News & Current Affairs

September 7, 2008

Laying to rest Cyprus’s ghosts

Laying to rest Cyprus’s ghosts

A Greek-Cypriot woman holds a picture of relatives missing since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

The issue of the “missing” is still a contentious topic in divided Cyprus

Talks this week on the reunification of Cyprus look more hopeful than many would have dared to think possible. But the discovery of remains from some of those killed during the 1974 Turkish invasion is refreshing old grievances, as Tabitha Morgan reports.

The Cyprus police museum is perhaps not high on the list of must-see attractions for the tourist but it does draw a steady stream of visitors, mostly Greek Cypriot children on school trips.

One of the main exhibits is a dark blue prison wagon, one of a pair used during the final years of the British occupation for transporting captured guerrilla fighters between the central court and Nicosia prison.

Nine of them were hanged there by the colonial authorities during the 1950s, some no more than teenagers.

In transit the prisoners were locked behind a heavy sliding door, while their guards enjoyed marginally greater comfort sitting on a pair of blue padded seats.

Greek Cypriot pupils are shown the bars on the floor of the vehicle to which prisoner’s feet were chained. They are urged to reflect on the courage of those young men who struggled to overthrow colonial rule, and taught to take a pride in the story of their national heritage.

Ethnic identity

What is less well chronicled is how, just three years after Cypriot independence, when inter-communal killings began in 1963 the van was used to transport a Turkish Cypriot prison officer to his death at the hands of right-wing paramilitaries.

Air strike by Turkish Air Force during their invasion of Cyprus, 1974.

An air strike by the Turkish Air Force during the 1974 Turkish invasion

On 21 December 1963 Mustafa Arif, a senior officer at Nicosia prison, was admitted to hospital in what is today the Greek Cypriot side of the city to be treated for a heart condition.

By the next day relations between the two communities had collapsed. Riots broke out in Nicosia, shops were looted and burned and the Turkish Cypriot community retreated behind barricades in the north of the city.

Shortly after, Mustafa received a visit from his Greek Cypriot colleagues who urged him leave the hospital and to go with them in the prison van, to a safer place. He agreed to be driven away.

No-one knows for sure what happened next. Was the sick man allowed to sit on one of the comfortable blue padded seats? How long was it before he realised that something was dreadfully wrong?

On the other side of the city, in the Turkish Cypriot enclave, Mustafa’s 10-year-old son Kutlay had just learned to ride a bicycle. He was eager to show his father what he could do, so every day Kutlay brought his bike to meet the bus that he confidently expected would bring his father home.

But Mustafa Arif was listed as “missing” and for the next 44 years he has been considered “missing”: one of those Cypriots killed because they had the wrong ethnic identity.

Burial sites

Greek Cypriots have their own missing, mostly men killed at the time of the Turkish invasion in 1974. The stories of their grieving children, and of families pulled out of joint, are just as raw.

A man shovels dirt into the grave of relatives in southern Cyprus

Scientists have identified the remains of many missing people

These ghostly figures whose killers have never been punished have a symbolic and political potency. There has been little reconciliation, no attempt to reach across the divide and listen to the stories told by Cypriots from the other side of the island.

But recent work by United Nations forensic pathologists may soon force that to change. Over the last 12 months the scientists have located and identified the remains of many missing people and returned them to their families.

Burial sites that were isolated in the 1960s and 1970s are today in the center of urban development. One excavation took place in the car park of Nicosia’s new multi-screen cinema.

Kutlay is now a middle aged man with a family of his own. Until recently he was the mayor of Northern Nicosia. Earlier this summer he received a phone call from the technicians at the UN lab explaining that most, but not all of his father’s skeleton had been recovered from a well in a Nicosia suburb.

Kutlay and his family were invited to view the remains, spread out on a plastic table draped in a white sheet.

Kutlay has spent much of his career campaigning for the island to be re-united. His views on his father’s killers are clear.

“They were fascist thugs,” he says, “they happened to be Greek Cypriots, but that is not what is important about them.”

While the remains of the missing lay lost underground, issues to do with culpability, justice and retribution could be set aside. Now they are being unearthed, Cypriots will have to decide how deeply they want to search for answers to these more difficult questions.

Mustafa Arif was buried earlier this summer next to his wife. It is a mark of how much times are changing here that one of those present was an official Greek Cypriot representative of the President, Dimitris Christofias.

There is no doubt that among the current Greek and Turkish Cypriot leadership there is a strong desire to overcome the past. What is not so clear is whether Cypriots at large are ready to follow their lead.

Advertisements

September 6, 2008

Deadly rockslide hits Cairo homes

Deadly rockslide hits Cairo homes

People at the site of the rock slide (6/9/08)

At least 20 people have been killed by a rockslide which destroyed homes in Cairo, emergency services say.

Dozens of houses in the shanty town east of central Cairo were hit by huge boulders and rocks, reports said.

Witnesses said a six-storey building in the impoverished Duwayqa district below the Muqattam hills had been completely reduced to rubble.

Some people are believed to be still trapped in the rubble and police have cordoned off the area.

At least 20 people are reported to have been injured and the number of casualties is expected to rise.

Reports said that at least eight boulders – each estimated to weigh about 70 tonnes – had fallen from the towering cliffs overlooking the district at about 0900 local time (0700 GMT).

“It was horror,” said Hassan Ibrahim Hassan, 80, whose house escaped the destruction.

Distraught residents

“The power went out, we heard a loud bang like an earthquake and I thought this house had collapsed. I went out, I saw the whole mountain had collapsed.”

Map locator

Witnesses described seeing hundreds of distraught people gathered around the site of the destruction, saying they had relatives and friends trapped under the rubble.

Some were scrabbling at the rocks with their bare hands.

The remains of the town have been covered by a thick layer of dust.

Rescue teams were forced to wait for the arrival of cranes and heavy lifting equipment to allow them to move the huge rocks.”I couldn’t find my house this morning,” said Mustafa Abdel-Fatah. “I could only see rocks on top of everything.”

It was not clear what had triggered the rockfall but a our correspondent says there have been previous landslides in the area.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.