By Serpil Kadirlar
The 14th-15th of August marks one of the darkest days in Turkish Cypriot history; a war crime beyond comprehension and an attack on humanity.
On this day, in 1974, entire Turkish Cypriot populations from the villages of Atlılar, Sandallar and Murtaga were wiped out in a hail of bullets, and then thrown into mass graves.
The Turkish Cypriot civilians of Atlılar, Sandallar and Murtaga villages were rounded up, and massacred. Most of the victims were women and children- the youngest of which was a 16 day old baby, the oldest a 95 year old elderly man. They were unarmed, vulnerable and defenceless. And they were killed for no other reason other than the fact that they were Turkish Cypriots.
The graves in which their bodies were thrown were then driven over by bulldozers- which compressed the ground against their remains, making excavation extremely difficult when the graves were eventually found, as the bodies began to disintegrate when the Turkish Army attempted to recover the remains.
Upon the discovery of the mass graves, the Greek government attempted to impose a media blackout as they did not want the news about the massacre to be published in Greece. However, the international outcry was impossible to ignore.
The international press was present during the opening of the mass graves. Media groups from across the world published the details of barbarism behind this chapter of systematic genocide at the time- The Sun, The Guardian, The New York Times, BBC and many worldwide media sources released the news and photos, describing in detail the reality of the war crime which had taken place against civilian Turkish Cypriots on the island. The United Press International said “There are new pits, dozens of bodies by the hour. It is very difficult to withstand such horrific scenes”.
A weekly German Newspaper, ‘Die Zeit’, ran with a headline which said “”The massacre of the Turks in the regions of Paphos and Famagusta was the reason for the Turks to realize the second military intervention in August.”
In September 1974, the United Nations (UN) described the massacre as “a great crime against humanity by Greek and Greek aggressors”.
The Greek Cypriots did not accept the massacre despite the mass graves being found and uncovered in 1974. Instead, an official radio-based statement said that many of the Greek Cypriots were missing in the area, even though the massacre was not denied, and it was alleged that the bodies in the mass grave might belong to the Greeks. This claim was proven to be false, as each body was identified.
Rauf Denktas responded in this allegation, “No matter how mutilated the corpses of the Turks they left behind, there are signs to document their identity, and we will show them to the Greek Cypriots who have created irrational lies”
On September 4, 1974, Glafkos Clerides stated that the government of the Republic of Cyprus had “collected hundreds of weapons from illegally armed Greeks in recent days”, an alleged move which commenced ten years after the systematic genocide had begun.
There has been no repercussions for those who committed this crime. Justice has not been realised, and those responsible for this massacre have lived freely, despite committing one of the most abominable crimes in human history.
Today, Turkish Cypriots live in peace, without fear. And though the people are not of vengeful mind or heart, the people still feel the pain of many tragic chapters of their history which has been ignored by the international community. Many Turkish Cypriots, particularly the relatives of those brutally killed, still want the murderers brought to justice in court. A fair, justified desire which will hopefully materialise one day. Surely the innocent children who lay beneath the soil deserve such justice? Children who were not old enough to know that they were Turkish Cypriot, and yet, like thousands of others, were killed for no other reason.
May the victims of the Atlılar, Sandallar and Murtaga genocide rest in eternal light and peace.