The human cost of the Cyprus tragedy
By Ismail Veli
The cost of human life and upheaval in the Cyprus dispute since 1955 has left a scar on all sides that seems impossible to heal. While the actual numbers of deaths compared to other conflicts was low, the percentage of loss to population ratio has been one of the highest since the second world war. The effect of this trauma has been so total that no day in the life of a Cypriot goes by without some discussion of the Cyprus tragedy. Everyone has lost, no one is immune, and no end in sight seems remotely possible.
Turkish Cypriots (TC) and Greek Cypriots (GC) often concentrate on their own sides losses. Downplaying the other side’s losses is an entrenched attitude that almost seems impossible to shift. Each side tends to assume that their own suffering is somehow greater, and quite often tends to downplay the suffering of the other side. The loss of British lives have never been taken seriously. As far as most Cypriots are concerned they were the Colonialists, and therefore deserve what they got. But how can anyone disregard the fact that every individual loss of life effects a mother, father, brother, sister, child spouse and so on.
Can we truly say that our suffering is different to any other person who has lost a loved one? Is it not true that many soldiers simply find themselves stationed in a place not of their own choosing? While one has to acknowledge that the loss of women, children, civilians etc is tragic, does it mean that a young teenager doing his national service is at fault? Far from it. Every loss of human life is tragic. My view of the consequences of the Cyprus problem is to acknowledge that there are no winners, only losers.
On the Turkish losses every casualty including photographic evidence with all their family details, town of origin, date of birth and deaths were meticulously checked and examined. Letters, mails and interviews were carried out to assess the true and accurate extend of the disaster.
On the Greek losses, mails were written to the GC embassy requesting as much information as possible. Online information, UN reports, P.R.I.O (Peace Research Institute of Oslo) 2004 Pre Annan research findings were cross checked for verification.
The results were staggering. In order for us to understand how outsiders see the Cypriot losses some examples need to be given.
The partition of India between 1946-8 recorded 805.000 fatalities. The Vietnamese wars against Colonial France from 1945 until the American withdrawal and end of that conflict in 1975 resulted in the loss of 2.900.000 lives. In Cambodia between 1975-78 1.156.000. Rwanda over one million lives. The Korean 1950-53 civil war 3 million. (Source; International Institute of Strategic studies).
The list goes on and on. Is it no wonder the International community regards our never ending dispute with scorn and incredulity. As stated the total number of deaths in Cyprus, at just over 7 thousand seems low in comparison to the above countries. A closer look at the statistics however may help to explain the extent of this tragedy.
The TC government often gives a total figure of 2200. The Turkish Cypriot deaths from 1st April 1955 until 1975 showed that 1810 people had lost their lives, therefore the remaining 400 must be Turkish troops. Most of the TC are listed at the Milli Mucadele Muzesi” (National Struggle Museum) in Nicosia and at the Sehit Malul Gaziler dernegi.
The names and details for 390 TCs were not found. As for the remaining 1523 individuals the following results were ascertained, including spouses, parents and siblings.
679 Men aged 18-59
72 Women aged 18-59
130 over 60 mixed men and women
132 under 18 mixed boys and girls
201 TURKISH CYPRIOT
309 TURKISH MILITARY
The status of the remaining 287 have not been verified e.g.military/civilian. The details for the remaining 400 have still to be researched by the author of this article.
If we take the 1960 Cypriot census figures for the TC which showed a total of 104.942 people then the figures become even more staggering. 1810 dead and missing equates to about 1.725% of the 1960 census.
If we only take into account the 1523 that we have personal details of, it means that about 80% of losses were civilians. An astronomical number. If we relate the losses to the UK population of 60 million people, the 1.7% deaths would be 1.020.000 with 800.000 of them being civilians.
According to Makarios Drussiotis in his excellent books on the Cyprus conflict the total deaths of GC for the period 1955-59 was 300. The UN statistics for the period 1963-74 recorded 133 while the Cyprus High Commission information booklet gives a figure of 3000 dead and 1400 missing for 1974.
The total for the period 1955-1974 is 4833. The census of 1960 showed a GC population of 441.656. The figures give us at least 1.1% of the population. Again this would equate to 660.000 losses if the same percentage were applied to the UK. Sadly no reliable figures exist for the Mainland Greek troops stationed on the island, finding exact figures for the GC losses has been harder to come by. Hopefully one day a much fuller and more accurate figure of their losses will be officially released.
Names of Greek missing are listed on the following web site
The Missing Cypriots 1619 (alphabetica listl) Click here (Subsequently the numbers of Greek missing was reduced to just over 1400).
Sadly the loss of British lives has all but been forgotten. One has to bear in mind that many young British soldiers were merely conscripts but many civilians also lost their lives. It’s inconceivable to imagine that their families were, or have not been effected by the deaths of their loved ones who were mostly in their late teens or early twenties.
The British governments official figures after the end of the conflict in 1959 gave a figure of 142, but on closer inspection the figure does not stand up to scrutiny. On the “Britain’s small wars” they are listed by regiment, names and rank. And in the British Memorial, Kyenia website, 371 are listed.
For breakdown and role of honour please click here In additions to the 371 lost, an unspecified number of British and Commonwealth Policemen. and many civilians were also killed.
It’s clear that the UK government of the period found it expedient to downplay the figures. We have to bear in mind of-course that not all casualties during a war are the direct result of “enemy fire”. But we need to acknowledge that to die in the line of duty is sufficient for an individual to be considered a casualty of war.
THE REFUGEE PROBLEM
The massive upheaval of both communities may explain further in trying to understand the psychological trauma of Cyprus. Again in percentage terms it probably recorded one of the largest (if not the largest) upheaval of any country since WW2.
P.R.I.O working with the UN published what it called ‘A green book’ in 2004. According to their findings half of all TCs between 1963-74 became refugees. Some were uprooted at least twice and many 3 times during that period. The GCs suffered a tremendous upheaval in 1974 which resulted in at least one third of its population to flee their ancestral homes.
The statistics are about 60.000 for TCs, and 160.000 for the GCs. In comparison to today’s refugees in Syria of over 2 million it seems small. But let’s consider for one moment that half the population of TCs would equate to 30 million refugees in the UK, and at least 20 million for the GCs. It does not take rocket science maths to realise the enormous distress and psychological impact this would leave on any country.
The suffering beggars belief and has created a fertile ground for extreme views, incrimination and propaganda. Each side vies for sympathy, but gives very little in return. The fruitless negotiations that have gone on and off since the 1960s have shown no significant results, and indications are that it will continue on the same path, at least in the foreseeable future. Apart from the Annan plan which almost seemed to have come close in re-uniting the Island in 2004 but rejected by the GCs, the ability to give and take is not forthcoming. Neither side seems to have a leader with the courage to overcome or direct its population towards the path of reconciliation. Opinions seem as entrenched and divided as ever.
IS A SOLUTION POSSIBLE?
The question is valid but anyone who comes up with an idea is more often than not verbally attacked, ridiculed and in their own respective community treated like a pariah. Accusations of treasonous thoughts, appeasement and naivety are preferred to that of an objective counter argument.
The Greek point of view is that the problem is one of invasion and occupation. As they are 80% of the population and therefore the legitimate owners of the Island the TCs should be happy with the status of a protected minority.
The Turkish viewpoint is that the 1960 treaty of establishment was formed on the basis of a partnership. The GCs have always disputed this as being unfair, while the TCs felt that the Greek argument was based on their desire for Enosis (Union with Greece) Enough of these two viewpoints have been discussed since 1960 so I will not attempt to rehash the same old story. Clearly the question of a solution seems as remote as ever.
CAN WE HEAL THE WOUNDS OF THE PAST?
Healing the wounds of the past has been an elusive target which has had a direct effect on the failure of a negotiated settlement. Fortunately the missing persons committee has had some success on working to discover the whereabouts of many missing persons. This humanitarian mission is still under way and has brought closure to many families in finally discovering the fate of their loved ones and giving them a final resting place. The work of identifying the victims by genetic DNA is an arduous and time consuming process fraught with pain and emotion. Many people on both sides have worked tirelessly and with amazing dedication and sensitivity in searching for the victims which in many cases have been missing for 50 years.
An acknowledgement of past failure, brutality and ideology can help to finally heal the wounds of the past. Only by admitting our failure and acknowledging each other’s suffering without the ‘ifs and ‘buts’ can we truly begin the inexorable road to a reconciliation. For that to happen the education system which is based on heroism, the portrayal of the other as the barbarian, while basking in self pity and endless reminders of the other side’s never ending deviousness has, and will continue to pay zero results. No problem in history has been solved by recrimination and counter propaganda. An indisputable fact is that all sides have experienced prejudice, hatred, homelessness, bloodshed and destitute on a scale that our forefathers would have never imagined.
It’s possible that Cyprus will never re-unite in the way some dream of, but there is no logical reason why we cannot co-exist in peace based on mutual respect for our diverse and rich cultural heritage. We are destined to share this Island forever. Would it not be better to share it in peace?.
With unlimited potential for economic prosperity as a result of a peace dividend, it’s no wonder the International community looks at our dispute with incredible bewilderment. If and when we all realise that the futility of past hatred and war has been nothing short of suicide perhaps we can finally learn to bury the hatchet.
That much we owe to our children and grandchildren. The alternative is unthinkable, and means a continuation of eternal enmity which benefits no one except the fanatics who will find that in the event of peace their rhetoric and hatred will become redundant. Wouldn’t that make a welcome change?
At time of publishing this article The reseach is still ongoing. Future publications on new findings will hopefully be made available.
We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war but the positive affirmation of peace.
Martin Luther King, Jr.