by Nick Sweeney
The sign on the road at the turning near Latchi, on the west coast of Greek Cyprus, reads Ttakkas Bay, Restaurant, Afrodite Area, Refugee from Rizokarpaso, advertising in Sunday Times, Cyprus Weekly, Morgen Post, Keo and Globo Magazine.
The turning leads to a car park with two tractors in it among the odd hire car, then to a stony beach guarding some good snorkelling water. There is also, as promised, a restaurant that is more than a shack and never going to be the Ritz, but is just right for the setting. We’d seen it 2010, when we made a stop on the beach on a day trip from Paphos, further south. In 2011 we were staying only a few miles away, in Polis, so we went to the Ttakkas beach a few times.
The script on the sign had intrigued me for a year. On one visit, with the restaurant not very crowded, I asked the young girl serving us what it meant, and she at once began a diatribe against the Turks occupying the northern part of Cyprus. “They kill women and children,” she told us. “They hate everything. They destroy everything. They drink blood.” She crossed herself. “And I pray for the day they will be annihilated.” It came out that her grandparents, including Mr Ttakkas, had been banished from the town of Rizokarpaso, the northernmost town on Cyprus, with a lot of family members displaced or killed.
It’s a place in a strategic spot that has been popular with invaders. Thirteenth and fourteenth century crusaders the Lusignans did their own occupying, and banished the Orthodox clergy. They didn’t leave much of an influence, just a bit of gothic in the surviving churches. There were also various occupations by the Knights Templar, seeking a base for their sketchy enterprises once the crusades were no longer viable. Of course, the more recent history is of the Greek population banished to the south, a diaspora between the Turkish occupation in 1974 – which left a large part of the Greek population isolated, and unable to flee south at once – and the 1980s. Rizokarpaso is now populated mainly by Turkish settlers brought from the Anatolian mainland, and the odd European expat. It now bears the less melodic name of Dipkarpaz.
Stories from the 1974 occupation and the subsequent partition of the island are common in Cyprus, which doesn’t take away their horror; not old enough to be ancient history, nor recent enough to be news, they are filtered through family lore, recounted over mealtime tables, repeated at Easter, Christmas, even weddings perhaps, once they reach the maudlin part of the evening. I should have asked the young woman at the Ttakkas restaurant my question after we’d ordered, because it seemed disrespectful then to mumble my thanks for her dramatic answer, then go on to ask for sandwiches and coffees.
Her answer left me still wondering about Mr Ttakkas’ motives for the sign out on the road; it seemed to serve only to preserve the memory of his refugee status. Well, why not? He had obviously decided to accept the status conferred on him, and perhaps it was his way of owning it. But, on the other hand, did he seriously want to be reminded of his flight each time he drove in to work, to open up his restaurant? And what exactly did he advertise in the Sunday Times, and the Cyprus Weekly, the Morgen Post and the KEO, and Globo Magazine? The girl couldn’t tell us, and it still intrigues me. There are a few more mysteries: how did Mr Ttakkas manage to set up his own beach business as a refugee? He must have worked hard. Maybe his refugee status taught him to hustle; I always imagine this thick-skinned, determined man – probably not always easy to get on with – never afraid to ask, nor to speak up for himself, nor to linger over any doubt about naming a small stretch of coast after himself. And why that double-t at the beginning of his name? It’s not usual when transliterating from the Greek alphabet to Latin characters.
But you can’t find out everything. And maybe you shouldn’t, anyway.
“I knew old Ttakkas,” we were told by Athanasios, the man who ran the apartments where we stayed in Polis, not exactly a young man himself. “He died some years back.” Athanasios didn’t know what the sign meant, either, and nor did his wife, who dismissed it with a somewhat impatient gesture. Even so, this memory of him made him come alive a little more.
In these days of ever-more terrible refugee stories, Mr Ttakkas’ story is old in every way now, and even a little genteel, with its list of august publications, and a beach restaurant hosting and presenting it. It lives on, on that sign, and, officially or not, in the name of the little bay to which it leads, and in that way Ttakkas will remain mysterious, if not unknown, and yet never be quite forgotten.