Missing persons

Missing persons

This Saturday, July 12, there was a solemn ceremony in Cyprus. Forty years after he went missing, the remains of a Greek Cypriot was finally laid to rest. This was the first-ever funeral held in northern Cyprus for a Greek Cypriot missing person. Yiannakis Savva Liasis was killed in the second stage of the Turkish intervention in August 1974, but he was listed as missing when his body was not found. The Committee for Missing Persons (CMP), comprising representatives of the two communities in Cyprus and the United Nations’ Secretary General, aims to ascertain the fate of all persons missing.

The committee has been working quite effectively over the past few years and like the remains of many missing Turkish Cypriots, through dedicated work, the committee has successfully uncovered the remains of many Greek Cypriots, allowing families to at least have a final resting place for their loved ones. This is, of course, is a humanitarian issue and both sides should avoid exploiting it. According to the statements made by the bi-communal committee over the past years, 404 out of 1619 Greek Cypriot missing persons have been identified, while as regards to the Turkish Cypriot missing persons, only 125 of the 502 cases submitted to the CMP were identified. Of the total number of missing Turkish Cypriots, 229 relate to the 1963-64 period and 273 to the 1974 period. An additional 36 cases were later submitted, of which two relate to 1974.

It would have been a privilege and a duty if I could attend the 40-years’-late funeral of Yiannakis in the Ayia Triada Church at Sipahi, or with its pre-1974 name Yialousa. He was a soldier. He would have most likely killed me if somehow we encountered each other during the war in 1974. I never ever pointed a gun at anyone as I was a member of the civilian defense unit providing shelter and food to the civilian population and serving as a guide for the advancing troops, but Yiannakis was a full-fledged soldier.

I cannot imagine the pain his family went through over the past 40 years since he vanished and was presumed killed in action. His remains were finally uncovered in a mass grave with four others in Klepini or Arapköy village in northern Cyprus in March 2010 and was identified through DNA testing last May. Nor could I imagine the pain of the families of the 40 passengers of a bus that vanished on the Limassol road… That bus was found deserted a while later, but its passengers were found by the Missing Persons Committee at a dry well in the Greek Cypriot sector of the island.

War is bad and painful irrespective who the winner or the loser might be. Seeing that bitter reality, the Turkish Cypriot missing persons were declared dead back in 1975, but the Greek Cypriot political administration not only kept that wound open, scratched and bled it time and time again with some political designs. The Missing Persons Committee has been doing a marvelous job for the past few years after spending many decades with oddities. Now, it must be a duty for all Cypriots, not only the two democracies of the island, to help increase the efficiency of the committee, rather than engaging in the blame game.

According to many of the articles I read, the funeral of Yiannakis was attended by some of the remaining Greek Cypriots of northern Cyprus, a handful of people from southern Greek Cypriot areas and politicians from the ruling Democratic Rally Party and by all of the socialist AKEL. Some Turkish Cypriots were apparently there also. But I could not read any report about the participation of the funeral or church services by any Turkish Cypriot politician. Why? Even if we have not yet found a resolution to the Cyprus problem and even if no peace agreement has been signed and we are having a “ceasefire period” in Cyprus, the war is over. Pain is universal. It does not have borders, color or ethnicity. Turkish Cypriot politicians must have been capable of sharing the grief of Yiannakis’ family if we are to build a common future on this island.