Secrets shared by an olive grove
The stories of seven people through time are linked by the olive groves of Terra in a new book. Alix Norman talks to the London-based Cypriot who wrote it, and why the region is important to him
Terra, Cyprus. 330 BC The branches shielded his face from the scorching sun. Olivier. All he could see were rows of olive trees …
This is the start of Olive trees, a charming book that delves into and out of the history of a small village: Terra, in the district of Paphos. From the story of a slave’s opening and escape from the Tamassos copper mines to the unrest of the 1950s, it’s a fictionalized tale of key moments in Cyprus history, seen through the eyes of seven different characters.
The common element in each story is the olive groves of Terra… In 330 BC, the slave Zeno wakes up and works among the trees. In 122 AD, a Roman governor died under olive trees, his gold coins scattered among the roots. In the year 688, Husayn uses an ancient coin discovered in the land of the olive grove as a talisman. And in 1957, a policeman embarks on a night raid from the groves of his house in Terra.
“The stories are united by the olive groves,” says author Akin Yilmaz, whose family comes from Terra. “Each story centers on the village and the olive trees are an integral part of each character in one way or another. And, I guess, for me too: although I was born and raised in the UK, my ancestors lived in Terra for centuries… ”
Olive trees is Akin’s first book, a foray into the world of words for a man who “works with numbers during the day!” I’m the CFO of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, ”the 53-year-old London-based man explains,“ and so the book was written in my spare time, evenings and weekends – motivated by my fascination. with the village of Terra, and my own past.
“Two years ago,” he reveals, “one of my birthday gifts was a DNA test kit. The results intrigued me: I had ancestors from all over the eastern Mediterranean region, including Albania. I started researching my family tree and discovered that my family had been based in Terra for centuries: generations of ancestors dating back to the dawn of time. My father was born in the village, as were my grandfather and my great-grandfather. My great-great-grandfather married an Albanian whose family had been exiled by the Ottomans to the nearby village of Akourdaleia in the 1840s… ”
Although Akin remembers little of his childhood visits to Terra – “my clearest memory is riding a donkey around the village” – he has visited ever since. When the checkpoints opened in 2008, he left for the day; “I saw the village water fountain built by my great-grandfather; visited the olive groves and the house where my father was born. And I was supposed to come back this year, but Covid made the trip impossible. I can’t wait to go back, ”he sighs. “It’s such a wonderful place for me, with a very personal history.
This personal story is referenced more than once in the book. “The last two stories are actually based on actual events,” reveals Akin. “The penultimate story is seen through the eyes of my five-fold great-grandfather, a former sergeant of the Janissary Corps. He retired from the service to work in his olive groves, “reveals Akin,” rediscovering the ancient Venetian water source and luring people into the empty village by having the whole place reclassified as a farm – which, in the end. ‘era, meant that Terra became a tax-free for all residents.
“And the final story is about the time my father spent with the Cypriot police working under the British,” he adds. “The raid on the monastery – it happened. The murder of a colleague, it’s true. It was a difficult time, “he adds,” which ended with my father leaving the island for a new life in London “.
Stay away from politics – “there is no other goal here than a deep love for my father’s village and for Cyprus as a whole; we are all Cypriots, ”says Akin – and delving into key moments in history, Olive trees is a man’s tribute to Terra. It’s not perfect in terms of language – little self-publishing effort meets the exacting standards we expect from international publishers – but it’s appealing nonetheless; each story an enchanting glimpse of the past.
“Each moment was chosen to reflect a point of historical significance for the island,” says Akin. “So we have the reign of Alexander, the Romans, the joint reign of the Arabs and the Byzantines, the time of the Crusaders, the invasion of the Ottomans, and finally a time of urgency which still haunts the island today. And each was inspired by different things …
“The first chapter, which takes place during the reign of Alexander the Great, was inspired by an article about the slaves in the copper mines of Tamassos: what if one of these slaves had escaped and found the way from Terra? What would have been the consequences for the inhabitants of the village?
“In chapter five, the story is based on a real person, Giovanni Synglitico, whose grandfather received Terra from the then king. His father was Viscount of Nicosia and his uncle was commander of the Venetian army, but when the Ottomans took Nicosia the records died out. I imagined what could have happened to Giovanni as he ran to escape death… ”
Each story, Akin adds, has been meticulously researched. “The first were based on historical data; I corresponded with the Archaeological Museum of Nicosia to find out how long the area had been inhabited and what artifacts had been found in the area. The latter were based on a family anecdote; I spent hours talking to my father – he described the events then as if they happened yesterday… ”
Released in July and currently available on Amazon and via Kindle, Olive trees has already gathered quite a few followers. “We have sold copies all over the world, UK, US, Germany,” Akin concludes. “I’m just happy that such a personal project resonates with readers. And may it draw the world’s attention to Terra – and its olive groves. “
Les Oliviers is available from Amazon, both as a paperback and as a Kindle edition