President Tatar, Vice-President Oktay attend gala for premiere of TV drama Bir Zamanlar Kıbrıs

Turkish Cypriots hosted a special gala event for the television debut of historical drama series Bir Zamanlar Kıbrıs/ Once Upon a Time in Cyprus, which stars leading Turkish actors Ahmet Kural, Pelin Karahan, Serkan Çayoğlu, and Tayanç Ayaydın.

The cast and the Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay jetted in for the occasion earlier this evening, joining Ersin Tatar, the President of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), First Lady Sibel Tatar, Prime Minister Ersan Saner, and many other dignitaries who attended the event at the Rauf Raif Denktaş Culture and Congress Centre in Gazimağusa/Famagusta.

Only 250 people were permitted into the 900-capacity auditorium due to coronavirus restrictions, where they watched the television debut of Bir Zamanlar Kıbrıs on Turkish state broadcaster TRT 1.

Written by Emre Özdür and Başar Başaran, and directed by Hakan İnan, and billed as “lives lost, love torn apart, and the struggle for existence’, the hard-hitting drama is set at the start of the Cyprus Conflict on the eve of 21 December 1963.

The first episode opens with happy family scenes during the day followed by a fun Turkish wedding in the evening, where the main cast are introduced.

The atmosphere quickly changes as members of Greek Cypriot terror group EOKA are shown preparing for their brutal attack against Turkish Cypriots. One man paints ‘Enosis’ (union with Greece) on the wall of a mixed neighbourhood near the wedding.

When Veli, a harmless intellectually impaired Turkish Cypriot, stumbles across their night-time plans and sees them smuggling guns, he is brutally stabbed to keep him from blabbing. A Greek Cypriot who speaks out against the murder of this vulnerable man is also killed.

Twenty-four hours later the same protagonists, goaded by EOKA head Georgios Grivas and Nicos Sampson, start a killing spree against Turkish Cypriots across the island.

Known as ‘Bloody Christmas’, the period is graphically captured in the nearly 2.5 hour long episode. Defenceless Turkish Cypriot men, women and children are gunned down in their homes and as they tried to escape their EOKA attackers, who then set fire to their homes to stop from survivors from returning.

With their Greek Cypriot neighbours refusing to intervene to help, either due to their support of EOKA’s mission or for fear of reprisals, the remaining Turkish Cypriots choose to flee, some making their way to nearby caves in a bid to find refuge.

The debut of the drama series, on 1 April, coincided with the anniversary of the first attacks by EOKA back in 1955, which led to a period known as the Cyprus Emergency.

The show trended on social media afterwards, with many praising its high production values, the acting and the opportunity to document this lesser-known, yet vital period in Cyprus’ recent history.

There was criticism too, at the lack of Turkish Cypriot actors in the lead roles and that the actors talked in a Turkish, not Turkish Cypriot accent. There were historical and cultural errors too, not least the playing of Dillirga at the wedding, which while inspired by the brave 1964 defence of Erenköy, wasn’t penned by Turgay Salim for another 15 years.

First episode of Bir Zamanlar Kıbrıs

The first series of Bir Zamanlar Kıbrıs will run for sixteen episodes, and will be broadcast on TRT 1 every Thursday. The programme is also available on YouTube.