Saturday, 8 August 2009

Remains of executed Cypriot soldiers identified

Now we know what happened to the five National Guardsmen taken prisoner by the Turks in August 1974, the moment of whose capture became one of the most shocking images of the Turkish invasion, representing the drama and fate of the 1,619 missing Greeks. The five were executed and thrown down a well in the Turkish Cypriot village of Tziaous in the occupied Mesaoria region. The well was excavated earlier this year – in total, the remains of 19 Greek Cypriots were found in it – and this week the five National Guardsmen were identified. They were 1. Antonakis Korellis, aged 30, from Kythrea; 2. Panicos Nikolaou, aged 26, from Achna; 3. Christoforos Skordis, aged 25, from Dhali; 4. Ioannis Papayiannis, aged 23, from Neo Horio, Kythrea; and 5. Philipos Hatzikyriakos, aged 19, from Ammochostos.

The remains of the other 14 Greek Cypriots found in the well have yet to be identified.

The five soldiers were from 398 Infantry Battalion and were captured by the Turkish army at the start of the second phase of the Turkish invasion (14 August 1974) near the Turkish Cypriot village of Tziaous as the Turks advanced through the Mesaoria towards Ammochostos. According to the Cypriot daily Phileleftheros (see here and here), the Turkish army, in a hurry to get to Ammochostos, didn't want to take prisoners with it and left the five in the custody of Turkish Cypriots, who executed them and threw them down a well, next to the village mosque.

In another photograph from the scene of the capture, a Turkish soldier offers and lights a cigarette for one of the five prisoners, Ioannis Papayiannis.

Ioannis Papayiannis, according to his sister, had just finished his studies in England and was on his way back to Cyprus, via Greece, when the coup against President Makarios took place. Maria Papayiannis recalls that after the first Turkish landing, her brother volunteered and joined up with the 398 Infantry Battalion. Between the first (20 July) and second (14 August) invasions, she says, her brother returned to their home village of Neo Horio, Kythrea, twice, to take a bath, before hurriedly returning to his unit to defend his country and meet his brutal death.

The photographs documenting the capture of the five National Guardsmen were taken by a Turkish journalist embedded with the advancing Turkish army. He was eventually arrested by Greek Cypriots in Nicosia and his material confiscated.

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