This is a history of forgetting, of my father’s unravelling mind, the memories blanketed by a fog of emptiness, but also of the willed forgetting that each generation of Turkish Cypriots have enacted, erasing and retelling the path as they attempt to forge a new identity that will enable them to survive as a community. And this is a history of ignorance, my ignorance, the things I didn’t save from furnace of time and death, and how little I understand the objects that did survive. It is an ignorance that I am still in the process of disentangling and illuminating, both through archives and libraries. Excavating my own heritage and family history.
I am ambivalent about that ignorance. I was brought up to see ignorance as a mark of shame, something to be overcome. I was supposed to come first in the class. I came second once and my father said, ‘My father used to beat me if I didn’t come first, but we are modern, I won’t beat you for it.’ He was very disappointed though. He used to like to test me, times tables, flags, my favourite was being tested on the capitals of the world. I liked the sounds of all those names.
There were the tricky ones like Australia (Canberra), USA (Washington) Turkey (Ankara) where I had to remember that the first cities, Sydney, New York, Istanbul were not the capitals; easy ones like Mexico City, Brasilia, Luxembourg, Djibouti, and then there were cities with names like jewels: Luanda (Angola), Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo), Asmara (Eritrea), Bamako (Mali), Lusaka (Zambia), whose names I learnt by heart but couldn’t always locate on the map. It was a game I thought I enjoyed at the time. It thrilled me to have earned his attention, and approval when I got it right. I was supposed to grow up to work at the United Nations and solve the Cyprus Problem. But now if someone asked the capital of… I’d seize up; I’d say I don’t know before they’d finished the question. Am I forgetting too? Or is it just the sense of being a disappointment, not working at the United Nations, having failed to solve the Cyprus Problem?