Forgotten Horrors of Cyprus: The Fate of Cypriot Prisoners of War and Kidnapped Civilians

This year marks 48 years since the inhumane Turkish invasion of Cyprus which displaced more than 162,000 Cypriots from their homes. The island was divided along ethnic lines, with Turkish Cypriots north of the UN Demilitarization Zone with the continued illegal occupation by the Turkish military and Greek Cypriots and other minorities south of the demilitarization line. Although Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot rulers have created their own “country”, it has been widely condemned and not recognized by international law as a substitute to justify the illegal Turkish occupation of the Republic of Cyprus. In the occupied north, more than 1,200 to 1,500 civilians and 2,000 prisoners of war were captured by the Turkish army, many of whom remain unaccounted for today.

Overview of the invasion

The first invasion took place on July 20, 1974, five days after the coup against Archbishop Makarios by the Greek junta, EOKA-B, and disenfranchised officers of the Cypriot National Guard. Here, Turkish forces took 3% of the island, but the UN immediately called for a cessation of hostilities before the situation became explosive. During the peace talks, Henry Kissinger, who had full authority over Cyprus under the Ford administration, had prepared for another invasion, with Ankara on a policy that favored NATO‘s Turkish presence on the island by to the Greek presence, particularly because the US-backed Greek junta had collapsed. After the failed peace talks, it was apparent that the Turkish government had blocked them to prepare for an invasion as they ordered the second invasion hours after the Geneva talks on August 14. The second invasion caught Cyprus and Greece off guard, in which the Turkish army took 36% of the island before the UN ceasefire. Nearly 1,600 civilians and 2,000 prisoners of war were taken to camps in Adana during the brutal invasion.

Organizations responsible for locating missing persons

Many POWs were exchanged by Cyprus and Turkey in late 1974, with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and at least 1,100 bodies were identified, but at least 1,500–1,600 POWs and Greek Cypriot civilians, as well as 400 Turkish Cypriots are still missing today. . The Committee on Missing Persons was established by the United Nations to track missing persons from Cyprus. Within this committee, a delegation of three members leads the office, a Greek Cypriot, a Turkish Cypriot and a non-aligned person designated by the ICRC and the UN Secretary General. The organization’s mission is not to establish blame but to give families the closures of loved ones who have been missing for nearly five decades. They are carrying out archaeological field work in accordance with international law to find potentially missing persons despite the negative reactions of the Turkish Cypriot and Ankara legislatures. Another organization that works tirelessly to find loved ones is Kypros. They include eyewitness accounts of Turkish military barbarity during the invasion.

Executions and mass graves of the disappeared

There are numerous reports of executions of people captured by the Turkish military, as the international community imposes no sanctions for Geneva Convention war crimes. Below are several recent examples of reports of executions and uncovered mass graves of the 1,500 Greek Cypriots and 400 Turkish Cypriots reported missing:

  • A Turkish Cypriot newspaper, Afrika, wrote a report that Greek Cypriot prisoners were tortured and executed in military camps in Adana soon after the invasion. They were buried alive near a river in the city. This was also reported by Cyprus Mail.
  • A mass grave was discovered on September 4, 2015 in Nicosia by the Committee for Missing Persons. At least four Greek Cypriot remains have been found.
  • There is still an estimated large mass grave at occupied Lapithos in Kyrenia district where witnesses said the Turkish army 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 that the government of Nicosia continues to comply with the search for the remains of Cypriots Turks, the Republic of Turkey has stagnated and sometimes refused to comply with the UN on the status of missing Greek Cypriots.
  • The remains of a Greek Cypriot National Guard were found in July 2021 buried under an elevator manhole in Kyrenia.
  • In 2021, the Committee on Missing Persons was able to identify 37 remains, the demographics 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 island.

While Nicosia has been open and cooperative, Ankara remains a main belligerent and instigator, with constant rhetoric of secession and threats of annexation from the occupied north, which would lead to a wider Mediterranean war. They have been dishonest about the hundreds of civilians and POWs abducted from mainland Turkey and make little effort to cooperate and adhere to the Geneva and UN Conventions on missing persons. Arguably, Turkey continues to remain emboldened as long as NATO and the EU continue to appease a rogue Ankara government in order to maintain geopolitical hegemony, even though those same policies have led Cyprus to a cataclysmic state. where she finds herself today. Even today, Turkey emboldens Azerbaijan, which got away with torture, makeshift courts and executions of Armenian civilians and POWs from the 2020 war. Today, Turkey does not still has no sanctions against them regarding the war crimes of the 1974 invasion while Cyprus was embargoed and reviled. It’s time to start pressuring Turkey to reveal the location of loved ones lost in the invasion.

Julian McBride is a New York-born forensic anthropologist and freelance journalist. He is the founder and director of Reflections of War Initiative (ROW), an anthropological NGO. It reports and documents the plight of people around the world who are affected by conflict, rogue geopolitics and war, and also tells the stories of victims of war who never speak out.

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