It’s often said that truth is stranger than fiction. There are plenty of things that have happened throughout history that, if you saw them in a movie or TV show, you might roll your eyes and say “yeah, right.”
But with some stories, though they may be based on a kernel of truth, there may be some embellishment that takes the story from absolute truth into the realm of the tall tale…
Year of Violence
1974 was a turbulent year on the island of Cyprus. Over a decade of rising tensions between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots came to a head in July of that year, when there was a military coup backed by a Greek invasion force to overthrow the democratically elected president.
That led to Turkey responding with an invasion of Cyprus within a week, leading to a brief war – part civil war between Cypriots, part war between Greece and Turkey. Though it only lasted for a couple of months, hundreds of thousands of Cypriots became refugees thanks to the fighting.
Those refugees could be considered the lucky ones because thousands of Cypriots died and thousands more were simply lost. To this day, the families of many of those missing people are still trying to find out what happened to their loved ones.
One of those missing people was a Turkish Cypriot by the name of Ahmet. Like many other families, Ahmet’s was relying on the work of organizations like the Committee of Missing Persons (CMP) in Cyprus to try and discover his fate and recover his remains.
Learning His Fate
It wouldn’t be until September of 2018, nearly 45 years after the conflict, that his family would have news and when they did, it would cause a minor sensation throughout the country. It was such a bizarre tale that it was published in the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, then quickly picked up in international media.
Apparently in 2011, a researcher spotted a fig tree growing out of a cave in a mountainous area of Cyprus, which was very unusual considering fig trees weren’t usually found in the area.In the course of his research, he was digging around the roots of the tree when he found a horrifying sight.
Underneath the tree with its roots growing through it, the researcher found the remains of a human body. When the authorities were notified and they examined the scene, they found two other bodies inside the cave.
As detectives investigated the deaths of the three men, they found that the man had been marched into the cave and had been killed by someone who threw dynamite in after them. The blast had also made a small hole in the cave that let light in, which explained part of the mystery of the fig tree.
The other part was that one of the men had apparently eaten a fig shortly before he died. DNA testing on the body matched that of Ahmet Hergune. “We used to live in a village with a population of 4,000, half Greek, half Turkish,” said Munur Herguner, Ahmet’s 87-year-old sister. “In 1974, the disturbances began.”
“My brother Ahmet joined the Turkish Resistance Organization (TMT). On 10th June, the Greeks took him away. The fig remnants in my brother’s stomach grew into a tree as the sun crept into the cave through the hole made by the explosion,” she said. “They found my brother thanks to that fig tree.”
Poetry In Life
It was an amazing story that added a bit of beauty to Ahmed’s tragic and violent death. Amidst brutality and senselessness of war, a seed was planted and something beautiful grew – something that would tell the story of that pain decades later.
Not Quite Accurate
With such a fantastic tale about how Ahmet’s body was found, it was no wonder the story went viral. It was, after all, like something out of a well-written piece of fiction. But there were some who were doubtful about all of the exact details of the account.
The Cyprus Mail, a national newspaper began investigating the story and said that according to sources within the CMP, the story wasn’t exactly accurate as it was presented in the news. In reality, the case dated back to 2006 when the committee got information that there were the remains of three Turkish Cypriots in a cave close to the sea.
The cave was close to a beach in Limassol and there was indeed a fig tree that had grown out of the cave. The tree had grown so large it had caused the roof of the cave to collapse. The entrance to the cave itself was underwater and blocked off due to the dynamite blast, but the roots of the tree were inside the cave and it had apparently grown there for decades.
Near The Tree
But unlike the original accounting stated, the bodies of the three Turkish Cypriots were found several feet away from the tree roots during the excavations, which indicated that the tree had not grown from a seed inside one of the men’s bodies.
However, it’s true that it was a very odd place for a fig tree to grow. But it wasn’t some random “researcher” who noticed the out of place tree. The tree was spotted by a man named Xenophon Kallis, a Greek Cypriot and head of the foreign ministry’s humanitarian affairs directorate who was deeply involved in the missing persons issue.
Out of Place
Xenophon also happened to frequent that particular beach regularly for years. “Gradually as the fig tree grew, Kallis noticed the change in the scenery on the beach,” said journalist Sevgul Uludag. “Kallis checked old photos he had of this beach.”
“He drove for kilometers on this beach but there was no sign of another fig tree. And there was no place for the birds to perch to poo inside the cave. The whole area was rocks,” she said. To satisfy his curiosity, he managed to find a way into the cave, which is when he found the bodies.
“Maybe this … fig tree grew because of the last meal of [Ahmet], maybe the bats had eaten this type of fig and came to the cave or maybe there is another explanation. But whatever the explanation, what was important was that this fig tree led Kallis to find these ‘missing persons.’ The fig tree had shown him the way.”
The Cyprus Mail also reported that according to CMP officials, it was not scientifically possible that it happened the way Ahmed’s family claimed. One source believed that his family “wanted to believe that it happened that way,” because “it helped them in finding closure.”