Invasion and occupation
Despite the ceasefire agreed on 22 July – two days after Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus – attacks continued on Greek villages just outside the Kyrenia-Nicosia bridgehead the Turks had established, and on the morning of 26 July, Sysklipos was shelled and raided by Turkish forces. Trying to avoid the Turkish assault, a chaotic evacuation ensued in which most of the villagers fled in cars, by bus or on foot. Some 35 villagers, however, mostly elderly and/or infirm, were unable or unwilling to abandon their homes.
Later in the day, a group of four Greek Cypriot commandos, led by second lieutenant Savvas Pavlides, was ordered to go to Sysklipos and raise a Greek flag over the village school. This was supposed to be in preparation for acting president of Cyprus Glafkos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash passing through Sysklipos to establish Greek and Turkish positions as part of the ceasefire agreement.
Pavlides recalls that on entering Sysklipos, he encountered a frightened old man desperate to escape the village but not knowing which route to take to avoid the Turks. Pavlides directed him to safety and then went further into Sysklipos, where he completed his mission with the Greek flag and observed that homes throughout the village had been broken into and looted. Pavlides then proceeded to the village spring where he came across another villager, whom he later identified as 78-year-old Christodoulos Kamenos, carrying two pales of water. The two men had the following conversation:
Pavlides: What are you doing here? What are you doing with those?
Kamenos: We have some animals in the yard and I need to give them water.
Pavlides: But haven’t you realised what’s happening all around you?
Kamenos: What can I do, my son? My wife is blind. We’re at home. All the old people in the village are still here.
Pavlides: Why don’t you leave?
Kamenos: We can’t walk. There are no cars. The Turks came through the village and looted the houses, and we don’t know what to do.
Turkish shelling resumed the same day and Pavlides and his men were forced to leave Sysklipos and return to their unit in the hills on the western outskirts of the village. The Turks re-entered Sysklipos and rounded up the 35 residents who had stayed behind, initially detaining them in a camp outside the village, before allowing them to return to the village, where the 35 decided, for their own security, to stay in groups of five and six in each other’s homes.
First wave of killings
Between 26 July and 3 August, Turkish forces occupying Sysklipos subjected the 35 trapped villagers to a campaign of mistreatment and murder. During this period, fearing the worst, up to 10 villagers escaped, hiding in fields during the day and travelling at night, to get to the government-controlled areas of the island.
One of those murdered in the first wave of killings was 52-year-old Maria Christodoulou. Three of her four children had left Sysklipos with relatives following the initial Turkish shelling and foray into the village, while her husband, Andreas, and one of her daughters remained with her. On resumption of the Turkish shelling and increasingly concerned about their daughter, Andreas and Maria decided that the girl had to be taken to safety, and since this could only be done on foot, it was agreed that she should be escorted by her father, while Maria, who was blind and couldn’t follow, would be left behind. Maria Christodoulou was murdered by the Turks on or around 2 August 1974 and her remains were exhumed in Sysklipos in 2011. She is the only missing person from Sysklipos whose remains have been recovered.
The massacre of the 14
The climax of the killing in Sysklipos seems to have occurred on 3 August at the home of Evgenios Sofokleous and his wife Elli. Sheltering with the couple were two of Evgenios Sofokleous’ children from his first marriage – 20-year-old Andreas Evgeniou and his 11-year-old sister – along with 11 other villagers, four of whom have been identified as 82-year-old Iraklis Hadjinikolaou; 60-year-old Charita Kanarini; 72-year-old Anastasia Kamenou; and her husband Christodoulos Kamenos – the 78-year-old man Savvas Pavlides had encountered at the village spring on 26 July.
This group of 15 had been at the Sofokleous’ house from 30 July, where they were regularly visited by two Turkish soldiers and a Turkish Cypriot mujahid. Each day, hoping to placate the Turks, Evgenios Sofokleous would offer them coffee and fruit. On 3 August, the Turkish Cypriot mujahid made a final visit to the 15. In the evening, another group of Turkish soldiers came to the house. They separated the men and the women into two rooms, and raped the women.
What happened next to the 15 is described in Erol Mütercimler’s book Cyprus, Island for Sale: Unknown Aspects of the Peace Operation, which was published in Turkey in 2009.
In it, Mütercimler quotes from the diary of Colonel Salih Güleryüz, commander of a special‐forces unit stationed near Sysklipos.
‘3 August 1974: we were informed that 14 Greek Cypriots residing at Sysklipos village were killed the previous night. This was done by an artillery junior officer, two commandos and two [Turkish Cypriot] fighters. Statements were taken from the soldiers late into the night. Early in the morning of the next day 4/8/1974, my schoolmate, the head of the ordnance corps, Corporal Mahmud Boyouslou, arrived. We went together to Sysklipos and found the house where the Greek Cypriot civilians had been killed. They were killed by fire from automatic weapons. Eight persons were on armchairs and chairs, covered in blood, with perforations in the chest and head. There were five other dead persons, men and women, on the ground. Near the entrance to the house, sitting on an armchair, there was another corpse, which had been beheaded.’The only survivor of the carnage, according to Güleryüz, was Evgenios Sofokleous’ 11-year old daughter. She was found dressed up in the coat of a Greek Cypriot soldier and was being forced to serve breakfast to Turkish soldiers occupying the village. Güleryüz says the girl had been raped.
As already noted, of the 27 Greek Cypriots listed as missing from Sysklipos, only the remains of Maria Christodoulou have been recovered. Turkish Cypriot journalist Sevgul Uludag, who has investigated the fate of the missing from Sysklipos, says that a Turkish Cypriot informant has told her that there is a mass grave of Greek Cypriots in the neighbouring Turkish village of Krini, while other reports suggest a burial site in a field between Sysklipos and the occupied Greek village of Agios Ermolaos, but no excavation work has been done to ascertain the veracity of these claims.
Uludag also notes that the 11-year-old girl who was raped and witnessed the murders of her father, stepmother, brother and 11 others, was eventually handed over to UN peacekeepers and transferred to the free areas. She has never recovered from her ordeal and has spent a large part of her life in psychiatric hospitals. Meanwhile, Uludag says, one of the Turkish Cypriots involved in the Sysklipos killings, a certain K. from Kyrenia, is known to regularly recount his role in events, a role he is said to be very proud of.
Currently, Sysklipos is barely habitable. Greek refugees who’ve visited their village since restrictions on crossings were eased in 2003 report that most homes are in ruins, with only some 95 Turkish Cypriots (originally from Sarama and Meladeia in the Paphos district) living in Sysklipos, which they’ve renamed Akçiçek, meaning ‘white flower’. The village cemetery, which was intact until recently, has now been desecrated, presumably as a means to discourage refugees from visiting Sysklipos and dreaming of return.
* Thanks to Loukia Borrell (@LoukiaBorrell) for her help in the researching of this piece. Loukia Borrell’s family is from Sysklipos and her grandparents are missing persons Christodoulos Kamenos and Anastasia Kamenou, to whom her novel Raping Aphrodite is dedicated. Visit Raping Aphrodite’s Facebook page here.