Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades attended on Friday the unveiling ceremony of a Greek Noratlas aircraft replica, which has been assembled at Makedonitissa “Tymvos” military cemetery in Nicosia to honour the fallen.
Anastasiades, who was the guest of honour at the unveiling ceremony, expressed the people’s gratitude for the sacrifice of the Greek commandos who rushed to defend freedom in 1974.
Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, who also attended the event, drew parallels between the fallen commandos and today's jet fighter pilots in Greece who are patrolling the skies over the Aegean.
Athens did not officially acknowledge the Noratlas operation, but in recent years more publicity was given for historical and humanitarian reasons
The ceremony was part of a series of events and gatherings by which Greek Cypriots mark July 20 as the day of Turkish invasion.
The original Noratlas “Niki-4” was taking part in a secret mission on 22 July 1974, in order to assist Greek Cypriot forces as they put up a resistance to the advancing Turkish army, which invaded in response to a short-lived coup on July 15 engineered by Athens and local supporters of union with Greece.
Niki-4 with 33 souls on board was shot down by friendly fire during landing, when Greek Cypriot forces manning the Nicosia airport mistook the plane for the enemy.
The plane crashed seconds later with only one commando surviving after managing to jump out. A fire that started inside the aircraft is believed to have killed everyone else who did not die on impact.
Noratlas was an open secret for decades
The plane was buried with the remains of the commandos still inside, with the aircraft lying exactly under a mound on which a monument to the fallen of 1974 was later erected.
The government was criticised for not being forthcoming about the exact fate of the aircraft and the remains of Greek fallen commandos, with some of their families later being given misidentified remains.
Athens did not officially acknowledge the Noratlas operation, as Greece was a NATO ally and not at war with Turkey. But in recent years, more publicity has been given to the incident primarily for historical and humanitarian reasons.
In the last two years, the plane was exhumed and remains of over a dozen commandos were returned to their families, in an effort by the government to make things right.