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By Peter Stevenson MEMBERS of Volunteer Doctors Cyprus have treated around 350 people at their free clinic in Nicosia since it opened three months ago, while two more, one in Paphos and one in Polis are due to open today. Limassol also has a free clinic, which was opened only last month, and plans have been drawn ...
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SOME 10 days ago, foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides raised expectations by announcing the possibility of a deal with Turkey for the opening of the fenced off area of Famagusta, for the return of its inhabitants. In exchange the Cyprus government would agree to the opening of Tymbou airport to direct flights. ...
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By George Psyllides PRIVATE auditors have expressed doubt the electricity authority (EAC) could be considered a going concern and have asked its board to draft a credible plan to tackle the problem, according to the auditor-general’s 2012 report on the semi-state company. Among other issues, ...
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Cyprus Internet Directory [ It’s time to tell the truth ]

It’s time to tell the truth


WHY do people bury their dead? What is it that makes us dig a hole, perform a ceremony and leave our loved ones underground with a symbol protruding from the earth as a reminder to the world that they too once felt the wind on their cheeks? History is littered with gruesome wars and somewhere in all that brutality one can usually find an agreement between the warring sides for exchange of the dead. Each society has its own way of dealing with the departed. Whether it be burial, cremation in a coffin or bodies burning on a pyre, the rites of death share their history with the birth of man.

'Burying the dead' in its metaphorical sense is vital to our regeneration. It provides a sense of closure and allows those left behind to get on with life. Visually, as the coffin is lowered into the earth or the body burnt, the mind has to acknowledge that the person lost is lost forever. Their physical manifestation will no longer play a role on this earth. Nor can we harbour an expectation that they will reappear at a later stage. As Irish poet Donall Dempsey put it: they become invisible to the naked eye.

Burying loved ones also allows the bereaved to honour their dead, to reflect on their loss and to share their grief with others. No one can take away the quiet cloud of sorrow that death brings, but sharing that grief in a public space goes some way in alleviating the pain.

Acknowledgement of physical loss, recognition of the life story ended and the sharing of grief are all necessary components for continuing with life after being deprived by death. But how can one move on when there is no body to bury? How can one avoid stasis when the three components above are replaced by undying hope, anguish and uncertainty? How do a people bury the past and move forward without first acknowledging the past? Without feeling the coarse rub of the forgotten earth in our hands and seeing the dried blood stains, how can we start digging a new grave?

There are 1,924 people still missing in Cyprus as a result of the violence of the past. For almost three decades, the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) has had little or no success in establishing the fate of those missing either from the inter-communal conflicts in the 1960s or the invasion of 1974. In the last year, around 400 remains of people have been found, and 71 of them identified and returned to their families for burial. The ball is finally rolling. Relatives may still wear black, but their hope has been put to rest and the kind of mourning only associated with true knowledge of death begins, a full 30 or 40 years after the first realisation of loss.

Peace activist Sevg?l Uluda? believes the case of the missing is not just about finding bones. It's a basic question about who did what to whom. But the mandate of the CMP does not cover cause of death or attribution of responsibility. Effectively, we are unearthing brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers from the ground, identifying them and burying them again. But who killed these people? How were they killed? Where? And why? Are we not concerned by the mass graves and evident massacres perpetrated by each community against the other?

Individual researchers and investigators like Uluda?, Politis editor Andreas Paraschos and film-maker Antonis Angastiniotis have come face to face with the truth. Through their work, they have also amassed information on the perpetrators of these crimes. What do we want to do with this information? There is a startling absence of debate on these issues. We have our heads in the sand while our history books remain tainted. We do not need to wait for the elusive comprehensive settlement to decide on this. In fact, for any settlement to stand a chance, it should be preceded by truth and reconciliation of all the communities on the island. It is the first thing we should do and not the last.

As Paraschos put it, there are countries around the world that have faced up to their past, spoken and written on the truth, then moved on. He does not believe a similar fate will lend itself to Cyprus. “There is no way we can face the truth. The criminals here are heroes on both sides.”

Human rights lawyer Achileas Demetriades believes the issue of the missing and the crimes committed should not be left to the lawyers to sort out. In the case of Varnava v. Turkey in the European Court of Human Rights, Turkey was found guilty of inhuman treatment by failing to carry out a proper investigation into missing persons captured in 1974. In its defence, Turkey argued that the CMP was doing the work on its behalf; but the Court ruled that the bicommunal committee was unable to take meaningful steps to ascertain the fate of the missing. Now, two Greek Cypriot families are taking the Republic of Cyprus to court for breach of human rights, for failure to inform them of the fate of their loved ones. Ironically, the Republic is also citing the work of the CMP in its defence.

Demetriades asks some pertinent questions. Is the CMP an adequate remedy or do the families wish to see justice served? No criminal investigations have been launched to date, despite the unearthing of around 400 bodies. There is a de facto immunity in place, set by the Attorney-general so as not to obstruct the work of the CMP.

“Are we going to change the CMP? It's the only bicommunal organ working, actually doing something. Are we going to rock the boat? Or say yes, this is the proper mandate, not just to identify remains, but investigate the circumstances of death and attribute blame. It's better we decide this together than leave it to the lawyers,” says Demetriades.

These questions have yet to be answered. Society has not been asked whether it wants to trade information for immunity from criminal prosecution. The people have not been asked whether they want to see truth and remorse or punishment.

“You have a right to know. Can we face the truth? Do we want to?” asks Demetriades.

In answering these questions we need to transcend the time spectrum and think hard about the past, present and future. How much do we really know about our past? How is our perception of the past affecting the now, and what do we really want for the future? Do we want to see Nuremberg-type trials in Cyprus where criminals are prosecuted? Or are we interested in a South African style Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) where the full truth of crimes committed on all sides is written and the perpetrators forced to seek amnesty? Or are we satisfied with identifying and burying our dead?

According to the TRC website, the Commission was set up to deal with what happened under apartheid. It speaks of violence and human rights abuses from all sides, not just the white government forces, but also the ANC. No section of society escaped these abuses, it says. Former Justice Minister Dullah Omar said the Commission was necessary “to enable South Africans to come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation”.

If the idea is to start afresh under one umbrella then we really must shed our clothes. Every new-born starts life naked and so must we if we are to co-exist as our leaders keep promising us we will.


(Source: Cyprus Mail)





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