Skip to content

‘Jasmine’ by Nora Nadjarian

    “… But the garden was not hers,
    she was told. Nor was the aroma,
    which lured and dared her to trespass.”

    ‘Jasmine’ by Nora Nadjarian (reproduced in full below, by kind permission of the poet)

    Nora Nadjarian‘s poem ‘Jasmine’ was written in 2003, twenty-nine years after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. It deals with issues of displacement and the insolubility of the Cypriot problem, both of which remain relevant to the Cypriot community today.[1] On the 15th of July 1974 a coup d’état by the Greek Army in Cyprus, the Cypriot National Guard, and the Greek military junta of 1967 forced the then president Makarios to flee his presidential office in the capital, Nicosia. In response to that, five days later, on the 20th of July, Turkey sent its military fleet to the northern part of the island, claiming it was acting in the interests of the Turkish community on the island that was threatened by the coup. The campaign lasted until the 18th of August 1974, by which time the Turkish army managed to capture one third of the island with little resistance, the national guard having its own internal conflicts to settle parallel to this. The combined loss of this conflict is estimated to be at over 5,000 lives, with about 2,000-3,000 others being registered as missing. Their bodies still being discovered and identified up to this day. In addition, approximately 200,000 Greek-Cypriots had to leave their homes in the North, while about 50,000 Turkish-Cypriots were also forced out of their houses in the South, as the island was split into two, making Nicosia the only remaining divided capital in Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall.[2]

    Visualising Peace in Cyprus

    A black-and-white figure of a woman. The background is separated by a line, in the top part there are jasmine florets surrounded by white shapes, while the bottom part depicts a gun, a helmet, and a guard post surrounded by black shapes.
    Artwork by Marios Diakourtis, April 2022

    She reached the line:
    the perfume, the white scent 
    leading her. Jasmine.

    It was her childhood again,
    visiting; like that small breath 
    of flowers from another’s garden 


    as she passed by, a child playing
    the fence railings like the harp.
    Come, come, the scent pulled her,


    Always. But the garden was not hers, 
    she was told. Nor was the aroma,
    which lured and dared her to trespass.
     

    Now, as she crossed the unstraight,
    the invisible, the impenetrable line,
    and as the blue-bereted soldier 


    watched her feet closely, eye-measuring
    the millimetres, and as his mouth 
    opened to call out HALT! 

    She was a child again, running, strong. 
    HALT! they called but she didn’t turn.
    Furious pages were missing in the book

    of her life. And, breathless, she thought 
    of the jasmine she was to find; the house 
    she was to see; the garden; the fence;

    and her father’s buried heart.

    Nadjarian situates her poem ‘Jasmine’ in the liminal space that physically separates one side of Cyprus from the other. As a refugee who has been forced out of her home but still lives on the same island, she embodies the bitter experience of all Cypriot refugees who have not entirely abandoned their country but must still face the bitterness of seeing their former home without being able to inhabit it.

    Like other poems dealing with displacement, Nadjarian’s vision of peace cannot exist independently from conflict. For refugees, the search for peace in a new place is often bound up with traumatic memories that trigger thought of all they have lost. Memory is an integral part of this poem, as the sensory element is employed to transport the persona across space and time. The smell of jasmine is distinctly associated with the narrator’s family home, and it represents both the pockets of peace which refugees are capable of finding, even as they face a plethora of practical issues, and a fantasy of a past peace which they cannot access anymore.

    The poem’s references to childhood play an important role. The narrator’s temporary return to childhood spells and hopes represents a fleeting, naïve optimism. The child whom the narrator encounters, ‘playing the fence railings like the harp’, sets realism against idealism: the real child in the poem (in contrast to the remembered childhood) is more accepting of the barriers now dividing Cyprus and treats them as part of their environment to play with. Many Cypriot refugees have died while hoping vainly for peace and reconciliation, imagining a grand return to their homes, their gardens, and their jasmine shrubs. Others have had to come slowly to the realisation that a diplomatic solution may not be reached within their lifetime.

    From the poem, it can be inferred that the narrator’s father is one of those people who died while still hoping for a return – or perhaps even as a victim of the conflict itself. The narrator herself is not so much hopeful as determined and rebellious. In the poem, she attempts to traverse the line that separates Turkish-occupied territory from the rest of Cyprus, entering the UN buffer zone which still exists today as a no-man’s land. The year this poem was written has significance, since 2003 was the year when some access points on the buffer zone were opened for the first time since 1974, allowing people to temporarily cross the ‘border’ and thus giving refugees the opportunity to see their old homes up close, albeit briefly. Though this did little to curb the bitterness felt by many Cypriots from both communities, the increased interaction between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots is a glint of hope gesturing towards the potential unification of the island. At present, as in the poem, blue-bereted soldiers continue to monitor all interactions – an indication of how fragile even this glimmer of peace is.   

    How does this poem help us visualise peace?

    It reminds us that peace is not simply a state or condition that prevails in the absence of ‘hot’ conflict. Refugees carry the trauma of war within them, and while they must create a new home for themselves in a new place, the peace they create rarely feels complete, nor does it feel permanent. They are often waiting for some kind of home-coming, whether that be a return to old places or the re-growth of bits of their lives which the conflict had shut down. Peace amid displacement involves the sweet anguish of intangible memories, and a process of learning to live with new borders and other people’s rules.

    However, this poem also teaches us how empowering it can be to remember past peace or visualise a more peaceful future. It energises the poem’s narrator. For people whose memories are full of exploding bombs and death, it is important to make space for the smell of jasmine in the garden, a symbol of harmony that – while sometimes barricaded and inaccessible – thrives as a precious memory in the minds of refugees, giving them hope for a peace that is yet to come, amid a conflict that is decades old.

    ‘…breathless, she thought 
    of the jasmine she was to find; the house 
    she was to see; the garden; the fence;
    and her father’s buried heart.’

    The imagined confrontation between the narrator and a blue-bereted UN peacekeeper, and the narrator’s need to override that peacekeeper’s attempt to stop her ‘crossing the line’, invites us to reflect on the different between ‘top-down’ peace keeping and the slow, difficult, intensely personal process of finding or making peace again as individuals after conflict. Peace amid displacement, this poem tells us, is about cycling between hope and nostalgia, naivety and realism, optimistic anticipation, and the ongoing trauma of loss.

    The illustration I created to accompany the poem highlights ideas of the boundary and division, as the figure is positioned against a flowery background on the top, while below, military paraphernalia populate the picture. Learning to live with those contrasting imageries always present has grown to be a casual part of the lives of people in Cyprus, as duality and division inform the new state of peace of the island. If you want to read more about my art, you might enjoy ‘Visualising Peace after Forced Displacement‘.

    What Do You Think?

    • What kinds of peace – if any – do you detect in Nadjarian’s poem? How sweet, and how bitter is it?
    • What does this poem teach us about where and when people can find or build peace?
    • What kinds of peace can be found or achieved by people who have been displaced, or by people who live in a seemingly insoluble political situation?
    • Does memory help people move on towards finding or building peace, or does the trauma it entails hinder it?

    If you enjoyed this item in our museum…

    You might also enjoy ‘The Ash that Travelled‘, ‘Lament for Syria‘, ‘Visualising Peace after Forced Migration‘ and other items with the tag ‘migration‘. 

    Marios Diakourtis, April 2022


    [1] You can find out more information here https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-caused-the-division-of-the-island-of-cyprus and here: https://mfa.gov.cy/historical-background.html.

    [2] https://mfa.gov.cy/turkish-military-invasion-and-occupation.html#:~:text=The%20coup%20staged%20by%20the,Charter%20of%20the%20United%20Nations.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.