Lobby for Cyprus is a non-party-political human rights organisation campaigning for a reunited Cyprus.
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24 July 2014
Seminar report: The refugee perspective
The annual Lobby for Cyprus seminar at Theatro Technis in London took place on 16 July 2014.

The Kyriacos Christodoulou memorial seminar, named after Lobby’s founder, was this year entitled ‘The refugee perspective’.

The seminar commemorated the 40th dark anniversary of the brutal invasion and occupation of Cyprus by Turkey. Refugees from Ayios Amvrosios, Neochorion and Famagusta recounted the terrible events of 1974 and their tales of bloodshed, strife and horror chilled the auditorium. For over two hours the audience was transfixed and transported to the shores and mountains of the beautiful island of Cyprus when the peace of a summer morning on 20 July 1974 was cruelly shattered by the sound of warplanes and incessant bombing.
 
First came the story of Kika Kattirtzi who was 19-years-old when the sirens started and life in beautiful Ayios Amvrosios, with its apricot orchards and kind hearted inhabitants was utterly destroyed. Her mother’s wailing as she thought of her young son already in the army will remain with her forever. As Kika remained transfixed when it was time to leave the village as the Turkish army were advancing, one of her sisters took some soil from the village, the other the family photographs and her mother some gold jewellery saying “this is a war, we might need to sell this to buy a piece of bread”. These were the only remnants of their life in Ayios Amvrosios along with their memories. The unbearable pain that will never leave them was the loss of Kika’s brother, who although reported to have been a prisoner of war, never saw his family again. He remained one of the missing persons until his remains were discovered by the Committee of Missing Persons in 2010, in a mass grave. His hands were bound and evidence suggests he was tortured then executed. Kika visited her occupied village five years ago and was bitterly disappointed – the homes and olive groves and orange and apricot orchards may have been destroyed but Kika’s vow is that “we can restore them and our children and grandchildren will bring them back to life.” Kika's story was read by Liza Matzangou, whose family is from Ayios Amvrosios.
 
Next were Michael and Maria Kashis, a couple from Neochorion, Kythrea, who had two small children and were expecting a third child when war broke out in 1974. Michael described his childhood in the village with his beloved Turkish Cypriot neighbours and the local football team where his hero was the Turkish Cypriot goalkeeper. With heavy hearts and visible emotion, Maria and Michael each recounted moments they thought would be their last and close encounters with death. As men were being called to report to the army, Michael had to leave a heavily pregnant wife behind and was almost killed by bombings outside the Hilton Hotel. As fate would have it, Michael requested leave on 13 August 1974 and returned home to see if his wife and children were safe as there was no means of communication. He arrived just in time as the Turkish planes started to bomb their village and the Pentadaktylos mountain range. By this time the village was deserted and the dream Maria had of being alone in a deserted village, a few evenings before came eerily true. Michael was visibly shaken as he described with eyes brimming with tears how they narrowly missed the Turkish bombs when warplanes flew over their vehicles as they tried to escape and they were forced to hide in the olive groves. Others were not so fortunate and as Michael commented later “at least we survived”. Of the 72 people who stayed in Neochorion, every single one with the exception of a baby were killed. One family of eight were murdered before the eyes of the sole survivor of the family, a 14-month-old child, named Maria (who was found trying to breast-feed from her dead mother but drawing only blood). She grew up to live a fairly happy and balanced life and Michael vowed that with courage we too can allow Cyprus to grow and flourish notwithstanding the bloodshed she has witnessed.

The third speaker was Antonis Hadjiharis from Ayios Amvrosios who described the prescient words of a 15-year-old friend a year before the invasion, when he admonished the villagers for arguing among themselves and warned them that the Turks would be coming. Antonis was 18, he had graduated from high school and was about to join the army by way of conscription when he heard on the radio on 15 July 1974 there had been a coup and the announcement that President Makarios was dead (which was false). He prepared to join the army and the night before the first Turkish attack he had a nightmare during which he was walking down to Kyrenia and Turkish soldiers were throwing rocks at him which were growing larger and larger but he noticed that they were missing him and in fact hitting Kyrenia harbour. Unfortunately, his dream became reality. The bombing commenced the following day on 20 July 1974 and from his house at the edge of the village he could see the bombings by the beach and Kyrenia castle. All the young men reported to the police station but there were no weapons, the people were defenceless in the face of imminent attack and slaughter. Battles raged in Kyrenia from 22 July to 14 August 1974 and he could see the Karavas and Lapithos battles raging from his village higher up the mountainside. When the talks failed, Antonis was dragged out of the village by his sister and her husband – he left under duress wearing only shorts and shoes as he thought he would return. It was only when he heard that even Greece could not help Cyprus that he realised Cyprus was alone without hope. He was overcome with emotion as he described learning later that his best friend had been lost in the battle of Lapithos on 6 August. His abiding question is why after 40 years has there not been one enquiry into the war crimes that occurred in Cyprus?
 
George Mouktaris of Famagusta then gave his emotional account of how he spent the best years of his life in Kato Varosi. He knew the value of freedom and had seen his uncle buried in 1959 during the struggle against colonial rule. George had served in the army and knew that if there was to be an invasion the Cypriot army would have been able to inflict heavy damage on invading forces. Incredibly they were left defenceless and without arms with which to fight when the illegal invasion finally happened. George spoke of how he witnessed bombings and murders and how when the Turks were advancing on Famagusta he helped to load as many people into cars as possible so they could escape. Over 130 women, children and soldiers from the village were forced to sleep in a garage near the British bases and outside under the trees as there was nowhere to go to escape the bombs. George was fortunate that he had studied in the UK and had a British car so arrived in London with his young teenage sisters and their friends following the invasion. He did not return to the occupied area until 1980 when some Turkish Cypriot friends who had also refused to return after the invasion said that they could help him to see his house again. As George by that time had a son who would inherit the family name he agreed to go back and was helped by a Turkish Cypriot ‘policeman’. As they neared the village, George did not recognise his birthplace. He saw the orange grove that he too had seen in his dreams desolate and barren covered in red soil and only dead and withered trees. He broke down and sobbed and his new Turkish Cypriot friend sobbed even louder. George regrets there was no unity at the time of the invasion and he now exhorts the Cypriot people to unite in the struggle for freedom for Cyprus.
 
Dr Theodora Christou repeated this view in encouraging everyone to unite as she explained the Lobby campaign for the right to vote in any referendum on a solution for Cyprus. There is no reason why the refugees and those with ancestors who are Cypriot should not be allowed to vote on what happens to their villages, homes, land and churches. Theodora described how Turkey’s myth is that the refugees voluntarily left their homes. The harsh truth is that Turkey illegally invaded and killed, tortured, raped, abused and intimidated all non-Turkish Cypriots. This constitutes forceful displacement and ethnic cleansing and the transfer to Cyprus of colonists from mainland Turkey are international war crimes and violations of human rights, which are the subject of a case filed on 14 July 2014 in the Hague. Theodora described how the Turkish colonists were allowed to vote on the Annan Plan in 2004 but the refugees in the diaspora were not entitled to vote. Theodora described the criteria drawn up by Lobby for Cyprus for those who should be entitled to vote in a referendum and drew parallels with South Sudan where the criteria included one parent being indigenous before 1956, trace of ancestry and one grandparent having residence. Theodora described how it was open to the Cyprus government to adopt a special law on a referendum in order to extend the scope of those entitled to vote in the diaspora. This would have no bearing on party politics or the election of a president, it would be restricted simply to a referendum vote. Lobby for Cyprus has been seeking support from the diaspora for this initiative and regards this as a crucial step in the fight for a free Cyprus.
 
Nikos Savvides performed two songs he had composed for Cyprus, ‘Rigas Feraios-40 years’ and ‘Beloved Cyprus’ and was joined by all in singing the national anthem.

Lobby would like to thank all the participants and guests such as the High Commissioner for Cyprus, Euripides L Evriviades.
 
Note to editors:
  • The Republic of Cyprus was invaded by Turkish troops in 1974.
  • Turkey maintains an illegal occupation in the north of the island with 40,000 troops in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
  • 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees and displaced persons are prevented from returning to their homes in the occupied north.
  • Turkey continues its policy of colonising the occupied territory with hundreds of thousands of Turkish nationals in an attempt to alter the demography of the island, in violation of the Geneva convention.
  • Lobby for Cyprus is a non-party political NGO that campaigns for a united Cyprus.
For further info:

Cyprus refugee perspective
Speakers at the 'Refugee perspective' seminar