A new book in English has captured the enormous struggle Turkish Cypriots faced as they defended their strategically key coastal village for thirteen years in Northern Cyprus. Against the odds, they survived.
The Battle of Kokkina captures this fascinating true story from the eyes of Fadıl Elmasoğlu, a young man who lived through the events of Erenköy (also known as Kokkina) between 1963 and 1976.
Elmasoğlu’s autobiographical story Erenköy ve Hayat was first published in Turkish in 2014 to great acclaim. Friends, family members and fellow villagers of Erenköy felt this powerful first-hand testimony about such a vital period in Turkish Cypriot history was too important for a Turkish-only audience. As the clamour for an English version grew louder, his niece, retired teacher Nejla Clements, herself from the village, stepped forward to help with the translation.
Her painstaking work over three-and-a-half years involved translating the text, before separating it into chapters, with footnotes that explained certain words and cultural practices for non-Turkish Cypriot readers to understand. The end result is a compulsive read, describing how Fadıl Elmasoğlu led a motley crew of men to form a resistance group that helped defend their coastal village.
The vivid descriptions of day-to-day life of a besieged community and their courage and determination to survive the Greek Cypriot-run state’s attempts to annihilate them are riveting. Amongst all the mayhem of various battles, the village folk, some of whom lived in caves for shelter, still pursued a normal life. The isolation of Erenköy/Kokkina continued for thirteen years but not once did the inhabitants consider giving up.
Normal cultural practices still continued; socialising, matchmaking, weddings, babies being born, educating their young. All this while, men concentrated on fighting the armed attacks on their village from the hills behind them and the sea to their front. Not to mention the gathering and ceremonial burying of their dead during the fighting.
There are details of numerous gun-smuggling trips to Turkey; how these were organised and put into action, the incredible risks taken by the men who participated, and the perils of the sea when sailing in a small arms-laden boat.
There is humour too. Like the time when Fadıl Elmasoğlu, after years of walking around almost barefoot, was given a pair of boots by a journalist – one of many who periodically descended into Erenköy/Kokkina. This simple and touching gesture prompted Elmasoğlu to exclaim he “could fly” with his new boots.
When asked about what struck her most about the Kokkina struggle, author Nejla Clements told T-VINE it was “the resilience of its people”. She said:
“The inhabitants suffered many deprivations during the 13-year struggle that took place in, and around their village. They went hungry; some lived in caves for long periods of time for shelter, [and] went without medicine and dental attention.
“They also watched their loved ones die and suffered many bombardments on their small coastal village, both from the hills behind and the sea to their front.
“They had to host many hundreds of refugees that had abandoned their own villages up in the surrounding hills, when they became under attack from Greek Cypriot guerilla fighters, and turned up on their doorstep. Yet, not once, did the Erenköy villagers considered surrendering.
“Reading and translating the details of how my fellow villagers managed to survive during those years, has left a deep imprint on my psyche that will stay with me forever.”
You can order the book online from publisher Troubador, or pick up a copy from any major bookshop, including Waterstones, Foyles, W.H. Smiths, and Amazon.
About the author Nejla Clements
Nejla Clements is a retired teacher living in East London. She was born in Erenköy/Kokkina and spent the early part of her life in the village until her father’s work as a miner took the family to nearby Lefke where the Cyprus Mine Corporation (CMC) was based. In 1961, when she was aged fourteen, her family emigrated to Britain, where she has lived ever since.
During a sabbatical year a little under 20 years ago, she successfully completed a Master’s Degree in International Relations at the University of East Anglia. Her dissertation was on Turkey and the European Union. In 20002, she decided to embark on a PhD programme, penning a comprehensive essay titled ‘Turkey’s Foreign Policy and the Turkish Armed Forces’. Sadly, due to her husband becoming seriously ill, she was forced to abandon her studies to care for him.
A grandmother, Nejla and her husband James love tending to their garden and travelling. The Battle of Kokkina is her first book.
Main photo top: Erenköy/Kokkina’s top shooter İhsan Hulusi (left) with his helper Nedim Behaettin (surname now Osmanlilar), who was aged just 16, defending the village in 1974. Photo © The Battle of Kokkina (2018)