A true confrontation

My first encounter with Aliye was after a reading organised by the Literary Agency Cyprus at the Rustem Bookshop in north Nicosia.

At the time, Aliye had read a passage of her theatre script “The Missing” which is due to be performed to a Greek Cypriot audience at the central stage of the Satiriko Theatre on Monday.

Already in full swing at the Nicosia Turkish Municipal Theatre since the middle of September and having just returned from a tour in Istanbul, little did I know that the result of the text Aliye had meticulously read at the time is a true confrontation of the humanitarian issue of missing persons which as she denotes, cannot be accomplished through identification.

Setting the plot through three generations; a grandfather, a woman and a young man, Aliye explains that it is also through characters borrowed from Shakespeare’s Hamlet that she was able to combine post war realities, with Hamlet’s essence: searching for the meaning of life and death.

“I tried to do this through generations, you have a grandfather, a woman (daughter or daughter-in-law) and a son, but I choose concepts not characters with names,” clarifies Aliye Ummanel, writer, director, poet and dramaturge, as she admits that what she initially sought for in order to approach the matter was a common ground.

“Pain is common. War and post war situations are common and this somehow unites people. I believe art is the best way to find what is common and human; a way in which you can find a humanistic approach without any political identities such as nationalism, or without any religious identities, without any identity that is capable of separating people,” says Aliye.

Through three generations; a grandfather who has witnessed the war, a woman who also witnessed the war but who was younger and remembers less and a son who hasn’t witnessed the war but is affected by the war as a member of the post war generation, the concepts of each character reveal a common truth.

“I’m doing this by not using any names, I don’t use any names of places, I don’t identify the time period… I try to make it human and universal because this is a common matter for all societies who have experienced war and post war eras,” says Aliye.

Subtitled in Greek, the Turkish play has already seen a Greek Cypriot audience in the north, yet Aliye’s dream to materialise the play in the south and perform for both audiences was instigated by people of the Satiriko Theatre who are hosting the event.

And however delicate the subject matter maybe, the reaction from all audiences seems to be defined as one, all are moved. “Up until now, what I’ve experienced through the reactions of the audience is that we are the same (Greek and Turkish Cypriots). We both have empathy; there is the same reaction at the end of the performance: we talk outside the theatre, I see their eyes are wet, and I see them exchanging ideas,” says Aliye, “it’s very moving.”

Aliye went on to describe one of the most moving occasions when her father and some of their neighbours who migrated from south to north attended the performance along with some Greek Cypriot friends of Aliye who had migrated from the north to the south. “As they were exchanging ideas and feelings after the performance, my Greek Cypriot friend explained that my father was talking to him (in Greek) and that his accent was something that was left in their childhood,” a manner of speaking of yesteryear, a Cypriot that has changed throughout the years. A nostalgic moment for all those present as Aliye said.

The inspiration

Aliye has experienced, witnessed and lived with people who have been affected by missing persons, and that’s where she began drawing inspiration from. “I began experiencing what they were going through and trying to understand them. Of course, I was an outsider looking in, but because I loved these people I was also feeling things deeply within me. Although I could feel the emotional side, there were contractions because I was looking at things from a distance.”

But Aliye soon grasped her own experience on the matter, as a member of a post war era, and assimilated her experience and that of her generation and using the missing persons as a concrete issue, she began connecting what was also missing from her generation. “I realised I could use this as a metaphor, which was closer to me, that was more about what I was experiencing directly,” admits Aliye.

Contemplating ideas such as ‘What is our own generation missing? Is that (war) generation missing itself? What are they missing? and putting forward potential reasoning such as the lack of hope or the ambiguity towards the future, Aliye explains that she tried to make a connection between the two, those who lived the war and those who didn’t, and used Hamlet as an instrument to guide her.

“I try to show their perspectives about war, missing people, how they react, about digging up the missing persons and reburying them and what the meaning of this is for all of them. Yet I can also say that throughout the play, I am searching for a meaning for everything,” says Aliye and hence the use of Hamlet.

Yet this isn’t a story solely about Greek and Turkish Cypriots. “Of course I begin from there because it is my own reality, I was born here (Famagusta), but I try to make it universal and I try to purvey things in a way that we can understand each other… so that Turkish Cypriots can understand Greek Cypriots and vice-versa,” adds Aliye.

By abstaining from revealing any identity, this is, estimates Aliye, feasible. She proposes that the humanist approach she uses to address the matter makes it easier to build a bridge between the societies affected. “We need a true confrontation that isn’t made through identities that separate people, I believe it’s made through what is common and what is human and we need to remember that.”

In any case, Aliye’s responsibility, along with her team is a delicate yet important one. As Aliye said, the relatives of missing persons will come and see the play too. But it’s also about instigating dialogue between the old and the new, the experienced and the not experienced, the war and post war, the yesterday and the tomorrow, the now and the then.

“The Missing” will be performed at the Satiriko Theatre Central Stage on Monday January 19 at 8.30pm.

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About Melissa Hekkers

I am freelance journalist and author, who has frequently been featured in mainstream news outlets and other publications in Cyprus. Recently, I've been focusing on developing my writing, promoting my own books and teaching creative writing to children and adults. My most recent publication (2020) - Amir's Blue Elephant- pushes the boundaries of creative non-fiction, and recreates the moments that marked me the most, whilst volunteering in refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece, and during her ongoing involvement with the refugee community in Cyprus. In 2018 I published My Capre Greco Mandala which is the third in a series, an interactive colouring book about the biodiversity of the Cape Greco peninsula in Cyprus. My Akamas Mandala, the second in the series, is a colouring book inspired by the variety of endemic plants found on the Akamas Peninsula. In 2016, I published My Nicosia Mandala, the first of the above series, an innovative, interactive colouring book about the historic fortifications of the old town of Nicosia. I also focuses on silenced communities in Cyprus: I writes about migrants and refugees, both as a reporter and a features writer; I profile them and teach them creative writing skills. In 2007, soon after graduating with a Communications degree, I published my first children’s book in both English and Greek entitled Crocodile, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award. In 2012, I launched my second children’s book Flying across Red Skies (in English and Greek), using an experimental approach to literature, for which I was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. My third, similarly well-received children’s book was Pupa (Greek and English), published in 2014. In between the last two books, I published my first free-verse poetry book entitled Come-forth. In 2019 she was contributing author to the anthology Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices from a Divided City, published by Saqi Books, London