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Society

After 41 Years, Cyprus Stills Looks for Missing War Victims

August 26, 2016

As hopes rise – and flounder – for a reunified Cyprus, families still wonder about what happened to the missing some 41 years after a Turkish invasion.

An unlawful Turkish invasion in 1974 has divided the island since and reunification talks coincide with a continued search via committee for the remains of Cypriots and Turks who disappeared during the battles.

As Turkish troops approached his village on August 14, 1974, Georgios Kantoni packed a simple meal of bread, cheese and watermelon for his family and sent them to hide in the wheat fields.

Antonis Christofi, Kantoni’s grandson, was 14. It was the last time he would see his grandfather.

“We were afraid because we heard people say the Turkish were killing villagers,” Christofi told the news agency Agence France Presse in a feature about the agony families live with over all these years.

Kantoni refused to leave his home. He was shot dead days later, his body flung in a shallow lake a few hours’ walk from the village. His wife was killed and thrown down a nearby well.

They were among more than 2,000 people who went missing in violence between Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot communities in 1963-1974, which culminated with the Turkish invasion of the island that August.

More than 40 years on, the task of retrieving and identifying the ghosts of Cyprus’s mass killings falls to the UN-backed Committee on Missing Persons (CMP).

Its team of Turkish and Greek Cypriot specialists has identified the remains of about 680 people since 2008.

The Turkish invasion, in response to an attempt Greek coup on the island, has left both sides bitterly divided even as Cypriot President Nicos Anastasides and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci hope to reach a unification deal by the end of the year.

In the meantime, Turkey still keeps more than a 30,000-strong standing army on the northern third it unlawfully occupies and bars Cypriot ships and planes and refuses to recognize the government – a member of the European Union Turkey hopes to join.

The CMP — itself a rare example of cooperation between communities on the island, AFP said — wants to find as many bodies as possible.

“Every missing person is a symbol of what we did to each other,” said Turkish Cypriot CMP member Gulden Plumer Kucuk. “Our work needs political will to continue.”

For Christofi, the CMP’s discovery of his grandparents’ bodies in 2014 — four decades after their deaths — came as a shock.

“Now we at least have a place we can visit them,” he told AFP, clasping a photograph of his grandfather’s skeleton, its right shoulder blade cratered by a bullet.

“But there is always the why. Why did these old people die this type of death? They didn’t do anything to anybody.”

Former foreign minister Erato Kozakou-Markoullis earlier in August defended her decision to issue a public apology for the killings of more than 200 Turkish Cypriots by the EOKA B paramilitary organisation in the villages of Aloda, Maratha, Sandalaris and Tochni on August 14, 1974.

The apology, which she published on her Facebook profile in Greek, English, and Turkish, followed the funeral 33 Turkish Cypriot Tochni residents who had been murdered back in 1974, and whose remains were identified by the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP).

“I feel the need to express a sincere public apology to our Turkish Cypriot compatriots for the horrific crimes committed on August 14, 1974 by EOKA B extremists against 126 women and children in the villages of Aloa, Maratha and Sandalaris, and 85 civilian men (including a boy of 12 years) from the village of Tochni,” Markoullis’ post said, the Cyprus Mail reported.

 

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