The day my family fled Famagusta

Forty years on, lawyer Maria Hadjivasili, who escaped with her family, revisits her home town with author Victoria Hislop

Mail on Sunday, October 12 by Victoria Hislop For “You”

Maria Hadjivasili: "What happened in 1974 totally altered the course of my family's life"
Maria Hadjivasili: “What happened in 1974 totally altered the course of my family’s life”

Maria Hadjivasili has the easy, relaxed glamour of a successful professional woman in her 50s. Divorced with a grown-up daughter, she runs her own law practice in Nicosia. Our paths first crossed earlier this year when I was on a research trip to Cyprus and I was captivated by her story of an idyllic childhood cut short. Her life followed a completely different path than the one she had imagined in 1974 at the age of 17, before conflict divided her island.

‘I thought I was going to become an artist, get married, have children and have a calm, easy life, going to the beach every day,’ she reflects. ‘But what happened in 1974 totally altered the course of my family’s life.’

Maria grew up in 1960s Famagusta, then one of the most glamorous and sophisticated seaside resorts in the Mediterranean. The beach, with its famously pale sand and turquoise sea, was lined with luxury hotels that attracted millionaires and celebrities such as Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot and Paul Newman. Nearly half of the island’s hotel rooms were in the town, which was also home to Cyprus’s main port.

Today, however, glamour and wealth have given way to decay and the main tourist area – a quarter known as Varosha – is an uninhabited ghost town, its port a Turkish military zone, a no-go area fiercely guarded by the Turkish army.

Forty years ago Maria’s home was abandoned when the family fled the invading Turkish forces – sewing was left half-finished on the kitchen table, food abandoned to rot in cupboards, jewellery to languish in drawers and clothes in wardrobes, gardens to overgrow. It was a state of affairs repeated thousands of times over in Famagusta as 40,000 Greek Cypriot residents were forced to flee with only the clothes on their backs. (read the full story at the Mail Online)