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Turkish policy on Cyprus: The case of the missing persons of Assia Εκτύπωση E-mail

 

This is an open letter / plea  to all readers who are in position to exercise their influence on Turkey to disclose information about the missing persons of Assia.

 

Missing persons of Assia {Ashia, Άσσια} village Cyprus since August 1974


Assia, situated in the central plain of Mesaoria, was a peaceful and vibrant rural community with a population of about 2700 in 1974. In the early morning hours of 14 August 1974, the village was bombarded by the Turkish air force.  Until that day there were no hostilities in our area and no army units were stationed in or close to the village.  In the hours that followed, a large number of civilians from neighbouring villages, fleeing from the warring zone near Mia Milia, fled to our village for safety and the members of our community were busy trying to provide them with food and shelter.  Around 14:00 hours the same day, without any previous notice, Turkish tanks entered the village, followed by the Turkish infantry.  In the pandemonium that ensued people were trying to flee from the village.  Many managed to escape, but an estimated number of about 1000 people were less fortunate.  They were consequently enclaved and experienced two weeks of absolute horror.

 

Fourteen individuals were executed in cold blood during the first hours of the capture of the village.  In the days that followed the Turkish army and armed Turkish Cypriots form neighbouring villages went on a rampage.  Men and young boys were captured and some started disappearing, individually or in groups.  Many women and young girls were humiliated and experienced the horror of rape, and from 16 August 1974 onwards the village was systematically looted.  Our homes were stripped of their belongings and men and young boys were tortured.  Indicative of the environment that prevailed was the violent beating of the renowned Cypriot naive painter of Cyprus, Michael Kashalos aged 89.  Some soldiers entered his home and asked for money.  He gave them all he had, but they asked for more.  They struck him with the butt of a rifle and left him lying there in very bad shape.  He was later on transferred to Larnaca where he died of his wounds on 30 August 1974.

 

During a mass operation conducted by the Turkish army on 21 August 1974, all the houses were evacuated and the people were forced by armed soldiers to march towards the village square of St. Ioannnis Prodromos in the upper parish of the village.  Women and children were separated completely from the men and young boys - 15 and above - and were led to the eastern part of the village, where they were literally piled in big numbers in a dozen or so houses.  Cut off from all basic amenities, including electricity and running water, and without any food, the women and children lived in appalling conditions of deprivation and fear.

 

The final act was enforced in the following days, when the inhabitants were gradually expelled by force.  The last inhabitants of the village were forced out on 28 August and never allowed to return since then.


The drama of the missing persons

In total 106 individuals aged 11 - 84, including 10 youths under the age of 18, who were captured in Assia disappeared and went missing thereafter.  98 of those were civilians and 8 reservists.

 

The missing members of our community since 1974

The missing memebers of Assia since 1974The missing members of Assia since 1974

 

 

 

 

The missing persons from neighbouring communities who disappeared in Assia

 

29 Missing persons from neighbouring villages who disappeared in Assia


Facts and Figures:

 

Missing members of our community since 1974

 84

Captured in Assia

77

Disappeared in other locations

 7

 

Civilians from neighbouring villages who were captured 
in Assia and thereafter went missing

 29

 

Total number of persons who were captured in Assia and
thereafter went missing

106

Civilians

98

Reservists

 8


Progress with identification of Assia residents - missing persons

 

  62

Disappeared in locations other than Ornithi

10

Ornithi mass grave (see section below)

52

 

Note: For 22 cases of missing persons from Assia no information has been provided and no progress has been made.

 


The case of the mass murder of 70 missing civilians in Ornithi -  captured in Assia on 21 August 1974


This was the largest sub-group of the 106 missing persons who disappeared in Assia.

70 missing civilians murdered in Ornithi by the Turkish Army

 

Circumstances of disappearance

On 21 August 1974, Turkish soldiers accompanied by Turkish Cypriots, whose names we know, arrested all the men and young boys remaining in the village.  On the same day, according to testimonies of eyewitnesses, 107 persons were loaded on 3 lorries and under guard by Turkish soldiers were driven to the Turkish quarter of Nicosia, Pavlides garage - the temporary place of captivity of Greek Cypriot Prisoners of War prior to their transfer to Turkish prisons in mainland Turkey.  The Turkish Cypriot police in charge of Pavlides garage selected 37 persons, below the age of 50, who were detained in the said garage.  The remaining 70 civilians were not detained and orders were given to their guards to return them to Assia, apparently due to their advance age. 52 of the said individuals were residents of our village and the remaining 18 residents of neighbouring villages who were also captured in our village.

 

Mass graves in Ornithi

In the spring of 2009, the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP) conducted a search in the Ornithi area on the outskirts of Afania village, situated about 4 km west of Assia, which lasted for more than a year.  Four burial sites were disinterred, two of which were water wells and the sites of mass graves.  The remains identified by DNA testing in those two mass graves have confirmed that they belong to the list of 70 civilians who were captured in Assia on 21 August 1974 as described above.

 

Organised removal of remains to unknown location

Other evidence that emerged from the search in the Ornithi area was that the two mass graves had been previously exhumed. The human remains were removed and transferred elsewhere, apparently in an effort to hide the evidence of a mass murder.  The CMP managed to recover only seven complete or nearly complete skeletons.

 

For the remaining missing persons in the two mass graves, as we have been officially briefed and also witnessed during our visit to the Anthropological Centre in the Nicosia Airport area in June 2014, only a very small number of bones or bone fragments have been discovered.  In a number of extreme individual cases the findings involve bone material of just a few centimetres.

 

 

The role of Turkey

The massacre of the 70 civilians at Ornithi by the Turkish army has been documented with appaling detail through the testimony from O. Saat, who was serving in the 1st battalion of the 21st Artilery Division of the Turkish army, in the book written by Roni Alasor, "Διαταγή Εκτελέστε τους αιχμαλώτους", εκδόσεις Καστανιώτη, 2002. pages 117-119.


The findings from the disinterment conducted by the CMP gave uncontested evidence that the disappearance of the remains from the mass graves in the Ornithi area was a result of a large scale operation which was conducted in an organised manner that entailed the use of heavy machinery, trucks and most likely many people working for days at a small distance from the village of Afania and the huge army base in Assia, hosting the headquarters of the 28th Infantry Division of the Turkish Army.  Given the nature and scale of the operation, we strongly believe that it was conducted under the initiative or at least with the full knowledge of the Turkish Army.  Therefore, they must have clear knowledge of the history and whereabouts of the transferred remains.

 

Further evidence that supports the above conclusion is the findings from exhumation work on various locations on the island.  Indicatively we mention the cases of mass graves in Ayios Ilarion, Kornokipos, Afania, Assia-Ornithi, and most recently Lapithos, one of the biggest mass graves on the island, all of which have been previously removed.

 

All of the above provide strong evidence that this strategy was planned, organised and executed at a very high level and the intent was to eradicate the evidence of war crimes committed by the Turkish army in Cyprus in the summer of 1974.

 

Organised removal of remains and the effects on the program - time, cost and quality of end result

The intentional and organized exhumation and removal of bones, conducted by the Turkish authorities, constitute a major disruption and complication for an inherently challenging and difficult process.  The disruption takes place at all levels of the process, in the required time to exhume and sift through hundreds of tons of soil, the time needed by the anthropologists to study the findings of hundreds or even thousands of small bones or bone fragments, and the dramatic rise in the cost to conduct DNA tests on a big number of scattered bones for each individual case. This in turn hinders the whole process, causing unpredictable time delays and a growing need for additional financial resources due to the increased complexity of the task. 

 

The CMP's position and its problematic mandate

The CMP mandate is highly restrictive and according to the Terms of Reference and Mandate as stated on its web page, basically stipulates that:


Item 11.
"The committee will not attempt to attribute responsibility for the deaths of any missing persons or make findings as to the cause of such deaths"


Item 13.
"The committee will use its best efforts to draw up comprehensive lists of missing persons of both communities, specifying as appropriate whether they are alive or dead, and in the latter case approximate time of the deaths."


In the case of our missing relatives the CMP considers the evidence of DNA, on small bone fragments as ample evidence to reach their key objective and therefore bring any case to a close.

 

This is the reason why the families of the missing persons of Assia strongly object to the handling by the CMP, which is bound by an agreement established in 1981 which obviously did not foresee that mass graves would be transferred to various hiding places.  The families are overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and anger at the same time, and strongly feel that the CMP blatantly ignores their rights and feelings in favour of "statistical progress".

 

The families are faced with a strong dilemma, and many chose to proceed with the burial of the small bone remains available.  At the same time they strongly condemn the insensitivity of the Turkish side which through its actions and lack of cooperation aims to keep the case of the missing persons of our village permanently open in their hearts and minds.  It is sad and outrageous to know that the bulk of the remains of their missing relatives will effectively stay intentionally buried in a hiding place with the full knowledge of the Turkish army and the Turkish Cypriot Authorities.

 

Gross violation of the rights of the families to know

The opening of the mass graves and the transport of the remains to an unknown location raises serious questions about the motives of the perpetrators. It is clear that in the case of the missing civilians of Assia there was a gross violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. The exhumation and disappearance of the remains of these individuals clearly intended to erase the evidence of a war crime.

 

Further, under Resolution 1956 (2013) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, relatives of missing persons have a right of access to information on missing persons which is essential in establishing their identity, location, fate and the circumstances of their disappearance and/or death.  Under the same resolution member states are under an obligation to respect the right of families to recover the remains of their missing family members.

 

Our request

We strongly request from all interested parties who are in position to exercise their influence to convince Turkey to cooperate fully and to provide detailed information as to the new burial site of our missing relatives who were murdered in Ornithi as well as the remaining 22 cases for which no information has been made available.   Turkey has the responsibiliy to provide the families with information regarding the circumstances they have met their death, the cause of death and those responsible for their death.

 

Further, the CMP must be encouraged to show more respect to the needs of the families of the missing persons and to adopt the spirit rather than the letter of the 1981 Agreement.  The CMP must be deterred from simply closing these cases on purely technical grounds, i.e. the finding of DNA.  The CMP mandate did not foresee the intentional and organised removal of remains to new locations and therefore their mandate must be expanded to include these cases as a separate category that should remain open until each case is fully resolved.  The mission of the CMP cannot be considered as accomplished by delivering small bone fragments to the families of the missing persons.

 

Practically every family in our village has been affected by this great tragedy for the past four decades and definitely are entitled and deserve humane treatment.  It is our strong conviction that if properly managed the resolution of the humanitarian issue of the missing persons of Cyprus can lead to the ease of pain for the families and promote reconciliation among the Greek and Turkish Cypriot Communities.  On the contrary, the lack of cooperation from the Turkish side simply acts to reinforce and propagate the divisions and mistrust into the future.

 

We wish to thank you for your attention and look forward to having your support in our effort to bring this tragedy to a close.

 

Committee of Relatives of Missing Persons of Assia

23 January 2015

 

 

The 70 Missing Civilians Murdered in Ornithi by the Turkish Army

Name Home Address Age
Andreas S. Fouskoulli Angastina 54
Antonis M. Antoniou Angastina 59
Theodoulos S. Solomou Aphania 49
Antonis Ch. Tambi Assia 56
Andreas D. Skouros Assia 59
Andreas P. Pratsis Assia 53
Andreas C. Christoukkou Assia 49
Antonis D. Diarkou Assia 62
Antonis Ch. Hadjiantonis Assia 54
Apostolos P. Tofa Assia 50
Charalambos G. Yiorkouni Assia 50
Christakis P. Hadjichristoudia  
Assia 74
Christos Y. Kouppa Assia 64
Christos G. Mias Assia 59
Christos H. Tsikkouris Assia 61
Christos P. Tofa Assia 67
Chrysostomos G. Kazamias
Assia 59
Cleanthis S. Christoforou Assia 50
Constantis Ch. Voskou
Assia 53
Constantis P. Stratouras
Assia 64
Costas Ch. Assiotis Assia 54
Costas D. Moustakas
Assia 62
David C. Photi
Assia 46
Demetrios A. Kambouris
Assia 58
Demetrios C. Kostrikkis
Assia 57
Demetris S. Demetriades Assia 56
Diomides H. Hadjiconstantis
Assia 57
Elias P. Hadjigavriel Assia 60
Frangopoulos D. Kishi
Assia 46
Georgios Ch. Pateras
Assia 61
Georgios Ch. Phori
Assia 55
Georgios M. Hadjikoutsou
Assia 68
Georgios D. Hadjitofi
Assia 52
Hadjikyriacos H. Hadjiyiannis Assia 65
Hadjikyriacos C. Kokkinis
Assia 74
Kyprianos Y. Charalambous
Assia 65
Kyriacos Ch. Kimis Assia 58
Kyriacos P. Kkouti
Assia 51
Kyriacos L. Hadjichristoudias
Assia 68
Kyriacos K. Kostrikkis
Assia 66
Lambros A. Pieri
Assia 56
Mattheos M. Papamichael
Assia 56
Michael Ch. Tambi
Assia 51
Michael Ph. Flamoudiotis
Assia 56
Michael H. Hadjidaniel
Assia 57
Michael Ch. Christoudias
Assia 68
Panayis P. Passkas
Assia 54
Panayis K. Tsitsou
Assia 58
Savvas K. Tzirka
Assia 58
Stylianos P. Pratsis
Assia 58
Tofis D. Hadjitofis
Assia 55
Vasos C. Vasiliou
Assia 54
Vasos Th. Vasiliou
Assia 50
Yiacoumis P. Koutis
Assia 62
Yiannis K. Kalli
Assia 64
Yiannos M. Ioannou
Assia 62
Andreas I. Ioannou
Kythrea 68
Andreas N. Zevlaris
Kythrea 62
Michael Ch. Michael
Kythrea 50
Xanthos N. Michaelides
Kythrea 56
Andreas P. Tziambos
Neo Chorio Kythreas   
54
Antonis H. Hari
Neo Chorio Kythreas
49
Christos Tz. Tziortzi
Neo Chorio Kythreas
51
Georgios M. Tanteles
Neo Chorio Kythreas
46
Kyriacos M. Menikou Neo Chorio Kythreas 50
Nicolas K. Photi
Neo Chorio Kythreas
59
Prodromos Y. Karayiannis Neo Chorio Kythreas 52
Savvas I. Leandrou
Neo Chorio Kythreas
62
Sophocles C. Zervos
Neo Chorio Kythreas
61
Andreas A. Petrasitis
Palekythro 55

 



Testimony by Turkish Soldier O. Saat - describing the mass murder in Ornithi as published in the book "Διαταγή Εκτελέστε τους Αιχμαλώτους",

published by:  Καστανιώτης, 2002.  pages 117-119

 
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