Turkish war crimes in Cyprus

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by Uzay Bulut

  • [T]he invading Turkish forces [in 1974] murdered innocent civilians, raped women and children, and plundered northern Cyprus. They forcibly displaced around 170,000 Greek Cypriots, or a third of the total population of the Republic of Cyprus….
  • “The widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity as defined in applicable international law and shall attract the consequences provided for under such applicable international law.” — United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, 2006.
  • According to the statistics, the highest number of complaints to the European Court of Human Rights, after Russia, involved Turkey…. In 2021, Turkey topped the list for the number of ECtHR judgments that found violations of freedom of expression.
  • “[T]here has been a collective decades-long failure to uphold the rule of law in an adequate manner befitting the post-1945 legal order.” — Dr. Klearchos A. Kyriakides, “The Search for Security via Answers to Questions on Law, Criminal Justice and Impunity,” forum.agora-dialogue.com, June 17, 2017
  • Dr. Kyriakides also notes the failure of Turkey to become a state party to more than 70 instruments of international law.
  • For criminal justice to be served in Cyprus, Kyriakides recommends that a new independent international criminal tribunal in the lines of the tribunals established by the victorious Allies in Nuremberg or by the UN Security Council in relation to the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda should be established concerning the crimes Turkey and its agents committed in Cyprus.
  • “[C]ontrary to international humanitarian law, the United Nations shoulders at least some of the responsibility for fostering a culture of impunity. The United Nations has never established any independent international criminal tribunal for the Republic of Cyprus along the lines of the precedents established….” — Dr. Klearchos A. Kyriakides, “The Search for Security via Answers to Questions on Law, Criminal Justice and Impunity,” published in connection with the “Conference on Cyprus” in Geneva, on June 28, 2017.
  • Investigations could warrant an independent Nuremberg-style or Hague-style tribunal to deal with the war crimes committed.

On August 15, 1974, Pavlos Solomi, 42, and his son, Solomis Pavlou Solomi, 17, were arrested by Turks at their home in the Cypriot village of Komi Kepir during the second phase of Turkey’s military invasion of Cyprus.

Panagiota Pavlou Solomi spent the remainder of her life trying to find her missing husband and son. Finally, 43 years after their abduction, in 2017, their remains were found in Galatia Lake by the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP), which exhumed what was left of them. A funeral was held for the murdered father and son in March 2018, but not in their beloved village of Komi Kepir. That village is still illegally occupied by Turkey. The family buried the corpses in the free region of the Republic of Cyprus, where they currently reside.

In 2008, the French news magazine L’Express reported on the plight of Mrs. Solomi:

“The old woman sent her desperate letter to Nelson Mandela, to Margaret Thatcher, to the European Parliament, to the Queen of England. The greats of this world left her unanswered….

“The life of this 79-year-old Greek Cypriot, draped in black, fits on a typewritten sheet: ‘My name is Panayiota Pavlou Solomi… My husband, Pavlos Solomis, 42, and my son, Solomis Pavlou, 17, disappeared in 1974. On August 15, that year, the Turkish army came in, started shooting. We were brought in for questioning. […] My husband and my son never came back. They weren’t soldiers. Just civilians. […] I have the right, as a human being, mother and wife, to know what happened to them. Please help me find them.’”

Mrs. Solomi passed away on December 10. Petros Ashiotis, a family friend of Solomis, told Gatestone:

“We would visit their house when I was young. The family had an olive refinery and prior to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, were well off. But when the Turkish military invaded, they, like every Greek Cypriot in the occupied area, lost everything. Nine civilians from my village Yialousa, including a district judge, were also arrested during the invasion and went missing. Their corpses were also found later in Galatia.”

Ashiotis added that Mrs. Solomi went every Saturday to the Ledra Palace Hotel, which was the only “accessible” path to the occupied northern region of Cyprus until 2013. There, she stood silently with photos of her husband Pavlos and her son, and other women seeking justice for their missing relatives. She became a symbol of the struggle to find the forcibly “disappeared” Cypriots.

Mrs. Solomi appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to bring the Turkish regime to account, reported the Athens News Agency (ANA) in 2002. She noted that the Turkish-Cypriot leader at that time, Rauf Denktas, never responded to a letter she sent in 1975 asking what became of her husband and son after their disappearance.

Turkish Cypriot investigative journalist Sevgül Uludağ joined the funeral of the father and son in 2018 in Limassol and wrote about the funeral ceremony.

In her eulogy, Solomi’s daughter, Christina Pavlou, said,

“It was August 15, 1974 when our whole family was arrested at our home in Komi Kepir by Turkish Cypriot co-villagers and they transferred us to the village of Galatia. There, it was the last moment that I saw you alive, and even then… they rushed us away from you…. Pasias had then… promised us that in three days you would be coming back to us in our house in Komi. That never happened.

“We had difficult years on our own, my mother and I, always thinking about you and being anxious for some good news….

“However, from up there you will be seeing us all together and be proud…
From this wonderful family, here is my husband, Vasos… He is so much like you… Dad, you have three grandchildren…. They never had the fortune to meet their grandfather… to play with you, to joke or to seek your advice.”

In two military campaigns in 1974 – on July 20 and August 14 – Turkey, a NATO member, illegally invaded the Republic of Cyprus, which had only a small National Guard and no navy or air force. Turkish forces have since occupied 36% of Cypriot territory, and the fate of hundreds of missing people remains unknown. The Turkish military code-named the invasion “Atilla,” after the 5th century tribal leader and barbarian ruler of the Huns from Central Asia, and known for his destruction of parts of the Roman Empire.

Living up to the “legacy” of Atilla the Hun, the invading Turkish forces murdered innocent civilians, raped women and children, and plundered northern Cyprus. They forcibly displaced around 170,000 Greek Cypriots, or a third of the total population of the Republic of Cyprus, violently targeted churches and destroyed Christian cemeteries. They arrested Greek Cypriots and tortured many. An investigative report issued in 1976 by the European Commission of Human Rights, a body of the Council of Europe, documented many of the crimes and abuses committed by Turks during the invasion. Regarding the missing persons, the report noted:

“The Commission considers that there is a presumption of Turkish responsibility for the fate of persons; shown to have been in Turkish custody. However, on the basis of the material before it, the Commission has been unable to ascertain whether, and under what circumstances, Greek Cypriot prisoners declared to be missing have been deprived of their life.”

According to the 2006 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance,

“‘Enforced disappearance’ is considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.

“The widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity as defined in applicable international law and shall attract the consequences provided for under such applicable international law.”

Cypriots established several organizations to find the remains of those who forcibly disappeared in 1974. According to the Organization of Relatives of Undeclared Prisoners and Missing Persons of Cyprus,”The initial number of missing persons was 1619, including non-combatants, women and small children. On the face of evidence, all these people disappeared during or after the Turkish invasion in the areas captured by the Turkish troops. There is corroborating evidence from eyewitnesses and international organizations that many of these persons had been arrested by the Turkish invasion forces or armed Turkish Cypriot groups and held for a period of time in Turkish prisons.”

Another organization – the Panhellenic Committee of Parents and Relatives of Undeclared Prisoners and Missing Persons of the Cyprus Tragedy – aims to fully investigate the fate of the Greeks missing from the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. The committee notes:”Many decades have already passed since that morning of July 20, when the hordes of ‘Attila’ invaded the island, spreading death and destruction. The conqueror left behind ruins, while for a number of years he continues to hold part of northern Cyprus.”

The Organization of Relatives of Missing Cypriots UK (ORMC) was founded in 1983 by relatives of missing Cypriots living in the United Kingdom. According to the ORMC:”This tragic problem of a purely humanitarian nature remains unresolved because Turkey, in full disregard of international conventions and declarations, does not allow effective investigations to be carried out. Persuasive information, which could determine the fate of missing persons, has not been revealed.”

When the Turkish military invaded in 1974, the population of Cyprus was approximately 642,000. Photis Photiou, the Presidential Commissioner of Cyprus, told Gatestone:

“The human losses and suffering caused by the Turkish invasion, in relation to the population of Cyprus, are immense. Leaving aside the economic destruction of the northern occupied part of Cyprus and the problems of the refugees and the enclaved, approximately 3,000 Greek Cypriots lost their lives or disappeared during the invasion. The ICRC in 1975 provided a list to the Government of Cyprus containing more than 2,500 cases. After investigations by the Government authorities, more cases of missing and dead were recorded.

“In 1995, approximately 1,500 cases of disappeared Greek Cypriots were submitted to the Committee on Missing Persons, which operated under the auspices of the United Nations. This Committee was established in 1981 and operates ever since. Today, more than 750 cases of the 1,500 cases submitted are still pending. It should also be noted that, for the majority of the rest of the cases, the families received for burial only small or isolated bones as a result of the policy of the Turkish occupying forces to destroy the mass burials and to intentionally remove the remains to places unknown to us.

“In addition to the cases submitted to the CMP, there are more than 400 pending cases of Greek Cypriots who are buried in known or unknown places in the occupied areas. The families of these persons are also waiting to trace the remains of their loved ones so they can proceed to a decent burial according to our religious and social customs.”

Turkish government authorities, however, have not helped to find those missing people.

“The cooperation of Turkey is very essential and necessary to our efforts to solve the humanitarian aspect of the tragedy of the missing persons and their families. Unfortunately, despite our efforts Turkey is not forthcoming and cooperating.

“Turkey is not represented in the Committee on Missing Persons, although Turkey is responsible for the creation of the problem and its prolongation for so many decades. It is very indicative of the Turkish policies to state that Turkey is refusing to provide the information from its military archives, continues to put obstacles for investigations and exhumations in the military areas, refuses to show the mass burials that were created by the Turkish army after the collection of the dead from clearing the battlefields and, more importantly, Turkey is proceeding to destroy the mass burial sites in the occupied areas so to cover up and destroy all the evidence documenting the crimes committed.”

According to the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP), 2,002 persons (492 Turkish Cypriots and 1,510 Greek Cypriots) disappeared by force in 1963-64 and 1974. The CMP has managed to identify 292 of the missing Turkish and 736 Greek Cypriots.

Photiou said:”The Government of Cyprus is, and has always been, committed to the full determination of the fate of all the missing Turkish Cypriots. A lot of information has been submitted to the CMP for burial places of missing Turkish Cypriots by the Greek Cypriot Member from 1989 onwards, that is 16 years before the program of exhumations started by the CMP. This will continue and intensify so the Turkish Cypriot families concerned can be informed fully and conclusively about the fate of their loved ones. In addition to the work in the CMP, the Government of Cyprus in 2003 has taken a lot of unilateral steps concerning the tragic problem of the missing Turkish Cypriots and their families.”

On January 25, The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) released its Annual Report 2021. According to the statistics, the highest number of complaints, after Russia, involved Turkey. According to the Council of Europe’s Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists, Turkey generates the most cases submitted to Europe’s human rights bodies. In 2021, Turkey topped the list for the number of ECtHR judgments that found violations of freedom of expression.

The European Court has convicted Turkey for Cypriot missing persons, as well. Photiou said:

“The Government of the Republic of Cyprus submitted four inter-state applications against Turkey at the Council of Europe. Moreover, the fourth inter-state application was examined by the European Court of Human Rights. In all four inter-state applications, as well as in its decision of 2001, the European Court held Turkey responsible and guilty of serious violations of basic articles of the European Convention of Human Rights, including Article 2 of the Convention pertaining to the right to life. In 2014, the European Court also took another decision concerning the obligation of Turkey to provide compensation to the families of the missing persons. In addition, there are also a number of decisions of the European Court concerning the violations of human rights of the families by Turkey, following the submission of individual cases to the European Court of Human Rights.

“Despite all these decisions and the findings of the Court, Turkey has taken no steps towards implementing the aforementioned ECHR related decisions and keeps refusing to abide and implement the decisions, showing complete disregard and disrespect to the international law and to the fundamental principles and values of human rights. The international community as a whole and the institutions that represent it, namely the United Nations, have a special responsibility to hold Turkey accountable for crimes committed by its agents against the people of Cyprus.

“The international community has a moral and a political obligation to compel Turkey to behave and abide by the fundamental principles of international law and civilized humanity. Turkey should not and cannot be allowed by the international community to continue to show disrespect and ignore the decisions of the European Union and other International institutions that constitute the cornerstone of the civilized international order. More specifically, Turkey should:

i. Release the information concerning the mass burials of Greek Cypriots carried out by the Turkish army after the clearing of the battlefields

ii. Allow access to the Turkish military archives

iii. Release the information concerning the location of the new burial sites containing the remains that were removed intentionally by the Turkish army from the primary burial places.

iv. Implement without further delays the 2001 and 2014 Decisions of the European Court of Human Rights concerning the missing Greek Cypriots.”

Dr. Klearchos A. Kyriakides, whose academic areas of expertise include International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law, wrote:

“Turkey has never become a State Party to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance of 2006. This fact raises additional questions as to the sincerity of Turkey in connection with the search for missing persons and any related pursuit of criminal justice…

“[T]here has been a collective decades-long failure to uphold the rule of law in an adequate manner befitting the post-1945 legal order. In consequence, not only have the citizens of the Republic of Cyprus remained de jure divided along ‘bi-communal’ lines since 1960 and de facto segregated on de facto ‘bi-zonal’ lines since 1974. Individual citizens of the Republic of Cyprus – and its citizens as a collective whole – have been subjected to the systematic denial of criminal justice. In turn, systemic injustice has been supplemented by a culture contaminated with systematic impunity.”

Dr. Kyriakides also notes the failure of Turkey to become a state party to more than 70 instruments of international law. “Why has Turkey,” he asks, “never become a state party to so many legal instruments of substantial importance to peace, security, justice, human rights and the rule of law generally?”

For criminal justice to be served in Cyprus, Kyriakides recommends that a new independent international criminal tribunal along the lines of the tribunals established by the victorious WWII Allies in Nuremberg or by the UN Security Council in relation to the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda should be established concerning the crimes Turkey and its agents committed in Cyprus. Kyriakides explains:

“[C]ontrary to international humanitarian law, the United Nations shoulders at least some of the responsibility for fostering a culture of impunity. The United Nations has never established any independent international criminal tribunal for the Republic of Cyprus along the lines of the precedents established, firstly, by the victorious Allies in relation to Germany (in Nuremberg in Germany) and Japan (in Tokyo) and, secondly, by the United Nations Security Council with respect to places such as the former Yugoslavia (in The Hague in the Netherlands) and Rwanda (in Arusha in Tanzania and The Hague).”

Both the international community and Turkey have a responsibility to help Cyprus trace the fate of the missing Cypriots. Investigations could warrant an independent Nuremberg-style or Hague-style tribunal to deal with the war crimes committed. Such a court’s mandate could include the issue of missing and murdered victims. Naturally, that would help Cypriot families find some justice almost 50 years after Turkey’s illegal invasion and occupation of Cyprus.

Turkish war crimes in Cyprus

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