By Tunay Hussein
Tottenham Park Cemetery-Turkish Cypriot Graves
This article has been published with kind permission of the author and Suzanne Nuri Nixon, who tells the story of her uncle Ozgul.
Tottenham Park Cemetery on Montague Road, Edmonton is where many Turkish Cypriot families have buried their loved ones.
Tunay Hussein is the Chair of TPC, Montagu Road Forum.
Tunay: “Over the past year I have been researching the burial registers of Tottenham Park Cemetery, mainly because I am interested in social history but also to find out more about the missing graves. Several families have asked me to find evidence that their family members were buried at the cemetery because their memorials have disappeared without notice”.
Cyprus, a tiny island in the Mediterranean Sea, is the motherland for hundreds of thousands of Cypriots in the UK. In 2011 there were apparently at least 300,000 Turkish Cypriots living here, many of which probably live in London. Turkish Cypriots trickled to the UK from the 1920’s but it was after the Second World War that many more came seeking work and a better life for themselves and later for their children. Many of us will have our own personal stories of how our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles came over in ships, seeking employment and housing to start a new life. Once here the focus was on earning enough to survive and perhaps to send some money back to help relatives or elderly parents in Cyprus. It was to be far too expensive to travel back to see families they had left behind. My own father did not return until 20 years after leaving Cyprus in 1950. I accompanied him on that occasion and I still remember how emotional and pleased he was to return to his village Alaminyo and see old friends and family.
As you walk through Tottenham Park Cemetery you cannot help but notice the memorials with Turkish names, sometimes with the emblem of the crescent and star representing the Turkish flag and some with names of Cypriot villages the deceased identified with. ” Which village did your family come from?” is a familiar question when meeting and greeting new acquaintances. Each village had its own community, customs, history and identity but politics, wars and division have caused many Turkish Cypriots to also leave their villages in the south for the north. Many of those village names etched on the memorials are poignant reminders of bygone days and the turbulent history of the island.
When did the Turkish Cypriot community first begin to use this cemetery? There were very few cemeteries that provided spaces for Muslim burials in London prior to the 1970’s so the privately owned Tottenham Park Cemetery became an option out of necessity rather than the best choice. Researching the burial register I was able to pick out a handful of Turkish names from the late 1950’s. Sadly these were all children or babies. Whose children were they? Why did they die so young? We may never find out. However,the first adult names start appearing in the 1960’s along with Muslim names from the Asian community, and these records show that the funerals were often organised by Tasleem Ali, a familiar name, from the East London Mosque.
Unfortunately our community didn’t realise the extent to which older graves had been removed over decades to make way for newer burials until very recently. I have calculated that there were at least 48,000 burials since 1912. Assuming there are about 5,000-6,000 graves , it would seem there could be on average up to 7-8 bodies in each grave. May they all rest in peace.
We now need to be much more proactive as British Turks to establish our own new cemetery for the future.
Some weeks ago I suggested that we as a community should begin to record the life stories of our loved ones at the cemetery and I now have a few contributions which I would like to share. Also if you had relatives buried in Tottenham Park Cemetery who served in the British Army in either of the World Wars, I would like to document their stories too alongside the 40 war dead whose graves have disappeared.
Please send me your stories: [email protected]
Suzanne Nuri Nixon has kindly shared the story of her young uncle Ozgul Ziya buried at the cemetery.
My uncle Ozgul Ziya was 19 when he died in 1976. He had come to London from Cyprus for an operation to fix the hole in his heart, a condition he had since birth.
Ozgul was the second youngest of my mother’s siblings and together with his sister Inci were the last two children at my grandparents’ home. The others (bar one) scattered across the globe, with most relocating to Melbourne, Australia except my mother and her sister Aydogan.
I first met Ozgul on our first trip to Cyprus in 1972. I remember a happy, good looking guy. He was funny and fun. That summer I met many cousins and relatives but he was always one of my favourites. In a photo I have of him from that time, he is wearing a hat and a cheeky grin. I was behind the camera trying to make him laugh. I didn’t need to try very hard.
When he came to London, he along with my grandparents and assortment of aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives had gone through the war in 1974. I can’t imagine what this was like for them and even now I still hear new things about the experiences they went through. Inci told me once that before they had to leave their home in Arodez near Paphos to relocate to the north of the island, Ozgul wrote on a white wall in red letters ‘Burasi Turklerin’dir, geri verilmez’ (This is Turkish, it won’t be given back).
Ozgul in London was older and a bit more solemn than I remember, though he was a talented guy and he used to delight us by playing the saz, whistling along to the tune he was playing. He also made things like a wooden lampshade in the shape of a fish which had ‘Try me and see’ carved into it for Aydogan’s chip shop.
He stayed with Aydogan while in London but we frequently visited, as did we when he went into St George’s Hospital (based near Hyde Park corner at that time) for his operation. I remember visiting him there with my mum, who despite not liking driving, would daily visit him from south east London where we lived at the time.
Before his operation, I remember him being jokey and upbeat and he probably flirted with the nurses. But after the long operation, and despite it being a success, something had clearly changed and it was as if he lost the will to live. Mum said the nurses would say to him to get better so he could take them out, but to no avail.
The last time I saw him, I hung back in the room while my family trooped out after a visit. I so wanted to tell him, “Come on dayi, you can get better.” But I just didn’t know how to tell him (my Turkish language wasn’t so great and I stumbled over my words). So, I said nothing, just touched his hand and left. It haunted me for years, not telling him and I imagined if I had he might have lived.
I didn’t go to his funeral, it was something the adults did. But I did cry. His death was the first of anyone close to me. When I finally did go and visit his grave, located on the left hand side of the Tottenham Park Cemetery, I remember standing looking at his photo on the gravestone. But instead of feeling sad, I felt that he simply wasn’t there. His physical remains were but the energy and spirit of my beloved uncle were not. I looked up at the sky and thought wherever he is, I hope he is pain free and happy.
To say his death was a huge blow to my family is an understatement. While we can anticipate and prepare for the loss of an elderly relative, losing a young one is so hard. To this day I believe my family mourns the loss of such a young vibrant life.
Tunay Hussein Chair – TPCAG and Friends of Tottenham Park Cemetery
More information about the cemetery can be found on this Facebook link: TPC Montagu Road Forum.