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Guest Viewpoints

Forgotten Horrors from Cyprus: The Fate of Cypriot POWs & Kidnapped Civilians

This year marks 48 years since the inhumane Turkish invasion of Cyprus which displaced over 162,000 Cypriots from their homes. The isle was divided on ethnic lines, with Turkish Cypriots in the north of the UN demilitarization zone with the ongoing illegal occupation of the Turkish military and Greek Cypriots and other minorities located on the south of the demilitarization line. Though Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership created their own “country,” it has been widely condemned and unrecognized under international law as a proxy to justify the illegal Turkish occupation of the Republic of Cyprus. In the occupied north, over 1,200-1,500 civilians and 2,000 POWS were taken by the Turkish military, many of which still have not been accounted for today.

Overview of the Invasion

The first invasion took place on July 20th, 1974, five days after the coup against Archbishop Makarios caused by the Greek Junta, EOKA-B, and disenfranchised officers of the Cypriot National Guard. Here, Turkish forces took 3% of the isle, but the UN immediately called for cessation of hostilities before the situation became combustible. During the peace talks, Henry Kissinger, who had full authority on Cyprus under the Ford Administration had prepared for another invasion, along with Ankara on a policy that favored Turkish NATO presence on the isle over Greek presence, especially because the U.S. backed Greek junta had collapsed. After peace talks broke down, it was evident the Turkish government had stalled them to prepare for an invasion as they ordered the second invasion a few hours after the Geneva talks on August 14th. The second invasion caught Cyprus and Greece off guard, in which the Turkish military took 36% of the isle before the UN ceasefire. Close to 1,600 civilians and 2,000 POWS were taken to camps in Adana in the brutal invasion.

Organizations Assigned to find Missing People

Many POWs were exchanged by Cyprus and Turkey late 1974, facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, and at least 1,100 bodies have been identified, but at least 1,500-1,600 Greek Cypriot POWs and civilians, along with 400 Turkish Cypriots remain missing today. The Committee of Missing Persons was established by the United Nations to keep track of missing people from Cyprus. In this Committee, a three-member delegation heads the bureau, a Greek Cypriot, a Turkish Cypriot, and a non-aligned appointed person selected by the ICRC and UN Secretary General. The organization’s mission isn’t to establish blame but give families closures of their loved ones missing for nearly five decades. They conduct archaeological field work in accordance with international law to find potential missing people despite negative reactions by the Turkish Cypriot legislatures and Ankara. Kypros is another organization that works tirelessly to find loved ones. They include eye witness testimonies to Turkish military barbarism during the invasion.

Executions & Mass Graves of the Missing

There have been numerous reports of executions by those captured by the Turkish military, with the international community placing no sanctions on Geneva Convention war crimes. Below are several recent examples of reports of executions and mass graves found of the 1,500 missing Greek Cypriot and 400 Turkish Cypriots:

  • A Turkish Cypriot newspaper, Afrika, wrote a report that Greek Cypriot prisoners were tortured and executed in military camps in Adana shortly after the invasion. They were buried alive near a river in the city. This was also reported by Cyprus Mail.
  • A mass grave was found on September 4th, 2015 in Nicosia by the Committee of Missing Persons. At least four Greek Cypriot remains were found.
  • There is still an estimated large mass grave in occupied Lapithos in the Kyrenia district where witnesses stated the Turkish military most likely burned the bodies of those executed to hide evidence.
  • Fourteen Turkish Cypriot children were found in December 2020 and Five Turkish Cypriot members of the Akansoy family were found by the CMP in Maratha in 2021. It should be noted where the government of Nicosia continues comply with finding the remains of Turkish Cypriots, the Republic of Turkey has stalled and at times refused to comply with the UN on status of missing Greek Cypriots.
  • The remains of a Greek Cypriot national guard was found on July 2021 buried underneath an elevator manhole in Kyrenia.
  • In 2021, the Committee of Missing Persons were able to identify 37 remains, the demographic being 28 Greek Cypriots and 9 Turkish Cypriots. The organization will continue to work tirelessly this year to find loved ones on both sides of the divided isle.

With Nicosia has been open and cooperative, Ankara remains a main belligerent and instigator, with constant secession rhetoric and threats of annexation of the occupied north, which would lead to a wider Mediterranean war. They have been disingenuous about the hundreds of civilians and POWs kidnapped to mainland Turkey and make little efforts to cooperate and adhere to the Geneva Conventions and United Nations on the missing people. One can argue Turkey continues to remain emboldened as long as NATO and the EU continue to placate a rogue Ankara government in order to keep geopolitical hegemony, even though those same policies led Cyprus to the cataclysmic state it’s in today. Even today, Turkey emboldens Azerbaijan, which has gotten away with torture, kangaroo courts, and executions of Armenian civilians and POWs from the 2020 war. Today, Turkey still has zero sanctions on them in regards to the war crimes from the 1974 invasion whereas Cyprus was embargoed and vilified. It’s time to start pressuring Turkey to reveal the locations of loved ones lost in the invasion.

Julian McBride is a forensic anthropologist and independent journalist born in New York. He’s the founder and director of the Reflections of War Initiative (ROW), an anthropological NGO. He reports and documents the plight of people around the world who are affected by conflicts, rogue geopolitics, and war, and also tells the stories of war victims who never get their voices heard.

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