When I was writing in 1994 the lyrics to a song called Tou Vagori about 1619 missing persons in Cyprus, I never expected less than a year later I would be discovering completely by accident that the correct number was not 1619 and the Missing were not just Greek Cypriots.
At the cemetery in Lakatamia in western Nicosia, I saw memorial tributes written on a number of tombstones that read “unknown citizen fallen 20 July 1974” but also “unknown citizen fallen 17 August 1974” as well as other dates that had to do with people who died during the Turkish invasion.
I thought it was kind of strange that people weren’t noticing 21 years later that individuals classified as missing in the Republic of Cyprus were also buried right there in a graveyard in the south.
I thought it was strange that people weren't noticing that individuals classified as missing were also buried in the south
This had to be a mistake or was it? So I started looking into the matter and writing about it. I began by looking up the president of the committee for Relatives of the Missing. It was Father Christoforos at the time and I asked him about the graves in Lakatamia. He responded by saying he had no idea. Then I started combing through newspaper clippings from 1975, when I finally unearthed a photograph of the priest together with Archbishop Makarios at the very first Trisagion Prayers at the cemetery in Lakatamia.
But when I went back to the relatives committee to get the actual list of all the names of missing persons, they told me it was top secret. I got the same response from Elias Georgiades, who was a member of the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP) at the time.
It was clear they were all hiding something. And then I found out that exhumations had taken place in Lakatamia between 1978 and 1980. It turned out that some of the remains belonging to fallen Greek nationals were handed over to their relatives and taken back to Greece for burial. Other human remains were moved to the Makedonitissa “Tymvos” military cemetery in Nicosia where they were being sprayed periodically with chemicals.
Top secret list and a breakthrough
Finally a fellow journalist, who left for the Council of Europe, found the “top secret” list of missing persons unattended on a small table along with some propaganda leaflets. The investigation into names on the list led me to many odd and almost unthinkable incidents, including a neighbour who was in fact in one piece and with a clean bill of health too.
It then occurred to me that none of the assigned or appointed state officials and commissioners had any real interest in finding out actual information. They were all concerned with one thing, their career posts that were under this halo of lights beaming “top secret” that protected them to the level of being untouched or unchecked.
This is why today we hear pleas and urgent calls for information to help locate burial sites, except that most of the witnesses have passed away and the matter is drawing to a close.
In the UNFICYP report by the UN Secretary General dated 30 January 2019, there are two paragraphs in reference to missing persons, where Turkey’s responsibilities in sharing information on possible burial sites are placed equally with those of Cyprus and Greece.
Things quieting down in town
Two days after the report came out, an event for missing persons was put together by the Government and the two committees in Cyprus and Greece for relatives of the Missing. There were speeches by the President, the deputy foreign minister of Greece, the attorney general, the presidents of the two committees, Cypriot former minister Ioannis Kasooulides and Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Issues Photis Photiou among others.
Nobody bothered to comment on the two unacceptable paragraphs in the UN report. Could it be that the President of the Republic has not read the UNSG’s report on UNFICYP after all the hustle and bustle? And if he has read it, how on earth did he allow that kind of language in those two paragraphs regarding missing persons? Unless of course, there is now an understanding that the matter will quietly draw to a close once and for all.
It is clear even to outsiders that without having Turkey to blame for its responsibilities, the industry that has been set up to drive the Cyprus problem and missing persons issue would have gone bankrupt a long time ago if culpability of these networking career-seekers was not carefully tucked under the huge rug of deceptive patriotism bearing the “Never Forget” slogan.
Now that the boat is broken in the middle of the ocean, just like the Titanic, I bet one can hear a funeral song, the requiem from the voices of our Missing: “farewell Vagori - straight from the gallows, missing we shall all be - from grandpas to grandsons.”
The article was first published by Kathimerini Cyprus on 10 February 2019