The European Court of Human Rights yesterday found Turkey guilty of violating the rights of nine Greek Cypriot missing persons and their families.
Since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, 1,555 Greek Cypriots and 64 Greeks have been unaccounted for and, until recently, both Ankara and its puppet regime in occupied northern Cyprus have refused to cooperate with any investigation into the fate of the missing persons, claiming they were all killed in fighting.
However, in a case brought before it on behalf of nine of the missing and their relatives, the ECHR rejected Turkey’s claims that the missing – comprising 60 percent soldiers/reservists and 40 percent civilians, men, women and children, aged between seven months and 94 years old – were casualties of war; accepted evidence which showed that the missing were arrested, captured alive or had been in the custody of Turkish or Turkish Cypriot forces; and found that Turkey’s refusal to account for the missing persons violated several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including:
Article 2: Failing to ‘conduct an effective investigation aimed at clarifying the whereabouts and fate of the nine men [in the case before the court] who went missing in 1974’.
Article 3: Condemning relatives to ‘live in a prolonged state of acute anxiety [enduring] the agony of not knowing whether family members were killed in the conflict or were still in detention or, if detained, had since died. The silence of the Turkish authorities… attained a level of severity which could only be categorised as inhuman treatment’.
Article 5: Depriving the missing men of their liberty and security at the time of their disappearance.
The judgment took into account that last year the Turkish occupation authorities in cooperation with the UN Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus excavated the remains of 38 missing persons and returned them to their families for burial in the free areas of the island; but determined that Turkey was still obstructing the CMP’s work.
The court ruled that while the remains of one of the applicants Savvas Hadjipantelis have recently been discovered and returned to his family, ‘this does not demonstrate that the CMP has been able to take any meaningful investigative steps beyond the belated location and identification of remains’.
Hadjipantelis’ case is worth considering further because it illustrates the likely fate of many of the persons missing since 1974.
Hadjipantelis, a 36-year-old bank employee and father of three from the village of Yialousa in the Karpas peninsular, currently under Turkish occupation, was arrested by Turkish forces in the village cafe on 16 August 1974 (along with eight other men – Pavlos Hadjidemetris; Takis Hadjinicolaou; Michalis Paraschou; Stelios Savvides; Panayiotis Kemekis; Odysseas Elias; Christakis Cosmas; and Pieris Adamou) and turned over to Turkish Cypriot irregulars for ‘interrogation’, after which only his ‘interrogators’ know exactly what they did to Hadjipantelis and why they did it, what possessed them to hand down their perverse sentence to him, and his family, who for 33 years suffered the torture of not knowing his fate, at the mercy of their imaginations and the numerous rumours, false leads and reports.
Then last spring, following information passed to the CMP, a mass grave was excavated in the Turkish Cypriot village of Galatia in occupied Cyprus and the remains of Hadjipantelis and the eight other men from Yialousa (plus two men missing from the nearby village of Eptakomi – Modestos Petrou and Dimitris Koutras) were discovered. Hadjipantelis had been shot in the head, the arm and the thigh. The other murdered men had similar wounds.
In her book Oysters with the Missing Pearls: Untold stories about missing persons, mass graves and memories from the past of Cyprus, Turkish Cypriot journalist Sevgul Uludag suggests the massacre of the men from Yialousa took place two days after they were seized and was the work of three Turkish Cypriots, members of the terrorist organisation TMT, from the village of Agios Andronikos, just west of Yialousa.
Uludag also believes that the remains of another 80 Greek Cypriots – who she says were tortured before being killed – are buried in mass graves in Galatia.
The remains of Hadjipantelis and the others he shared a restless sleep with for 33 years were returned to relatives last July and buried with the dignity and propriety they deserved; vindicating the relatives’ lonely and arduous campaigning, rewarding family devotion and lives sacrificed to finding out the truth; a small victory over evil, though it was made clear by Hadjipantelis’ three sons at their father’s funeral in Nicosia that the evil would only be fully redeemed when Savvas Hadjipantelis’ remains are laid to rest in his native soil, in a liberated Yialousa.