The Ghost Town of Cyprus: Roys Poyiadjis Tells His Witness Account of the 1974 Turkish Invasion
When Roys Poyiadjis returned to his primary school on a recent trip to Famagusta, Cyprus, he was surprised and touched to find the same wooden student desks where he sat in class 38 years before. They were piled in a dusty corner unused since the school was evacuated in 1974.
“I asked if I could take one home even offered to buy it,” said Poyiadjis. “But the guard refused to speak with me. Instead, I walked around the soccer fields where we used to play. My school was right by the Varosha district. I looked over the fence for awhile and then I left Famagusta to return to the Greek Cypriot areas. ”
Once a vibrant tourist town and destination for stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Bridgette Bardot, and Richard Burton, Famagusta is now under self-declared rule by the Turkish Cypriots.
“Bombing and Evacuation”
Guards still stand throughout Famagusta 38 years after the Turkish invasions of Cyprus on July 20, 1974 and August 14, 1974 the days that led to Turkish control of northern occupied Cyprus. Varosha, the once-beautiful main tourism district in the city, is a ghost town, fenced off, barred, and guarded. No one has been allowed in or out of that district since 1974.
The evacuation fell on Poyiadjis’ ninth birthday. “I remember waking up and there were soldiers rushing around,” he says. “I went out on the balcony and asked my mother what was going on. She said simply, ‘War.’”
The Poyiadjis family left Famagusta in their car - taking only a few loaves of bread and clothing items. “My father wanted to go to the hospital to give blood for the soldiers, but my mother begged him not to go,” remembers Poyiadjis. “As we were driving away from the city, we saw sparks and flames.
lighting the sky. The Turks had bombed the Famagusta hospital with napalm bombs and lit it on fire. There were a lot of machine guns and soldiers running around.”
Greek Cypriots like the Poyiadjis family left the city in droves that day, and in the weeks that followed many more were forced by Turkish soldiers to leave the entire area of northern occupied Cyprus. The number of Greek Cypriot refugees from this area is estimated at 200,000 displaced persons. It wasn’t until 2003 that these people were even allowed to cross the buffer zone into northern occupied Cyprus.
Roys Poyiadjis, his parents, and his two brothers settled into a refugee camp near the Dhekelia area. Just two months after they left Famagusta, Roys’ father took the bright nine-year-old to sit for academic exams and helped him apply for Athens College, a prestigious, all-boys boarding school.
Roys was one of 30 refugee children to win a full scholarship. He left Dhekelia for Athens College, but his family remained in the camp for two years before renting a home in a nearby village.
“It was good to get out of Cyprus,” says Poyiadjis of his 48-hour boat journey to Athens College, “The school offers a great education, but I was nine years old and far away from my parents. We went home at Christmas, Easter, and the summer, but that was it.”
Poyiadjis’ situation was not unique as a number of children from refugee families ended up being sent away to school after fleeing their homes.
Bambos Papageorgiou, now a Member of Parliament in Cyprus, was Poyiadjis’ schoolmate and friend at Athens College. He, too, was a refugee of northern occupied Cyprus, and fled his family’s orange farm at age eleven.
“We couldn’t go home. We stayed in someone’s house in a poor village,” said Papageorgiou. “It was best for kids like myself to be sent to a good school instead.”
But going away to a “good school” wasn’t always the answer. After three years at Athens College, Roys Poyiadjis was struggling: He missed his family, and – although he was bright – he had trouble reading and writing – a problem that would later be attributed to dyslexia.
Poyiadjis spent time on the track to ease the pain of missing his family and struggling with school. He and the other students were sometimes allowed to go into town with a guardian, but it wasn’t enough. “Most of the time I felt like I was in jail,” he recalls. “I missed my family, and school was hard because I was dyslexic and no one understood what that was at the time.”
Eventually, Poyiadjis left Athens College and returned to his family in the village of Ormidia.
He finished junior school there. After that, he moved with his family to Larnaca before serving his mandatory time in the Cyprus Armed Forces and later attending University of Kent and the London Business School.
Today, Roys Poyiadjis is an entrepreneur and financier who divides his time between London, New York, and Cyprus, where his extended family lives.
He devotes significant amounts of his time to supporting neuroscience research. He is still very close to his old friend Bambos Papageorgiou, who stayed at Athens College another five years. “In a way, we were lucky,” Papageorgiou said, reflecting on his time as a refugee. “We became very strong characters, and that was a good thing, I think.”
Although Roys Poyiadjis recently returned to Famagusta to visit, he has never been back to the home he fled in 1974. That home is located in Varosha, the once-popular tourist district that is now a fenced-in ghost town.
Nobody has been permitted inside the district since the invasion, and it has been under heavy guard ever since. Presumably, items remain as they were 38 years ago: dishes in sinks, now-vintage 1974 vehicles in car dealership windows, and a construction cranes left idle. Poyiadjis heard that lights left on were visible at night for months until they burned out. Because Varosha can be viewed from the fence, people can see the buildings crumbling, the sidewalks cracked and overgrown, and broken glass from looting.
Although the European Commission on Human Rights found Turkey guilty of repeated violations against the Greek Cypriot refugees, it wasn’t until 1999 - 25 years after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus - that the United Nations attempted negotiations between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the Annan Plan.
The plan would return Famagusta to the Greek Cypriots, thus allowing people like the Poyiadjis family to return to their homes. The Annan Plan, however, has gone through many negotiations with no settlement - Varosha is still guarded. Roys Poyiadjis still wishes for a conclusion.
“Prior to the invasion, Famagusta was a wonderful town,” he says. “Now it’s completely isolated and was never returned to its lawful inhabitants. It’s been 38 years now, and most people don’t even know about the effects of the invasion on Varosha.”
Although Poyiadjis wasn’t able to take a desk home during his trip, he did manage to get his picture taken standing next to them. He still hopes to return one day when the guards are gone. Until then, he keeps the picture as a reminder.
“I know the buildings in Varosha are crumbling from 38 years of decay,” says Poyiadjis, “They are probably beyond repair. But, I know we all want our homes returned to us anyway, just so we can go back and remember for awhile.” — Copyright © Famagusta Gazette 2012 All comments are now moderated