A writer-director’s fascination with the beautifully ambiguous culture of Louroujina
By Alkin Emirali *

Louroujina, Lurucina or Akincilar, just some of the names of the formerly mixed village, and the most southerly village in northern Cyprus. I’m sure there are those who would insist on one or other of the names for partisan reasons, I have chosen to use Louroujina; it appears closest to a phonetic pronunciation for English readers. Akincilar never really caught on.

The prevalent narratives still told on both sides of Cyprus are remarkably similar: separatist stories about two distinct people with filial links to motherlands of Greece or Turkey. The longer the country remains divided and the people separate, the more this narrative becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I would argue however that this narrative is an imposter, and a relatively recent one at that.

There is a Cypriot word linobambaki (literally linencotton) that is used in a derogatory way, a judgement on those people in mixed villages like Louroujina, who were considered inferior for appearing to be neither one thing nor the other. I argue that those called linobambaki were not neither one thing nor the other, on the contrary, they were both things.

I would like to re-appropriate that term as a positive one. It recognises how Cypriots have influenced one another
rather than denying the existence of this relationship. Perhaps I might go further, and suggest that the way people
lived in Louroujina before the taint of Greek and Turkish nationalism is more pertinent now than ever. For me the
pre-nationalist Louroujinian experience enables us to rediscover the original and ancient narrative of Cyprus, one
of community, one of shared languages and the melding of cultures.

By piecing together anecdotes, fragments of stories, and overheard conversations of my grandparents, and from
learning more about their lives, I began to see that however much my grandparents and parents would insist that we
were Turkish Cypriots, there were just too many anomalies and too much evidence that suggested that this binary
identification was, for me at least, too simplistic.

My grandparents left Louroujina for the UK in the early 50’s with my parents in tow. Like many, they were economic
migrants who were looking for a better life than the one afforded them as rural peasants. What they brought with
them were lives and a culture shaped by their village. What follows is an anecdotal exploration of some aspects of that
beautifully rich and ambiguous culture.

Language: I grew up hearing all my grandparents speaking primarily Greek Cypriot. It seemed the only time they spokeTurkish was when they had guests, I suspect those same guests were also speaking Greek in their own homes. I
was encouraged to learn Turkish and told that Greek was not a good language for us children. As a child on holiday
in Louroujina we stayed with my great aunt who spoke no Turkish but understood it, my mother could speak no
Greek but understood it, and so I heard my first bi-lingual Cypriot conversation. I also learnt that many people of my
father’s generation didn’t learn or speak Turkish until they started attending school, my father among them.

If an individual’s national identity is in part determined by their language, what am I to make of my own family? You could say my family are primarily Greek speaking Cypriots who identify as Turkish Cypriots. Immediately, in constructing this identification, I’m struck by the absurdity of Cypriots trying to align themselves cleanly with one thing or the other.

Culture and Community: I heard stories about my paternal grandfather and his drinking buddy the Greek Orthodox
priest with whom he would drink zivania and sing Greek songs. My maternal grandmother told me that she was
taught to be a seamstress at the knee of a Greek Cypriot neighbour. I learnt that my maternal grandfather was both
baptised in the church as well as being circumcised as a Muslim, and that this was commonplace for his generation
in Louroujina. I learnt that Greek and Turkish Cypriots would celebrate each other’s religious holidays, indeed my
paternal grandmother remembers celebrating Christmas in Cyprus ‘in secret’, the same grandmother who would never
eat pork. I also remember my maternal grandmother’s watery eyes as she told me about the day when the last of
the Greek Cypriot families left Louroujina.

In a more innocent time, it seems that in villages like Louroujina, it was far harder to determine where one people ended and the other people began. Ostensibly, Louroujinians lived as one people celebrating their differences together, and sharing a culture that was more to do with their island home, and each other than either Greece or Turkey. In the stories of my grandparents I see the key to a much-needed, less partisan, and more unified narrative for Cyprus.

While I recognise that the lives of my grandparent’s generation in a single village does not apply universally to the island; that does not preclude it from being a good exemplar. An exemplar for a future narrative that celebrates the great wealth of commonality that Greek and Turkish speaking Cypriots once shared, and could share again. What Does a Writer-Director Do with this Inspiration? He makes films. My producer and I are currently raising final funding for the short film Our Cyprus. The film plays out in North London and is ultimately a story about the great wealth of commonality and kinship that Greek and Turkish speaking Cypriots once shared. Our Cyprus is my attempt to reconcile my family’s experience of a beautifully
ambiguous Cyprus with the troubles that tore an island and a people in two.

Critically acclaimed actor, Peter Polycarpou, is cast in the lead role, Mehmet-Ali. The character is a Greek speaking
Turkish Cypriot from Louroujina. My crew boasts BAFTA nominees and assorted award winners.

Through various funding activities £6,200 has already been raised for the film, and we are currently seeking a further
£3,800 to be able to go into production in spring 2017. Our Cyprus is proof of concept for a feature film based in
1920’s Louroujina that I’ve already written and which has already attracted interest from the UK film industry.

I believe passionately that Our Cyprus can help achieve two things. First, it can help to foster meaningful dialogue
between the divided communities. Good narrative cinema can enable us to see people as people rather than as
representatives of an ideology, or of a nation state. Perhaps Cypriots and the Cypriot diaspora need this now more than ever. Second, it can help to create an international platform for the all-but-forgotten issues of Cyprus.

This is a passion project for me, and I continue to invest my time and money to bring this short film to fruition, but I do
need some assistance in closing the finance so we might take this short film off the page and onto screens in the UK,
Cyprus and around the world.

* Alkin Emirali is a professional writer and director. He is currently writing a feature film based in Mauritius in the 1830’s. His most recent short film The Kindness of Strangers has made the official selection for the BAFTA nominating Aesthetica Short Film Festival (Nov 2016). His previous short film RUF 992M secured distribution with Shorts International. In addition he has written three other feature film scripts and directed numerous commercial projects for the likes of Sony PSP and BMW. In the past, he’s been a recipient of funding from Creative England, UK Film Council and Screen South. He also works as a senior lecturer at the acclaimed Brighton Film School.

Please direct all enquiries to Alkin: M: +44 (0) 7775 742
935 E: alkin@btinternet.com.

The original article was published by Friends of Cyprus and shared with Join2Media.