Questions asked at last about `disappeared'

 

On July 21st, 1974, the day after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, Stavros Kallis, a Greek Cypriot from Famagusta, was arrested by Turkish forces and taken away. He was 21. He has never been seen since.

Nearly 24 years later, a lifetime away in London, his sister, Katerina Petrides, sits weeping as she describes the pain her family have suffered. Her mother still lays a place for her son at every meal. Her father's last words as he lay dying were: "Where is my son?"

It is a sorrow the family share with many other Greek Cypriots: 1,619 people went missing after the invasion. Nothing is known about them now and this ignorance about their fate produces a particular sort of misery which does not diminish over the years.

There have been years of silence: silence from the Turkish government about the fate of the missing Greek Cypriots and, oddly, an international silence about the events, too.

After the democratic Allende government was swept away by the Pinochet regime in Chile, international outrage about the violation of human rights centred on the 15,000 people who "disappeared".

Even though Cyprus is rather closer to home than Chile - and despite the fact that the Turkish zone of northern Cyprus has remained a popular holiday destination for wealthy western Europeans - there has been no outcry over what has happened to the 1,619.

It is a smaller number, of course, than those who "disappeared" in Chile, but then the population of Cyprus is only half a million. It is a humanitarian problem and one Turkey has not been asked to explain.

The Turkish authorities provided lists of prisoners they intended to release, but who were never seen. The Red Cross produced lists of "missing" people who are in Turkish detention centres. But no pressure has been exerted to find out what has happened to them.

Questions are at last being asked, however. The issue came even more sharply into focus earlier this year when Turkey boycotted the London summit of the first European Conference and, in doing so, in effect put at risk the entire programme of enlargement of the EU precisely because of the unsettled Cypriot question.

One British Labour MP, Ann Keen, first noticed a group of exiled Greek Cypriot women last summer, on one of their periodic small demonstrations outside the House of Commons to mark the anniversary of the Turkish invasion.

She was shocked by the lack of attention the case has attracted and resolved to fight for some sort of resolution to the problem. She has taken up the matter with the British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, and asked for a meeting with him to discuss it.

"I promised those I met that I would do my best to get them some answers. I find it outrageous that this is happening and nothing is being done about it," she says.

"I think it is something we should know more about here, not least because so many people regularly go for their holidays to Cyprus without even being aware of what has occurred."

The women who met Ms Keen do not understand why their circumstances have not previously attracted political attention. They have tried to put pressure on Turkey through the UN, the Greek Cypriot government and the International Red Cross.

All to no avail.

"No one can communicate with Turkey," Ms Petrides says. "Turkey and human rights do not go together. We are told nothing except that they are all dead, which we do not accept. We want evidence. We want to know the truth."

The stories are all different in detail and harrowingly similar in reality. Yiannoulla Odysseos's brother was captured by Turkish troops and reported to have been held in a labour camp.

He was an engineer and there was a story that he had been seen working at an airport. But the last sighting of him was in 1978, 20 years ago.

"We assume he was transferred to another labour camp in mainland Turkey," she says. "We still live in hope that we will see him again and pray every day for God to keep him well."