Over one and a half thousand people have gone missing when Turkey invaded and occupied a large part of Cyprus in 1974. This tragic problem of a purely humanitarian nature remains unresolved to this day because Turkey, in full disregard of international conventions and declarations, does not allow effective investigations to be carried out. Persuasive information, which could determine the fate of missing persons, has not been revealed. Wives and mothers of the missing, like latter day Penelope’s, have been waiting for news of their loved ones, living life in a state of limbo.
Military personnel and reservists, as well as civilians, including women and children, were captured by the invading Turkish armed forces during July and August of 1974, or disappeared, after the cessation of hostilities, in areas under the control of the Turkish army. Some were listed as prisoners of war by the International Red Cross, but they have not been heard of since.
Television footage taken by a BBC crew in Turkish jails in Adana in September 1974 shows some persons who have later been identified by their own relatives as missing. Turkey is refusing to reveal information from prisons’ records in order to ascertain the identity of these people. Certain prisoners of war, released after the invasion, have stated they were held in prison with people who never came back to Cyprus.
In 1981 the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) was established, in compliance with relevant UN General Assembly resolutions. The humanitarian mandate of the Committee, which operates under the auspices and with the participation of the United Nations, is to investigate and determine the fate of all the missing persons in Cyprus.
The CMP is made up of three members - one representative from each side and a third member, who is designated by the UN Secretary-General. The position of the third member, however, has remained vacant since the death of Ambassador Jean-Pierre Ritter, on 17 January 2000, who was appointed as Third Member by the UN Secretary-General on 15 June 1998.
Unfortunately, not a single case has been solved to date, through the work of this Committee. This failure may be attributed to the restrictive terms of reference of the Committee, and the failure of those, who are either in possession of the required information, or are in a position to obtain it, to cooperate in the appropriate manner. Moreover, inquiries were limited to Cyprus alone and not to Turkey, where as it has been decidedly proven, some of the missing were taken after their arrest. This unsatisfactory situation brought about the intervention of the U.N Secretary-General. As a result of this intervention, during 1995, additional rules governing the work of the Committee on Missing Persons were agreed upon, and the submission of all the cases to be investigated within the framework of the Committee was completed. In all 1493 cases of missing Greek Cypriots were submitted. The Turkish side submitted for investigation 500 cases.
The European Commission of Human Rights has examined the issue of the missing persons of the Turkish invasion and found (in 1976, 1983 and 1999) that Turkey violated fundamental articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. On 8 September 1999, the European Commission established that article 2 of the Convention, referring to the right to life, was violated. It had also concluded, unanimously, that there has been a continuing violation of the right to liberty and security because Turkey did not carry out an effective investigation into the fate of missing Greek Cypriot persons. The Commission further concluded unanimously that Turkey had violated the human rights of the relatives of the missing persons.
More recently, on 10 May 2001, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey had violated the right to life and the right to personal freedom of the missing persons. Turkey was found guilty of persistently denying an adequate investigation into the fate of missing persons, in respect of whom there was an arguable claim that they were in Turkish custody at the time of their disappearance. Ankara was also found guilty of violating the rights of the relatives of missing persons because of her failure to inform them about the fate of their loved ones.
Efforts to overcome the stalemate concerning this humanitarian issue resulted in an Agreement between President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, on 31 July 1997, to exchange information about the missing. The two leaders agreed that the problem of the missing persons in Cyprus 'is a purely humanitarian issue' and that 'no political exploitation should be made by either side'. In this context each side would designate a person who would exchange information about the missing and make the necessary arrangements for the return of the remains of the missing persons to their families.
The first exchange of information took place towards the end of January 1998. On 30 April of the same year, the Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs, who represented President Clerides in the implementation of the Agreement, Mr Takis Christopoulos, met with the Turkish Cypriot representative Mr Rustem Tatar, in the presence of the UN Secretary-General’s Acting Special Representative in Cyprus, Mr Gustave Feissel, with the ultimate aim of defining the procedure for exhuming the remains of the unidentified dead. Mr Christopoulos suggested that the assistance of the Red Cross be sought, as this organization had past experience in exhumations, in other parts of the world, such as in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The Turkish Cypriot side rejected this proposal and stated clearly that it was not interested in any exhumations thereby violating the 31 July 1997 Agreement. A further Greek Cypriot proposal that an international team of scientists be allowed to exhume at least the remains of those Greek Cypriots who were buried in the occupied area, for whom the Turkish Cypriots themselves had given information as to where their remains were to be found, was also rejected by the Turkish side.
The Government of Cyprus in the meantime, decided to proceed with the exhumation of the remains of persons, both military and civilians, buried in the Lakatamia and Sts Constantine and Helen cemeteries, in the government-controlled areas of the island, in order to eliminate the possibility that bodies which had been buried haphazardly, would be counted as missing persons.
In this respect the Cyprus Government is cooperating with the Physicians for Human Rights, a non-governmental organization, which, together with another organization, was awarded a Nobel Prize for its humanitarian work in 1997. This organization, chaired by professor William Haglund, had acquired much experience in exhumations in many places, such as Rwanda, Bosnia and Croatia. The exhumations began in June 1999, and through DNA testing, dozens of persons known to have died in 1974 were identified. A small number of these were included in the list of Greek Cypriot missing persons as, obviously, records were not properly kept at the time, because of the prevailing situation.
The Turkish Cypriot side, despite having generally adopted a clearly negative and intransigent stand in this purely humanitarian issue which affects hundreds of Greek Cypriots, did cooperate with the US Administration, in the case of one missing person, Andreas Kasapis, a boy of Greek descent but with US citizenship, who was 16 when he was apprehended and killed.
More specifically, on 5 October 1994, the US Senate unanimously adopted an Act for the ascertainment of the fate of five US citizens missing since the Turkish invasion. Following this, the US President appointed Ambassador Robert Dillon, who came to Cyprus to carry out the necessary investigation. Andreas Kasapis’ grave was discovered in January 1998 in the occupied part of Cyprus and his remains were sent to the US for DNA testing. After he was identified, his remains were returned to his next of kin for a proper burial on 22 June 1998.
Why did the Turkish Cypriot side agree to cooperate with the US Government in a single solitary case, but refuses to cooperate with the Cyprus Government in hundreds of other cases of Greek Cypriot missing persons?
Hopefully, the case of Andreas Kasapis is just the first of many to come. Appeals are made to all who have evidence about the fate of any missing person to submit it to the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Committee on Missing Persons in Nicosia for proper evaluation and examination. In this context the goodwill and co-operation of Turkey is essential, necessary and overdue.
Unilateral Humanitarian steps taken by the Government of Cyprus - The Government of Cyprus, in its ardent wish to see progress towards a solution of the tragic problem of the missing persons in Cyprus and in its effort to give even to a very small number of families some concrete answers concerning the fate of their loved ones, has taken a number of humanitarian steps.
In the summer of 1999, exhumations were conducted from two Nicosia cemeteries. The exhumations were carried out and completed by the non-governmental organization Physicians for Human Rights. Due to the circumstances relating to their death, which prevented a proper identification at the time of burial, a number of persons, killed during the Turkish invasion, were buried as unknown soldiers in these two cemeteries. As a result of this effort, the identity of thirty missing persons has been established through the DNA process. Twelve out of the thirty instances involve cases of missing persons, which were submitted to the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP). Efforts are continuing until all the exhumed remains are scientifically identified and returned to their families for proper burial.
The exhumations were conducted for purely humanitarian reasons in order to answer the legitimate rights of the families concerned and end their agony and uncertainty.
According to a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 24 July 2001, as a result of this effort, the remains of 115 persons have been identified, 12 of whom concern cases of missing persons submitted to the CMP, 18 concern cases of missing persons of the Group of “126”, whose cases have not been submitted to the CMP, 79 concern cases of known military personnel, and 6 concern cases of known dead citizens.
Other Humanitarian Steps taken by the Government of Cyprus - The Government of Cyprus has taken further unilateral steps in connection with humanitarian matters. These steps are taken in the same humanitarian spirit and for the same reasons that the exhumations, in the two Nicosia cemeteries, took place in 1999.
On the 4th May 2000, the Council of Ministers, decided that the families of 126 missing persons, whose names have not been submitted to the Committee on Missing Persons, be informed about the contents of the file of each of these cases, as well as for the reasons for which these cases were not submitted for investigation to the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP). The notification of the families was completed in July 2000, and the views of the families are now under examination by a Committee established for this reason.
Moreover, the Council of Ministers decided to publish the list of persons whose names are included in the records of the Government Service for Missing Persons as persons whose fate is still unknown. The list was officially published in the Government Gazette on 10th July 2000. The Council of Ministers also decided to appoint a Committee with the mandate to prepare, lists of Greek Cypriots and Greek nationals who were killed during or as a result of the July 1974 coup d’ teat and the Turkish invasion. The Committee, has held a number of meetings, so far, and is expected to fulfil its mandate soon.
The Government publishes the list of Turkish Cypriot missing persons - The Government taking a step further published in the Government Gazette on 12 May 2003, the list of the names of the Turkish Cypriot missing persons. On 5 June 2003, it informed the relatives of the Turkish Cypriot missing persons that they could have access to the information provided by the Services of the Republic of Cyprus in relation to the investigations that had been carried out until then and to any possible results in order to determine the fate of their missing relatives.
In the announcement it was also noted that, facts and information on the death and the burial site of 201 out of 500 cases of Turkish Cypriot missing persons which were included in the list, had been given to the Turkish Cypriot representative, in the framework of the implementation of the 31st July 1997 Agreement on the Missing.
Investigatory exhumation of Turkish Cypriot remains at Alaminos - On 6 December 2002, the non Governmental Organization “Physicians for Human Rights” completed, at the village of Alaminos, in the Larnaca district, an investigatory exhumation that led to the discovery of human remains, which according to existing testimonies, belonged to Turkish Cypriots who lost their lives during a fire exchange with a unit of the National Guard, on 20 July 1974.
When the go-ahead for the scientific identification of the remains through the DNA method, which presupposes the relatives’ cooperation, is given, the scientific team will proceed to the second phase of the work, namely the exhumation of the remains.
The United Nations had been informed of the investigatory exhumation that had been carried out in Cyprus, and so was the First Assistant to the Third Member of the Investigatory Committee on Missing Persons (CMP), who had already visited the site where the investigatory exhumations were taking place. The competent authorities expressed their will to facilitate visits by the interested relatives and the Turkish Cypriot member of the Committee on Missing Persons, to the burial sites.
The UN Secretary-General resumes his activities on the issue of the Missing Persons - On 19.12.2003, the Government Spokesman Mr Kypros Chrysostomides stated that President Papadopoulos had received a letter from the UN Secretary-General regarding the humanitarian issue of the Missing Persons, in which Mr Annan was submitting specific proposals on the subsequent handling of the issue. The same letter was also sent to Mr Denktash. In his reply to the UN Secretary-General’s letter, President Papadopoulos unreservedly accepted Mr Annan’s proposals and expressed the wish that Mr Denktash would reply in the same way. President Papadopoulos sent a copy of his letter to Mr Denktash.
The UN Secretary-General sends a new letter on the issue of the Missing Persons - On 9 August 2004, the UN Secretary-General sent a new letter to the leaders of the two communities in relation to the problem of the missing persons, which was a follow up of the letter he had sent on 3 December.
The new letter by the UN Secretary-General reiterated the proposals that he had submitted in December as well as new ones, thus incorporating the mutual agreement that was unofficially achieved some time before between the two sides. It is believed that the implementation of the UN Secretary-General’s proposals will contribute to the achievement of progress in the efforts that are underway and to the creation of the necessary momentum in the direction of solving the humanitarian problem of the missing persons.
On 10 August 2004, in his letter of reply to the UN Secretary-General, the President of the Republic reiterated that he accepted his proposals, pointing out that the Greek Cypriot side would do everything that was possible for their implementation. The Government of Cyprus expressed its gratitude to the UN Secretary-General for his interest and efforts in solving the problem for the benefit of the families and for the restoration and the respect for their human rights.
The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP) is reactivated - The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP), convened on 30th August 2004 at the Ledra Pallas after being inactive for nearly five years. According to a press release issued by the Committee (30.008.2004), the Greek Cypriot member of the CMP, Mr Elias Georgiades and the Turkish Cypriot Member Mr Roustem Tatar reconfirmed their full commitment and ultimate goal to resolve the humanitarian issue that equally affects the families in both communities.
Non-profit forensic science organization INFORCE undertakes exhumations - On 9 November 2004, the Investigatory Committee on Missing Persons closed its 84th session which started on 30 August 2004, after holding fourteen meetings in the Ledra Palace in Nicosia.
At the end of its meeting on 25 October 2004, the Committee stated in a press release that “it reached an agreement in principle with INFORCE Foundation, a non-profit forensic science organization based in the UK to undertake exhumation work in Cyprus”. After the completion of its 85th working session, the Committee issued a press release which states that “the expert from the INFORCE Foundation, with whom agreement has been reached, in principle, to undertake exhumation work, on both sides, with regard to the Turkish and Greek Cypriot Missing Persons, and who came to the island in October for the first geophysical survey of certain burial sites, is expected to come again, with additional experts and equipment, in January 2005, for an exploratory investigation in regard to one of the three (3) sites presented by the Turkish Cypriot side in 1998.”
“It is hoped that satisfactory results will be obtained as soon as possible, concerning the fate of the missing persons,” the press release adds.
The CMP seeks information on Missing Persons - On 17 November 2004, the CMP appealed to Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to communicate to the Office of the Committee any relevant information which may be in their possession, concerning the fate or the remains of Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot persons listed as missing, pointing out that “all information given will be treated as strictly confidential.”
People who have information should contact the Office of the Greek Cypriot Representative at telephone number 00357 22-305794/5 or the Turkish Cypriot Representative at telephone number 00357 22-38642.
The UK contributes 50,000 USD for exhumations - The UK Minister for Europe, Dr Denis MacShane announced during his visit to Cyprus on 21/22 October 2004, that the British Government would be contributing US $50,000 towards the work of the Committee on Missing Persons.
“The tragic issue of missing persons in Cyprus affects both sides and has been unresolved for far too long. There is a real possibility now of a breakthrough. I hope others will follow the British Government’s lead in supporting this work”, Dr MacShane stated.
Unsuccessful exploratory exhumations in occupied Trahonas - The exploratory exhumations carried out by British experts working for the Forensic Centre of Excellence for the Investigation of Genocide (INFORCE) in the Turkish occupied village of Trahonas were completed on 11 January 2005 failing to locate any remains belonging to Greek Cypriots listed as missing. This development raised questions over the willingness of the Turkish side to resolve this humanitarian issue since it had designated the particular location in 1998, in the framework of the Committee of Missing Persons (CMP), as a site of mass graves.
The representative of the Greek Cypriot side to the CMP, Mr Elias Georgiades, expressed disappointment and concern with the inconclusive result of the exhumations in Trahonas and said it had brought “great anxiety among the relatives of missing persons, whose agony and sensitivity must be respected by all”.
Mr Georgiades pointed out the need for any efforts to be based on really reliable evidence and information in order to investigate properly and accurately the fate of missing persons and facilitate the work of foreign experts involved in this task.
In addition, the leader of the Turkish Cypriot Peace and Democracy Movement (PDM) Mustafa Akinci criticised the occupation regime for this development and called on it to show a “more serious behaviour” on the issue of missing persons.
CMP accepts INFORCE recommendations - The Committee on Missing Persons has accepted a recommendation by the Chief Executive and founder of INFORCE Foundation, Professor Margaret Cox, that INFORCE send an experienced forensic anthropologist to Cyprus to give advice on the requirements for a forensic anthropological laboratory to be located in the buffer zone. The CMP reached this decision during its 398th meeting on 18 May 2005 with the participation of Professor Cox, who was invited by the CMP to participate in a survey of burial sites on both sides, on 17 and 18 May 2005. “It should be noted that for the first time a joint team of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots participated in a survey on the entire territory of the island”, a CMP press release said.
CMP agrees on principles for exhumation project - The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP) held its 403rd formal meeting on 30 June 2005, during which it agreed on the principles for the project in connection with the DNA identification of remains of both G/Cs and T/Cs to be exhumed on the island. In a press release, the CMP mentions inter alia the following:
“The necessary mechanisms will be set up without delay. Emergency exhumations carried out by Inforce under the aegis of the CMP started on Monday morning 27 June 2005. This first phase of an emergency nature, which is intended to safeguard remains and burial sites at risk due to heavy constructions and land use projects taking place, is expected to last for a number of weeks. Excavations will be carried out in certain places under the technical supervision of an Inforce Forensic Archaeologist guiding a Turkish Cypriot team. This team includes Archaeologists, an Anthropologist and specialized workers. A Greek Cypriot expert is also fully participating in this process. Remains found are taken into temporary custody under Inforce supervision; they will be transferred to the Anthropological Laboratory to be set up in the Buffer Zone. Early next week a Forensic Anthropologist expert of Inforce will visit Cyprus to prepare the ground for establishing such a laboratory.”
Government committed to proceeding with issue of T/C missing persons - The Cyprus Government’s longstanding position is that the humanitarian issue of missing persons should be settled far from political expediency, the Director of the President’s Press Office Mr Marios Karoyian noted, speaking after a meeting on 6 July at the Presidential Palace between the Director of the President’s Diplomatic Office Mr Tasos Tzionis and the G/C Member to the CMP Mr Elias Georgiades with a delegation of Turkish Cypriot relatives of missing persons.
The delegation passed to the Government-controlled areas of the Republic in order to submit two memorandums to President Tassos Papadopoulos and Foreign Minister George Iacovou, respectively, regarding the efforts to resolve the humanitarian issue.
“There has been a sincere exchange of views and we were given the opportunity to reiterate the will of our side and of the Cyprus Government to make every possible effort to deal with the problems that concern all relatives, Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot alike, with special emphasis on the issue of the Turkish Cypriot missing persons”, Mr Karoyian said and added that all steps would be taken in the framework of the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP).
CMP Cypriot Members present advisers - The CMP announced that during its 404th formal meeting on 7 July 2005, the two Cypriot Members introduced to the Committee their respective Scientific Advisors, Dr Marios Kariolou and Dr Erol Baysal, who have been chosen to help in the implementation of the DNA identification project. The INFORCE Forensic Anthropologist, who arrived in Cyprus on 6 July, was also introduced to the Committee. According to the announcement, she explained her mission, which is to assess possible site locations for the Anthropological Laboratory to be established in the Buffer Zone, and other infrastructural and logistical requirements in connection therewith. The INFORCE Archaeologist presented his first progress report on emergency exhumations conducted since 27 June 2005. Emergency exhumations will continue, the CMP announcement concluded.
CMP is briefed on progress of emergency exhumations - The CMP held, on 14 July 2005, its 405th meeting, during which it was briefed by the INFORCE Forensic Archaeologist on the progress to date on the emergency exhumations. According to an announcement, the Committee also received a presentation from the INFORCE Forensic Anthropologist on the establishment of an Anthropological Laboratory in the buffer zone, including recommendations made regarding the premises to be used. The CMP approved the engagement of one of the two Turkish Cypriot Scientists for the DNA identification project. It is expected that the second Turkish Cypriot Scientist will be engaged soon.
Government urgently wants anthropological centre - The Cyprus Government urgently wants the establishment and operation of an anthropological centre for the classification of the remains of missing persons and the identification process, the Government Spokesman Mr Kypros Chrysostomides told reporters during the daily press briefing on 6 September, underlining the Government’s readiness to make all necessary moves in order to accelerate the establishment of such a laboratory and move forward with the identification as a whole.
CMP discusses budget and exhumations programme - The CMP held a formal meeting on 8 September 2005, during which it considered information regarding the budget being prepared by INFORCE with respect to the implementation of the general exhumations programme, expected to commence as soon as possible. The Committee also considered the preparations being made with respect to the special mechanism of a bicommunal nature, which will be used for the DNA identification of the remains to be exhumed under the general exhumations programme and of those that have already been exhumed and kept, pending the setting up of the Anthropological Laboratory by INFORCE, a CMP press release noted.
Source: Press And Information Office, Republic Of Cyprus, 2005