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Our Films Still Unanble to Escape our Nationist Myths
I caught Golgeler ve Suretler (Shadows And Faces)at the Istanbul film festival a few days ago. I have enjoyed several films by the director Dervis Zaim. In short: On the human level Golgeler ve Suretler is a passable drama, but ultimately flawed by by falling back into Turkish nationalist myths about events on Cyprus.
The film is set in 1963, which is one of several point of violence in the history of Cyprus. As background, at this time Cyprus was just independent and there were complex negotiations to establish a government given the 80% Greek and 17% Turkish populations and Greece's and Turkey's own interests.
The film, as a human drama focuses on the inter-communal tensions, but as a result audiences miss the fact that the real tensions on Cyprus derived directly and almost entirely from factors outside of Cyprus, specifically in Athens and Ankara. Audiences will not appreciate a key and very important aspect of Cyprus, which is precisely that the ethnic Greek and Turks there in fact lived extremely well together in highly peaceful and tolerant atmosphere.
We know now that the first mosques blown up in 62-63 were blown up by Turkish security personnel from the mainland under orders from our Army then ruling Turkey in all but name.* Several Turkish Cypriot leaders (those advocating a untied Republic) were assassinated by the same Turkish forces. These atrocities were falsely blamed on the Greeks, setting off violent reprisals against Greek civilians, destruction of Churches, which in turn then set off bigger reprisals by Greeks.
As most who know the history of Cyprus know, ultimately, in the mid-1970's, the Greek government in Athens, then a US-backed military dictatorship attempted a full takeover of Cyprus, resisted actually by the Greek Cypriots, but nonetheless triggered a full scale invasion by Ankara's generals, which catastrophised the entire country, including the Turkish Cypriots Ankara was claiming to "protect." There is another problem, at the level of dramatic portrayal. The characters are more than unbalanced. EG Greek Cypriot characters in the film are run the range of good to totally evil, and Turkish Cypriot characters run from the good to the good.
I think the acting by Hazar Erguclu (Rushar) is particularly good. And that character of the young daughter is quite well fleshed out. Many of the other characters though are caricatures, quite frankly as thin as the two dimensional shadow puppets one of the lead characters works with. For example Uncle Veli, who is a Turkish Cypriot town leader, who has a good relationship with the Greek Cypriots, is portrayed as hopelessly naive. The character of young hot headed Turk-hating Greek "Thanassi" is an absurdly shallow lumping of every stereotype in Turkey against Greeks.
In Turkey we are just barely climbing out of the pervasive ultra-nationalist and xenophobic haze of the past 90 years. In this nationalist narrative all our neighbors and our own minorities past and present are all enemies and traitors. One would have thought we had reached a point in Turkey were a more truthful and balanced film could be made. Dervis Ziam film at times moves one baby step in that direction, but overall falls back to repeating myths.
Lastly, I am very interested in this period as while I am from mainland Turkey, my wife is Turkish Cypriot and the stories she tells are utterly different than the narrative I was educated in. She tells of cooperation, friendship, integration and respect between Turks and Greeks on Cyprus. She tells of her people then and now wanting a a single Cyprus not under Greece or Turkey. That is the real voice of these beleaguered people.
I look forward when our directors can be a bit more courageous about our history.
* On our military's bombing of our mosques in order to blame the Greek Cypriots and set the Cyprus conflict in motion, google "Yirmibeşoğlu" (the Turkish three star general General who participated in ordering the secret bombings) as well as "Bayraktar" and "Ömeriye" mosques. The revelations came early in 2011. There are already some scholarly articles confirming it as well as confirmation in our more sober press. The event was essentially a repeat of when our Turkish government secretly bombed Ataturk's birthplace and blamed Greeks triggering wide-scale violent riots against the remaining Greek in Turkey in the 1950's (see wikipedia "Istanbul Pogrom")
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