The following post is adapted from an article printed in the October 2010 edition of InthePaint Magazine. Written by former PPI-Cyprus Fellow, Adam Hirsch, the article highlights PeacePlayers-Cyprus coach Sevki Pirlanta’s involvement with the program and the opportunity PPI has given him to create a better and more peaceful future for his son. In honor of Father’s Day, Sevki’s story reiterates what it means to be a father who will do anything to make the world a better place for his children.
As the sun begins to drift slowly toward the horizon, Coach Sevki Pirlanta drives his dusty green truck through the town’s narrow streets. “In the village, you need to be good at many things,” he says, “If a pipe breaks or a house needs painting, you cannot always get someone else to do it.”
Sevki likes that self reliance. It’s the one reason he moved to Iskele 13 years ago after graduating from a university in Famagusta, the regional capital. He landed a job at a local primary school and soon decided to start his own basketball program. “I played many sports,” Sevki says, as he pulls up to the town’s athletic center, “but I was particularly drawn to the game of basketball due to its fast pace and because it was new.”
Kids begin running up to Sevki’s car, excited to see their coach arrive. While he played basketball as a young man, a severe knee injury cut short his playing career. Coaching kept him connected to the game. His program started slowly, but soon kids from all over the village joined, including his own son, Cetin. When asked if Cetin gets special privileges for being the coach’s son, Sevki laughs and says, “I’m always pushing him harder than the other kids.”
Cetin doesn’t seem to mind: He’s the last one in the gym after every practice, putting up some final shots, collecting the balls and turning out the lights. “Cetin is one of the main reasons I decided to join PeacePlayers,” Sevki says. The coach was introduced to PeacePlayers only a few years after starting his own program, as PeacePlayers was just getting started in Cyprus. Today, the organization has about 150 regular Cypriot participants in its year-round basketball program, which brings together Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot children from across the island’s 35-year-old division for integrated games and activities.
“One of the things that drew me to PleacePlayers was my own past,” Sevki says, “I don’t want my son to go through the same things I had to deal with growing up.”
Sevki was born in Paphos, in the island’s south, but left when he was only 3 years old to escape fighting in the region. In 1974, Sevki’s family joined thousands of others—Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot—driven from their ancestral homes to the newly homogenous north and south of the island. His family settled in Famagusta, now an entirely Turkish Cypriot city, just to the north of the “buffer zone.”
Sevki never liked to talk about his involvement in the bloody conflict, but missing his pinky finger was a constant reminder. In 2003, after the border between the communities opened for crossings, Sevki’s father received some unexpected visitors—his best friends from before the war, Greek Cypriots, who had traveled across the island to reconnect. After 30 years with no communication, the friends ate dinner together.
Sevki’s father later told him that there had been times when he and his friends were fighting on opposite sides of the conflict, possibly shooting at each other. “How is it possible that during the years of fighting and conflict you did not kill each other?” Sevki asked. His father responded, “Because we love.”
But even after the meeting with his Greek Cypriot friends, Sevki’s father remained skeptical, uncomfortable with his son’s decision to work with a bicommunal organization like PeacePlayers. Sevki patiently explained that he wanted a different future for his children. “We have to help the future through peace.”
After two hours of drills and scrimmages, Sevki begins to wrap up practice. His team sits on the sidelines, panting and covered in sweat, with big smiles across their faces. Sevki tells them that this weekend they will play the Greek-Cypriot children from the village of Agros. Some of the children are nervous, but most are excited. Only a few years ago this would have been impossible. The sun has set, and Sevki pulls his dusty green truck out of the gym’s parking lot. He waves goodbye to his kids and looks in the rear view mirror, at his own son sitting in the back seat. He remembers something his grandfather would tell him when he was a boy: “I help everyone. Language, religion are not important, the only thing that matters is that we are all human.”