Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Mass grave with 800-1,000 Greeks reported near Lapithos

In a report (see here, in Greek) in the Cyprus edition of Kathimerini, Andreas Paraschos writes of the existence of a mass grave containing the remains of between 800-1,000 Greek Cypriots located near the occupied village of Lapithos, in the Kyrenia district. The alleged site of the mass grave has been designated by the Turkish army as a military zone. It is fenced off with barbed wire and signs have been erected warning about mines, although the Turkish Cypriot daily Afrika, yesterday reported that 'everyone can walk around in that area as he wishes. No mines have been found until now.'

Paraschos refers to the testimony of Savvas Mastrappas, enclaved in Lapithos until 28 October 1975 and who, after coming to the free areas, gave details to the Cypriot police of the mass grave; and to more recent witness accounts from Turkish Cypriots, who confirmed the existence of the mass grave, declaring its existence an 'open secret' among Turkish Cypriots in the region, some of whom, indeed, would periodically dig up the site and remove skeletons for medical studies.

The Mastrappas account
From March 1977, Savvas Mastrappas gave a series of depositions to the Cyprus police in which he described what he knew of the places of burial of Greek Cypriots killed by Turkish invasion forces. In one of these depositions, Mastrappas says: 'In July 1974, when the invasion occurred, I remained with my wife in our village [Lapithos]. I came to the free areas in October 1975. Apart from us, in Lapithos there must have been 40-50 other Greek Cypriot enclaved. Because I knew a little Turkish and other languages, the Turks put me in charge of the enclaved and I moved around somewhat more freely than the others. Four or five days after the fall of Lapithos, a Turkish Cypriot I knew called Ahmet from the [Turkish Cypriot village of] Photta came to our village, along with a police officer called Nizet. Ahmet came to my house and during conversation told me that the Turkish police observed the collection of between 800-1,000 Greek Cypriot bodies from the region of Lapithos and Vasilia, who were then buried in a place known as "Agni", close to the little harbour, where the villagers from Lapithos kept their fishing boats…'

In another part of his deposition, Mastrappas says: 'One day, it must have been around October-November 1974, when I went with a Turkish policeman named Mehmet – I think he was from the village of Kazaphani – and with a Briton from the British embassy, to the place known as "Koufi Petra", so we could place a British flag on a house there owned by a Briton, I noticed a fire in the place known as "Agni", just east of the orchards of Savvas Frantzieskou. Mehmet told me it was the Turkish army that had started the fire, in order to burn the bodies of Greek Cypriots uncovered by the rain. And, indeed, two-three days previously, it had rained heavily…'

Turkish Cypriot accounts
Paraschos then goes on to report that on a recent visit to Lapithos, he spoke to Turkish Cypriots in the area, and one said to Paraschos: 'I'll take you to a place near the sea where missing persons are buried.' I asked him: 'How do you know there are missing buried there?' 'It's an open secret here in Kyrenia and many Turkish Cypriots know that some people dug up skulls for medical purposes.'

According to this Turkish Cypriot, Paraschos writes, a teacher-friend of his told him that he dug up a skull for his daughter, who was training in medicine. Indeed, when this teacher-friend wanted to get hold of a skull for his daughter and started asking around where he could get one, he was told at the local cafe that many others had similar 'needs' and that the only way was to enter the fenced-off area and dig up Greek Cypriot dead. 'Don't be scared,' he was told, 'you won't be the first. Others have done the same.' And this is what he did. Despite his fear that since the area was fenced-off as a military zone, he went there, waited for a while, to see if there was any soldiers patrolling the area and when he saw there was not, he entered, dug, found what he was looking for, took it and left…

Monday, 7 September 2009

British Council and George Soros behind pro-Turkish EU report

The so-called Independent Commission on Turkey released a report today – Turkey in Europe: Breaking the Vicious Circle – extolling the perceived virtues of Turkey’s EU membership and criticising the EU for stalling over Turkey's accession process. Naturally, the report has a section devoted to Cyprus and how the failure to resolve the division of the island is adversely affecting Turkey’s EU prospects. In relation to Cyprus, the report entirely reflects the Turkish point of view. In fact, it regurgitates the Turkish position so completely that it could well have been written by the Turkish foreign ministry. For example, the report says:

‘The EU brought this problem [i.e. the problem Cyprus poses for Turkey’s EU accession] upon itself by accepting Cyprus’s one million inhabitants into the Union even though they had yet to resolve their inter-communal differences.’– i.e even though the Republic of Cyprus easily fulfilled EU membership criteria, the EU was wrong to let the Republic of Cyprus join – and the Cyprus problem is not one of invasion and occupation, but of damaged relations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Also: ‘The republic broke down in 1963, when the Greek Cypriots excluded Turkish Cypriot leaders from government and drove the Turkish Cypriots into barricaded quarters of towns and isolated villages.’

This is, of course, hook, line and sinker, the Turkish propaganda version of events. A more honest history would acknowledge that the Turkish Cypriots were engaged in a political and terrorist campaign aimed at partition and that they voluntarily withdrew from the organs of state and any isolation and ghettoisation they suffered was self-imposed, as Turk nationalists sought to concentrate the island’s Turk population in preparation for Turkish invasion and enforced ethnic division.

On closer inspection, we discover how independent this so-called Independent Commission on Turkey really is. Its front men and women are mostly has-been Eurocrats – including: Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland; Emma Bonino, former European Commissioner; Michel Rocard, former prime minister of France; Hans van den Broek, former foreign minister of the Netherlands; and Marcelino Oreja Aguirre, former foreign minister of Spain – but it’s the report’s sponsors that tells us who it is furthering Turkey’s interests and serving Turkish propaganda, and they are: 1. The British Council – the UK’s ‘international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities’; and 2. The Open Society Foundation – which is an arm of George Soros’ nefarious Open Society Institute.

The whole of the report can be read here, while below is the extract that refers to Cyprus.

A new urgency in Cyprus
The Cyprus problem is approaching a new and critical crossroads. After five years in limbo following the Republic of Cyprus’s entry into the EU, developments over the next year will likely determine whether or not the island will be indefinitely divided. The EU member states bear a political responsibility for the current situation. It also faces a political imperative to do its utmost to encourage Greek and Turkish Cypriots to reach a satisfactory conclusion to the ongoing talks, which look like the last chance for a federal settlement.

The difficulty of reaching this objective is small compared to the likely complications of failure. EU governments will be caught between loyalty to a member state and their important strategic interests in Turkey. Failure in the talks will mean further hindrance of cooperation between the EU and NATO because of Cyprus-Turkey differences, and continued blockage in opening more chapters that could bring the EU-Turkey negotiations to a standstill. Cyprus has remained peaceful for decades, but the EU has unfastened the balances of the old status quo and, with tens of thousands of troops on the island, this is a conflict that might unfreeze.

The EU brought this problem upon itself by accepting Cyprus’s one million inhabitants into the Union even though they had yet to resolve their inter-communal differences. It has thus imported the whole tangled history of the island into its inner councils. The troubles started in earnest after independence from Britain in 1960, when the 80% Greek Cypriot community and 20% Turkish Cypriot community set up a joint republic, guaranteed by Britain, Greece and Turkey. The republic broke down in 1963, when the Greek Cypriots excluded Turkish Cypriot leaders from government and drove the Turkish Cypriots into barricaded quarters of towns and isolated villages. After the colonels’ regime in Athens backed a Greek Cypriot coup in Cyprus in 1974 that aimed to unite the island with Greece, Turkey invoked its right to intervene as guarantor and staged a military invasion, eventually occupying the northern 37% of the island.

Impending membership of the EU in 2004 changed many Cypriot dynamics. Years of UN-mediated talks on a deal to reunify the island and remove Turkish troops had not progressed far due to continued old-style nationalist grandstanding on both sides. But at a referendum, the Turkish Cypriots, backed by Turkey, voted 65% in favour of the UN-brokered deal, known as the Annan Plan, whereas 76% of Greek Cypriots voted against it.

Even though the EU had publicly and insistently backed the Annan Plan, it nevertheless allowed the Greek Cypriots to enter as the sole representatives of the island. One of the Republic of Cyprus’s first actions as a member was to force the EU to break its political promise to reward the Turkish Cypriots for their “yes” vote, blocking a Direct Trade Regulation that would have allowed Turkish Cypriots direct access to EU markets. Greek Cypriot embargoes on Turkish Cypriots were first criticized by UN Secretary General U Thant as a “veritable siege” in 1964, and in 2004 UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said “the Turkish Cypriot vote has undone any rationale for pressuring and isolating them”.

In response to the perceived unfairness, Turkey then back-tracked

on its obligation under the Additional Protocol to the 1963
Association Agreement to open its airports and sea ports to
Greek Cypriot traffic.

The situation is not hopeless, however. The Greek Cypriot community registered a notable change of heart in presidential elections in February 2008. In the first round, two-thirds of the electorate voted for candidates who campaigned on compromise strategies for reunification. The ultimate winner, President Demetris Christofias, soon embarked on a promising new round of talks with his counterpart, Mehmet Ali Talat, who had led the Turkish Cypriots to vote “yes” to the Annan Plan.

These talks are registering significant progress, but risk succumbing to complacency and are running short of time. First and foremost, responsibility for reaching a settlement lies with Cypriots themselves. But they need the full support of EU governments and Turkish decision-makers in Ankara. EU leaders can achieve this through frequent visits to the Cypriot communities and leaderships on both sides of the island, to raise their morale and attract positive popular attention to the process; by sponsoring eye-catching bi-communal projects and interaction between two communities that can rekindle enthusiasm for reunification; by regular visits to Ankara to underline that Turkey is on track to membership of the EU and that continuation of its existing support for a Cyprus settlement will help it reach the EU goal; and by persuading Greece to use its influence to intercede with the Greek Cypriot community, explaining the benefits of compromise and normalization with Turkey. EU leaders should also make clear how wrong the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey both are to believe that pressure from Brussels alone can force changes in the other’s antagonistic positions. For a Cyprus settlement to gain traction, officials from the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey will also have to meet and learn to trust each other.

Failure to reach a settlement this year will be costly to all sides. EU leaders must challenge the apparent view in both Cypriot communities that the status quo is sustainable indefinitely and show that peace through compromise can bring many benefits. Turkish Cypriots will win full citizenship rights and integration into the EU, with all the economic and political advantages that entails. Greek Cypriots will be able to live without fear of Turkish soldiers manning a line through the middle of their divided capital, will see the island become a real east Mediterranean hub through full access to Turkey, the region’s biggest economy. According to a study by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), the Cypriot economy will grow by an additional ten percentage points within seven years. Both Greece and Cyprus will gain a more pro- European Turkey as a neighbour that will be inclined to settle conflicts over the Aegean and Mediterranean territorial waters. Turkey will win a more open negotiating road for EU membership, greater stature in Europe and official language status for Turkish in the EU. At the same time it will lose the financial burden of its Cyprus garrison and the subsidy consumed by the Turkish Cypriot administration.

Since the EU and Turkey are currently paying the political cost of the Cypriots’ failure to compromise, EU leaders should engage more actively to prevent the Cyprus problem derailing Turkey’s accession process. This process is essential for Turkey’s transformation and is of vital importance to the EU and Cyprus as well. Alongside their efforts to support a settlement on the island, the EU should search for ways and means that lead to the fulfilment of Turkey’s commitment to open its airports and sea ports to Greek Cypriot traffic, a development that would immediately release eight chapters to the Turkey-EU negotiating process and win time to reach a fuller Cyprus settlement. The EU could do this through reviving its 2004 promise to end Turkish Cypriot isolation through direct trade and try to overcome obstacles to direct international flights to the Turkish Cypriots’ own airport.

The EU must assume its responsibility for the injustices and absurdities of the situation. The whole of Cyprus is theoretically now part of the European Union; on the other hand, the acquis communautaire of the Union is officially suspended in the north; at the same time, the European Court of Justice has ruled that Greek Cypriot court judgments about the north are enforceable throughout the Union. A Cyprus settlement, and the need for all sides to avoid provocations and work for a solution, is now urgent. Grandstanding between gunboats and oil survey ships in the waters around Cyprus, Turkey and Greece in November 2008 shows where deepening frustrations may lead: similar frictions between Turkey and EU-member Greece very nearly resulted in armed conflict in 1987 and 1996, crises which the EU was powerless to solve and which had to be settled by the United States. The Turkish Cypriots in April 2009 voted in a new, more nationalist government, signalling that without a settlement Mehmet Ali Talat may lose his seat in the April 2010 presidential elections to a candidate less committed to a solution. Non-solution and neverending negotiations in Cyprus will raise tensions on the island and will indefinitely block the EU-Turkey process. If old friends like Talat and Christofias fail to reach a federal settlement, it is hard to see how anyone either inside or outside Cyprus will ever mobilize behind a new effort. Yet managing the alternative, the partition of Cyprus, will be extremely divisive for the EU. European leaders have compelling interests to work with priority commitment for a negotiated Cyprus settlement in 2009, because the chance of a federal solution and demilitarization of the island will certainly not come again in this political generation.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Isle of the Dead

Above is the opening sequence from Isle of the Dead, one of the nine extraordinary horror films made by Val Lewton (Vladimir Ivan Leventon) in the 1940s. The best of the nine are Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie and Seventh Victim. Lewton, a Russian émigré, was fascinated by Slavic and Greek supernatural folklore, which informed many of his films. In Cat People, the tragic heroine is Irena Dubrovna, who is convinced she is from a tribe of devil worshippers in Serbia; while in Isle of the Dead, the action is set in Greece during the Balkan wars and involves the obsessively austere, tyrannical, hubristic General Nikolas Pherides (played by Boris Karloff) preventing a group of travellers from leaving a small island hit by septicemic plague, which Pherides fears will reach his troops on the mainland. As Pherides' stringent measures to contain the plague fail and his charges die one by one, the general loses his mind and begins to persecute a beautiful young woman, Thea, who he believes is responsible for the deaths, asserting she is a vrykolokas (vorvolakas), an undead creature that haunts the living world and murders and drinks the blood of its victims.

Isle of the Dead
isn't the best in the Lewton series – Seventh Victim is his masterpiece, I believe – but it contains many of the doom-laden elements that characterise his films – loneliness, obsession, madness, the liminal state between life and death, catalepsy, premature burial, sexual desire, repression and repulsion, the potency of the supernatural and the irrational and, above all, the supremacy of thanatos.

g Read more about the vrykolokas in Greek folklore
here and here.

g You can watch Isle of the Dead in its entirety at youtube, where you can also see all of I Walked with a Zombie, Body Snatcher, Seventh Victim, Leopard Man, Ghost Ship and Bedlam.
g The Greek island in the film is inspired by Pontikonissi, off Kerkyra, which Lewton visited and extensively photographed, having become mesmerised by the depiction of the island in Arnold Böcklin's painting Isle of the Dead.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Christofias postpones Talat meeting after Turks prevent Morphou pilgrimage

The meeting due to take place tomorrow between President Christofias and Turkish occupation leader Mehmet Ali Talat inaugurating the so-called second phase of Cyprus negotiations has been called off. This was done at the insistence of the Greek side following today's events at the Kato Pyrgos-Limnitis checkpoint during which the occupation regime refused to allow 650 pilgrims from the Tylliria and Paphos districts to cross into occupied Morphou and attend services at the Monastery of St Mamas, whose feast day it is today.

The Cypriot government thought it had an agreement with the Turkish side that if it allowed Turks living in occupied Cyprus to cross without checks to the Turkish Cypriot enclave of Kokkina to commemorate the battle that took place there in 1964 (in which Turkish aircraft strafed and dropped napalm on Greek villages to prevent Cypriot forces from overrunning the terrorist TMT stronghold of Kokkina), then Greek Cypriot pilgrims would be allowed, on the same terms, to enter occupied Morphou and attend the St Mamas celebrations.

The Turks made their trip to Kokkina, on 14 August, unimpeded and, up until yesterday, and despite rumours to the contrary, the Christofias government was insisting that the occupation authorities would allow the Morphou crossing to take place without the pilgrims being forced to go through rigourous ID checks.

However, today, as soon as the pilgrims crossed into the occupied areas, the buses in which they were travelling were halted by 'police' from the occupation regime, who proceeded to board the buses and carry out stringent, Kafkaesque ID checks, taking several people off the vehicles and declaring they would not be allowed to cross. After three hours of harassment and calculated humiliation – during which time the services at St Mamas had finished – the Greek Cypriot pilgrims felt obliged to abandon the pilgrimage and return to the free areas.

Three points emerge from the incident.

First, it reveals the fundamental flaw in Christofias' policy towards the Turkish occupation. The man thought that efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem had gone nowhere since the Annan plan in 2004 because of the inflexible and forensic approach taken by former president, Tassos Papadopoulos, and that all that was necessary for the start of a meaningful process aimed at reaching a mutually acceptable Cyprus solution was goodwill, gestures and reconciliation mantras.

Yet, the Turks have interpreted as weakness Christofias' goodwill and gestures and taken advantage of his reluctance to pin the Turks down on detail so that, after almost 18 months of Talat-Christofias negotiations, the Turks have not deviated one inch from their long-term aim of a confederal two-state solution in Cyprus – the Turks as 'masters in the north, partners in the south' scenario.

Second, it's all very well for Christofias to postpone the start of the second round of talks in protest at today's events; but we all know he'll be there for whenever the meeting is rescheduled and the same process as before will take place: he'll put forward the Greek minimalist positions and the Turks their maximalist positions. Eventually, the talks will grind to a halt, allowing the Turks to declare that reunification is impossible, partition is the only way forward and the 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' now deserves recognition, like Kosovo. As such, the talks – and the flimsy basis on which Christofias agreed to them – were a trap that Christofias fell into. Today's incident, therefore, was not simply intended to humiliate the Greek Cypriot side and show who is 'master' in the north, but also to poison relations on the island and undermine the negotiations, prove their worthlessness. (Turkey, it must be stressed, would like nothing more than for the talks to collapse).

Third, the history of Greek-Turkish relations since 1922 tells us that any agreement the Turks enter into is not worth the paper its written on. For the Turks, an agreement is merely a means to an end, which will be discarded the moment it no longer serves Turkey's purpose. Thus, it was entirely predictable that the 'agreement' reached over Kokkina and St Mamas would not be adhered to and that the 'assurances' given to the Cypriot government were meaningless.

This raises Papadopoulos' question during the debate over the Annan plan: how can the Greek side be sure that Turkey will abide by any commitments it enters into? In fact, it was this question that Christofias claimed was the deal-breaker for him over Annan, i.e. he was not convinced that the plan provided the mechanisms to ensure Turkey would do what it agreed to do and not even last-minute phone calls from US secretary of state Colin Powell to Christofias assuring him that the USA would insist Turkey honour its commitments managed to persuade Christofias to change his mind.

The Papadopoulos question, therefore, remains of paramount importance. If the Turks cannot be trusted to keep to an agreement on the simple matter of a religious pilgrimage, then how can we expect the Turks to fulfill any obligations it enters into on matters of much greater significance, such as the withdrawal of Turkish troops and settlers from Cyprus, the return of territory and so on?

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

RIK reports slaughter of 320 Greek Cypriot prisoners

Above is the report (with English subtitles) that appeared on last night's RIK news regarding the article in the Turkish Cypriot daily, Afrika, in which a Turkish Cypriot described witnessing the massacre of 320 Greek Cypriot prisoners by Turkish soldiers during Turkey's invasion of Cyprus in 1974. The massacre is alleged to have happened on the beaches of Karavas, which is an occupied Greek village in the Kyrenia district. For my original post on the massacre, go here.