Sunday, July 13, 2014
From Maratha to Voni: Rapes as a weapon of war…
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We gather at the inner yard of the British Council in the old town of Nicosia – we are participating at a `fringe` event, in connection with the biggest global gathering on `Ending sexual violence in conflict`, that is rape as a weapon of war… The day we gather at the British Council, there is a conference going on in London and the UK Foreign Secretariat together with UN Refugee Agency has organized it. The UK Foreign Secretariat has asked its embassies around the world to do `fringe` events on the same day as the gathering in London and I have been asked to speak – in fact I am the only speaker on the subject from Cyprus because the Greek Cypriot speaker has fallen ill and could not make it… Two Greek Cypriot theatre players will read some testimonies at the end of the event at the British Council.
At the end of the global gathering, they want to endorse a "Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict" – they want the summit `to create a sense of irreversible movement towards ending the use of rape and sexual violence in conflict.` They want the summit to identify specific actions by the international community in the four areas where they believe greater progress is necessary. These four areas are:
- To improve investigations/documentation of sexual violence in conflict;
- To provide greater support and assistance and reparation for survivors, including child survivors, of sexual violence;
- To ensure sexual and gender based violence responses and the promotion of gender equality are fully integrated in all peace and security efforts, including security and justice sector reform; and
- To improve international strategic co-ordination.
In fact it is the first time ever in Cyprus that we will discuss rape as a weapon of war publicly – each community in Cyprus sees itself as the `victim` so would never speak about what they themselves did to the others therefore this is in fact the first time that I will present the `picture` from both communities and speak about how rape and threat of rape has been used at least in the past 50 years in the Cyprus conflict… Since there is a time frame for my presentation, I had to `choose` those rapes connected with murders and disappearances or mass killings even though the rest of the information I gathered is no less important or no less painful and shocking… In fact as an investigative journalist, the shock of my life was discovering these rapes while investigating for the `missing persons`… After the opening speech of Matthew Kidd, the British High Commissioner and the speech of Damtew Dessalegne, the Head of UNHCR in Cyprus, as well as the
speech of Clare Seddon from the World Vision International, I take the floor with a power-point show, reflecting photos from Agia Marina, Maratha-Sandallaris-Aloa, Assia, Tochni, Palekythro on the TV screen while I tell the stories of rape I had gathered in the past 14 years… I want to share the highlights from my speech with my readers since I believe it is important to look to our common past if we want to build a common future where we can work together so that `rape as a weapon of war` or even as `a threat` would cease to exist… Here is what I say in the yard of the British Council:
"The two main communities of the island has never discussed `rape as a weapon of war` together since each side sees itself as a `victim` and only blames `the other side` for all the crimes, only talks about `what has been done to itself` and stays quiet about what it has done to `the other side` during the conflict. Since `rape` is still a `taboo` subject, people tend to avoid discussing it publicly anyway.
I have discovered `rapes as a weapon of war` while investigating for the `missing persons` and had the biggest shock as an investigative journalist when I discovered how common these were.
Due to the timeframe of my speech, I will not list all the rapes between 1963-1974 but only list those rapes connected with mass killings and the threats of rape.
A team of some Greek Cypriots from Kokkinotrimitia, after a mass killing of some Turkish Cypriots in Agios Vasilios (Ayvasili) village at the end of 1963, went to the neighbouring mixed village of Agia Marina where Turkish Cypriots and Maronite Cypriots lived together in peace and harmony. They wanted to kill the Turkish Cypriots of the village but the Priest of Profiti Ilias Church Pater Andreas was able to prevent this possible massacre. He said `This is a mixed village, we live peacefully with Turkish Cypriots and we have many common marriages. You cannot kill them, you cannot touch them, first you would have to kill me…` and was able to prevent the killing of Turkish Cypriots of this village. The team from Kokkinotrimitia was upset that they could not achieve this and one evening they took a few very young Maronites with them and went to some Turkish Cypriot houses in the village and attempted to rape some very young Turkish Cypriot girls… The
Turkish Cypriots left the village in order to secure their lives and could never return to this village. In 1974 this village became a military village and Maronites too could not return there.
In 1974, some EOKA-B teams from Peristerona Pygi and surrounding villages arrested all the men of Maratha-Sandallaris-Aloa, three Turkish Cypriot villages and sent them as prisoners of war to Limassol. From 20th of July until 14th of August 1974, they repeatedly raped the women and young girls of these three villages. On the morning of the 14th August 1974 when the second phase of the operation of Turkey began, they panicked and killed 126 persons, mass majority of whom were women and children – they did not want to leave behind any witnesses to their rapes and they did not even spare few months' old babies, killing all and burying them in mass graves.
In 1974, similar things happened in Assia – while the men and women were separated, some of the Greek Cypriot men were put on two buses and became `missing`. Women and young girls were raped by some Turkish Cypriots from neighbouring villages like Aphania and Mora. The poet from Assia, Christophoros Skarparis told us about these rapes during an interview.
In 1974, there were horrible rapes in the village Voni. Voni had been turned into a prisoners' camp and many Greek Cypriots were gathered here, in the beginning everyone was kept in the church. Some Turkish Cypriots raped young girls `in the most sacred place of the church` according to some Greek Cypriots I spoke to. 36 very young girls were sent to the southern part of our island for abortion since they had become pregnant due to rapes.
In Tochni in 1974, we see the same setup: Turkish Cypriot men were arrested and put on two buses and became `missing` while some young Turkish Cypriot girls were gathered in a house and raped by some Greek Cypriots. Under extraordinary circumstances and measures, women whose husbands went `missing` were taken to the northern part of our island and now live in the Vouno village. This village was known as the `Village of the Widows`… Remains of their husbands on the first bus was found in Gerasa and the second bus in Pareklisia – the exhumations continue in Pareklisia.
In Palekythro village, some Turkish Cypriots from Epicho village first stole the cows of the Souppouris family, then they came back and asked for money and they got some money. The Liassis and Souppouris families were gathered in one house. Next they raped the women and young girls and just like EOKA-B at Maratha-Sandallaris-Aloa, in order not to leave any witnesses behind, they killed everyone, majority all women and children. Behind this massacre again were rapes.
We know that there were a lot of rapes in Karpaz and rape was used as a threat to push the Greek Cypriot population to leave Karpaz.
Those who had committed rapes were never punished either in the Turkish Cypriot or Greek Cypriot communities.
I discovered all the information about rapes while I was investigating for the `missing persons`. I hope that with the support of the international community we can document these.
The famous English writer James Burke wrote, `Why should we look to the past when we are building the future? Because there is nothing else to look…` And this is our common past…"
Photo: After the discovery of a mass grave in Maratha...
(*) Article published in the POLITIS newspaper on the 13th of July 2014, Sunday.