THE potential return of Maronite Cypriots to their ancestral villages in the north-west is a an exciting prospect. I for one would welcome these industrious, creative and sociable people, who were unwitting victims of the 1974 divide.
The Turkish Cypriots certainly have no quarrel with the Maronites; Catholics who originally came from Lebanon. In spite of their religious differences, there is in fact much evidence of inter-marriage in the past, which created truly mixed villages.
Following an invitation from President Akıncı, it is hoped that hundreds of them may retake their ancestral homes in Ayia Marina, Asomatos and Karpasha. There’s an awful lot of work to be done before that can become reality, but I note one delicous irony: the GC side naturally don’t want it, but by the law of unintended consequences, they may end up paying towards it.
The South set up a scheme to encourage Greek Cypriots to resettle in the Karpaz, offering 50 per cent of the cost of restoring their old homes. As fellow citizens of the Republic, 150 canny Maronites have taken advantage and received money to rebuild their places in Koruçam (Kormakitis), the one village which has remained open to them since ’74.
Now more of them are preparing to claim Greek Cypriot funds to increase their presence in the North, bringing their ideas and investment with them. If the South tries to block them, I have no doubt a call to Human Rights will quickly put them straight.
I DON'T usually drink before breakfast – honest -- so it was a slightly odd to be slurping a glass of red in the hills below Bellapais early on Wednesday morning.
It reminded me of night shifts back in the Eighties at London’s LBC radio. On Friday mornings, our little team would invariably end up at the Fox and Anchor in Smithfield Market, jostling for a table with meat porters in their bloodied aprons. Bacon and egg, steak and chips, sausages and black pudding (sometimes all of them) washed down with a pint or two of Guinness.
On one occasion, I can just remember still being at the same table for lunch, but otherwise there was a guilty pleasure about rolling home on the train, against the tide of commuters just pouring in to start their day.
In those days, such establishments were supposed to cater exclusively for market workers, but there wasn’t a journalist in London worth his salt who didn’t know how to get a drink “out of hours” and places like the Fox looked on us media types fairly benevolently. We had at least been working overnight. The fun’s gone out of it with the relaxation of the licensing laws in the UK. I notice the latest version of our Friday morning feast is now dubbed the City Boy Breakfast and will set you back 20 quid. Seems they’ll let anyone in these days.
Anyway, I got a lovely Full English on Wednesday, but only after toiling in the vineyard to help my friends from Bellapais Gardens Hotel and Restaurant bring in the wine harvest: 25 crates of shiny black little Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
The vines run alongside the Crusader Road, a pathway snaking down to Ozanköy. Boosted by winter rains and shielded from the summer sun by a wall of white and pink bougainvillea, they have produced their best crop since they were first planted in 2000.
Hotelier Sabri Abit, his partner Sara and ourselves toasted the new arrivals with a glass of the Bellapais Gardens own-label 2013 vintage, the first we had helped with. As the Beatles said, it’s getting better all the time, and we very much look forward to sampling the results of this week’s effort. I’ve told Sabri I reckon I collected at least half a dozen bottles-worth! To make this task all the easier, he is opening a new wine bar in the village later this month.
On the international success of their hotel and restaurant, Sabri and his family, led by his nephews Erkan and Selim, have been buying up as much empty land as they can in the valley below. Thank God they have. They are steeped in tradition and rightly believe that their village has a special place in the history of Cyprus, not to be defiled by development.
If it wasn’t for their dedication, there’s little doubt the concrete pumps would be in there, wiping out a thousand years of history with their infernal machines. You couldn’t rely on the weak and ineffectual Antiquities Department to prevent it.
Instead, the Bellapais Gardens family plant more vines, more olives and more fruit trees. They are also proud to be part of a 5,000-year-old tradition of wine-making in Cyprus, a tradition which looks as if it is about to enjoy a resurgence.
Tomorrow I’ll be at a very different wine tasting. It’s a new name on the label and a new world for wine lovers to explore. The Etel Winery is a remarkable venture by local company Eurocoast. They have planted more than 10,000 vines, especially imported from Israel, on a 40-dönüm plot in Ilgaz, where they plan to produce 50,000 to 70,000 bottles of wine per year. To put this into context, Bellapais Gardens’ plot holds 660 vines.
Lin Gold, a noted winemaker who has produced award-winning wines in France, Australia and Israel, has been drafted in to oversee production and the maintenance of the vineyards. We won’t see the results of Etel’s work uncorked for at least another year, but for their launch they will be offering samples of their Israeli wine, which, they say, has been grown in virtually identical conditions.
It’s an ambitious project and a long way from the basic offerings we used to contend with. I hope it marks another step in the growth and ultimate acceptance of North Cyprus. Cheers!
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