Mediterranean as Turkish troops approached, but the memories still haunt three generations.

"I had a house, some land. I was happy. Overnight I lost everything. Since then, my heart has not truly smiled," says grandfather Iakovos Savva, 96.

It was in August 1974 when Turkish troops invaded northern Cyprus that the Greek Cypriot farmer fled his village, Ardana, in the island's northeast.

Apart from a traditional tiara used for weddings, he and his wife left empty-handed.

The Turkish invasion was in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece that had triggered concern among the Turkish Cypriot minority.

Around 162,000 Greek Cypriots were displaced by the fighting as well as 48,000 Turkish Cypriots, according to a report by the Peace Research Institute Oslo.

Today the island of around one million people remains bitterly divided.

The internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus governs the southern part while the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus -- recognised only by Ankara -- controls the northern third.

In the north, many Greek Cypriot properties are now occupied by Turkish Cypriots, Turkish settlers and even foreigners including Britons who bought them in controversial circumstances.

In the south, the government has assigned some former Turkish Cypriot homes to Greek Cypriot refugees.

A family from Turkey now lives in the Kyriakou house in Ardana.

Once mixed, the village no longer has any Greek Cypriot residents. Their ruined church is frequented only by pigeons.

Iakovos Savva lives in a basic, "temporary" house built for refugees in Nicosia.

"I feel like a pig," he says.

- 'Piece of the puzzle' -

"My house is in Ardana," he says, recalling that the property was built by his ancestors and kept in the family thanks to the money earned by his brother who emigrated.

Although sceptical, he follows the negotiations that will resume in Geneva this week on the reunification of the island.

Every morning, he devours the political pages of the newspaper in the butcher shop of his son Kyriakos who was 22 when the family fled.

Now 65, Kyriakos's anger and sadness remain strong.

"I compare (the two places) all the time. When I drink a coffee here in Nicosia, I remember how it was in the village with all my friends.

"When I look at the city I think that there (in Ardana) we had the sea so close to the north and south. I think of my childhood."

Even though he has built a new life in Nicosia where his two daughters were born, Kyriakos says he would not hesitate if a peace deal allowed him to return to the family house.

His daughter Maria, a 32-year-old lawyer living in Germany with her French husband, never lived in the Ardana home and has no plan to do so.

But even she has tears in her eyes when she talks about it.

"This house is like one important piece of the puzzle of my identity," she says.

"I want to go back to Ardana to show my son the village so that he will understand the story of the family and know where we come from."

- 'Emotional link' -

Property ownership is one of the key challenges for the Cyprus peace negotiators.

The restitution of homes under any deal is expected to depend largely on the boundaries of the two states in a future federation, although strong emotional ties to a property may also be taken into account.

In some cases, the return of homes will not be possible, in which case people could get a similar property or financial compensation.

Iakovos Savva says that although he fears an unfair outcome for the displaced, he is in favour of a settlement "to create stability".

His son, more bitter, rejects the idea of financial compensation and wants the house back.

He is "not interested" in the fate of the family who has lived there for years "because they knew it was not their house".

If a referendum is held on a peace deal that did not offer the chance to recover the property, he says he would vote "no".

Maria says she would vote for reunification even without the return of the house.

She has no interest in financial compensation although it could give "a bit of justice" to people who lost their properties.

"There is no price for the emotional link we have with our family home," she says.

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