On February 1999, we lost my grandfather (my father’s father) aged 97 in Cyprus, who I saw as the lifeblood of our blackness. After forty days of his passing out, we lost my uncle as well, who was living in London. Since 1997, I rolled up my sleeves to research whether there are other people who identify with my definition “Turkish speaking black Cypriot”, which I have used in the UK for myself. In 2000, I hit the road back to Cyprus and moved there. Since then, my works have been shared as visual exhibitions, written research, presentations, newspaper and magazine articles, TV and radio interviews, and the interest still continues.
The main method I use to uncover the stories of this group that has been left outside of official histories is oral history, the greatest method used for alternative history. In this context, I talked to more than 200 people and interviewed nearly 50, collected old photos and took photos of the people who are alive. Together with 15 interviews, 240 of such photos were exhibited at an international event called “Leaps of Faith” in Nicosia in 2005. The same year, a video in which I narrate the background of my work and the future plans, and show the photos was also exhibited. This event took place at the Nicosia Art Centre, situated in the south of Cyprus.
My findings indicate that the origins of the black families in Cyprus can be traced back to a period between 1700s and the beginning of 1900s. The families were coming from countries such as Egypt, Sudan, old Abyssinia and Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Sahra and the coasts of the Nile River. These periods coincide with the Ottoman and the British eras in our island, during which many people were bought as slaves, rented to work at homes and farms, kidnapped as they were going to Mecca, taken by families as handmaids, fled from the ships who stopped by Cyprus and came with their free will to work to Cyprus.
The majority of the ones brought to work in the farms entered the island via the port in Limassol and were forced to work at sugar cane fields in Piskobu. The ones who “created problems” there were sent to work at so-called gold mines in Hirsofu. The beauticians who were able to do hairdressing, cosmetology and manicures/pedicures all at once, and midwives who were not only able to help during birth but also able to cure diseases like doctors are among the ones who came with their own consent. Being a musician is a traditional occupation that has continued from old weddings until now among families with African origins. Young men of African origins have been believed to run faster, therefore, many of them became footballers and trainers. We even have athletes who are part of the national team in Turkey. Many young men mostly coming from poor families became the members of the first Turkish Cypriot police force, and when women were started to be accepted to be part of it, our young women were also one of the first to register.
I changed the name of my research to “Cypriots with African origin” as I noticed during my studies in the island that the looks of many people whose ancestors included people coming from Africa were not necessarily black and their identities did not match with the political content of blackness as it does in the USA or Europe. One other reason of my decision is that I have noticed during my research that there are not only Turkish speaking families of African origin but also Greek speaking families of African origin and some brothers and sisters were separated to be adopted by Muslim and Christian families upon their arrival to Cyprus. Besides the ones that live all around Cyprus, there are the ones who live abroad in the UK, Turkey and Australia.
My research continues on the names used, occupations, stories that reached our days from generation to generation, experiences of the young generations together with the questions they pose about their identities. According to me, official history and alternative history are intertwined. The main element in my art work, the Cypriots of African origins, is a part of our alternative history. This subject makes up a section of my master’s thesis and I have plans to publish my findings in a book format.Güncelleme Tarihi: 09 Aralık 2015, 07:38