Located within the salient that marks the southernmost extent of Northern Cyprus, the village of Akıncılar, or known affectionately by its old name, Lourijina, was once one of the largest and most populous Turkish Cypriot villages in Cyprus. In 1974, Louroujina was secured so as to remain within a contiguous Turkish Cypriot zone, which later became a part of Northern Cyprus. The United Nations Buffer Zone separates the Lourijina salient from the area controlled by the Republic of Cyprus. There Is now a tunnel which has been designed to enter the village without going through any army points. The village is now open to everyone, and there are many historic untouched buildings in this village.
Prior to 1960, Louroujina’s population was Turkish Cypriots with a Greek Cypriot minority. The Turkish Cypriots constituted a majority. The Greek Cypriots, who numbered about 100, left village under the orders of Greek Cypriot Archbishop and President at the time, Makarios, who encouraged Greek Cypriots to relocate to Greek Cypriot Villages. By 1973, almost 3000 Turkish Cypriots had taken shelter in Lourijina, which became one of the biggest enclaves for Turkish Cypriots under attack.
After the Turkish intervention of 1974, the majority were relocated in nearby villages; however, about 300 opted to stay, despite the advice of local authorities to relocate for security purposes, as the location of the village left the inhabitants within, vulnerable to unprecedented attack.
Today, Lourijina is home to 280 people- all of whom have resided there for generations.
As we drive through the country lanes which lead to the village, the breath taking views of the table top mountains somewhat bring a tranquillity to the surroundings- the endless fields, the centuries old olive trees, and the perfect, undisrupted nature which we have come to appreciate more and more as concrete jungles pop up in other regions of the TRNC.
One cannot ignore the derelict homes- abandoned and crumbling, many riddled with the bullet holes which chased away the families who once lived within them. And yet, it is those very structures which are now beautified by the jasmine and ivy which embraces the walls and doorways of the empty buildings- a comforting sweet scented perfume of flowers reassures one that life continued to flourish through the unstoppable phenomenon of nature, who refused the finality of death, and instead, produced life from the soil which absorbed the blood of those who fell on these lands.
Upon entering the village, the charming, humble surroundings are bound to bring a smile to the faces of those who visit. The traditional houses, the small coffee shop which is adorned with traditionally woven baskets which hang above a table which presents products made by the hands of the villagers- jams, preserves, zivania, olives and village bread. And as we continue on the road which leads to the village centre, the cleanliness of the village is striking. Not a single bottle, trash pile or rubbish of any sort can be found on the streets. The residents take great pride in keeping the streets as clean and tidy as they do their homes, which is a wonderful sight to see!
Just before the road turns off into the village centre, a sign post to the left reads “captured tanks”. Our curiosity leads us to the top of a mountain which overlooks the village, where two rusty tanks and a fort remains untouched. At this point, we decide that we cannot leave the village until we learn the story behind the tanks- which are obviously not the property of Turkish Cypriots, as they have crucifixes painted in white to the side of them!
Lourijina is certainly renowned for many things. The most prominent common characteristic is hospitality and kindness. One only has to speak to the locals, who share their memories of life in the past to understand why the culture of hospitality and kindness is so prevalent in their community today. “We were all poor prior to 1974, so we helped each other. We shared what we had- we ate together, and if we starved, we starved together” explains Raziye Kansel, who was quick to welcome us and offer some much needed respite from the blazing afternoon sun.
Despite the struggles of the era she refers to, it’s obvious that the hardship did not extinguished the twinkle in her eyes and generosity of her heart as she invites us into her humble coffee shop and eagerly brings us drinks. “It’s very hot today- you must drink something. Have you eaten?”
It takes a while to convince this sweet lady that the cold water she had brought to the table was a perfect accompaniment to what was certainly to be an insightful visit. Raziyes husband, Beha Kansel, welcomes us as we sit down and begin asking questions about the village and the many empty homes. He says “A lot of people were moved on and placed into nearby villages or to Lefkoşa. Until recently, people had to go through check points to come to the village, so a lot of people stopped bothering to come here. But since the road opened up which leads directly into the village, we are hoping that people will return- especially the younger generation of Lourijina’s people”
Soon after, other locals begin to come and join the conversation- as we sit back and listen to them chatting among themselves, their conversations flow from Turkish into Greek with such fluidity that one who may not be familiar with the differences between Turkish to Greek could easily assume they’re speaking a single language!
An older lady, Muazez, explains that there were particularly happy times in the village which included traditions that are still observed today. She talks of the clay ovens used to bake bread, which would fill the air with the most wonderful, appetising aromas. The season of harvesting grapes- perfectly ripened and sweet- some of which were eaten fresh, but many of which were used to make wine and zivania. The freshly made hellim which she says were irrisistable when first made- still warm from the pot, which would almost melt in the mouth. Referring to the hospitality of the village, she says “We still welcome people like this because this is the only way we know. This is what we saw growing up, and this has become our way, our normality”.
Beha’s brother Osman soon pops in, and settles down with the group, along with Raziye and Beha’s son, Hasan Kansel, their Nephew, Hüseyin Kansel, their neighbour, İbrahim Akandere, and neighbour Hasan Türk.
We learn that İbrahim Akandere was a commander of the village resistance who had the daunting task of protecting the civilians in the village between 1960-1974. We ask if he knows of any information regarding the tanks overlooking the village. He explains “Those tanks were originally sold to Egypt from Russia. The Egyptians at the time had changed the engines from petrol engines to diesel before selling them on to the Greek Cypriots. The tanks were used within this region, especially in surrounding villages which is why so many fled and came here (to Lourijina). This village wasn’t equipped to feed and home so many people, but we did what we could, shared what we could, and although many, many people died (especially the vulnerable like children and elderly), many survived. When Turkey intervened, The Greeks who had used the tanks abandoned them. So along with the other men in the resistance, we captured the tanks and brought them to the village. We didn’t have weapons or ammunition to use with the tanks, but we took them anyway and placed them there on top of the mountain. We built a fort nearby to keep watch over the village, but thankfully, very soon after the intervention, we were safe and secure. Now, they remain there as a symbol of our unfortunate recent history”
The conversation quickly turns to positive experiences which manifested from unfortunate circumstances, as the locals sat among us began talking about how rare it was to have meat to eat, and the occasions it was available was described as a celebration enjoyed by all. Smiles and laughter filled the room as they described the smells, taste and texture of the slowly cooked lamb which was seasoned very simply, and cooked for several hours with onions and potatoes which would disintegrated in the mouth. They insist that the method used to make this delightful dish, and the perfect timing of the cooking meant that “nowhere in the whole of Cyprus makes it the way Lourijina can make it!”
We asked about their view of the future of Lourijina. Beha says “I don’t know, but it would be nice if we can do something about these empty homes. Because a lot of people moved on, they are just left there, but we cannot touch them either because they still legally belong to the original residents. I hope to see some sort of investment here, hopefully the new road which leads into the village will be the start of something for us- and maybe our younger generation will return to the land of their parents and ancestors. This is such a lovely place to live. It’s natural, peaceful, and we welcome visitors. Perhaps you can convince outsiders to come visit us here? We enjoy new company!”
The village is as original and traditional as you can find in North Cyprus. Both the landscape and the people truly capture the essence of everything Turkish Cypriot. The kindness and warmth of the people is endearing, and rare to find in this day and age to such a scale where an entire village shares common and deep rooted hospitality and genuine graciousness. Residents and swallows alike are invited and welcome to visit the village of Akıncılar. It is a mere 18km from Ercan Airport. One can only appreciate the charm of the village’s original features, food and of course, the locals, if you visit and experience it for yourself.
Left to right, (standing): Hasan Türk, Hasan Kansel, Beha Kansel, Hüseyin Kansel, Raziye Kansel
Left to right (sitting) Muazez Keskinel, İbrahim Akandere, Osman Kansel
By Serpil Kadirlar