Cypriot sons die for their fathers' cause

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The two Greek Cypriots killed last week on the "Green Line" that snakes across Cyprus were the first to die at Turkish hands since the island was divided in 1974. But neither Tassos Isaac nor his cousin, Solomos Solomou, were old enough to recall the events they protested about.

On each side it has been the older generation keeping alive the memories of the summer of 22 years ago, when the military regime in Athens fomented a coup, leading to an invasion of the northern third of Cyprus by Turkish troops. Whole communities of Greek and Turkish Cypriots were forced by the violence to leave their homes and flee to the other side of the line.

At the time Tassos was two and Solomos was four. Their generation has grown up in almost complete isolation from their Turkish Cypriot counterparts, who - like them - are the target of ceaseless propaganda from their elders. In Nicosia, the world's last divided capital, young Greek Cypriot men sipping coffee in Ledra Street - known as "Murder Mile" during the 1955- 59 Eoka guerrilla war against the British - talk these days of a Palestinian- style intifada against the Turks.

Several weeks ago Greek Cypriot motorbike enthusiasts made plans to rally near the UN buffer zone, burst into the Turkish-controlled north and head for the port of Kyrenia.

But Glafcos Clerides, the portly and affable Greek Cypriot president who served with the RAF during the Second World War, his government and police chiefs were disturbed that the rally might end in confrontation. At all-night talks they persuaded the bikers' leader to call it off.

Furious at the cancellation, hundreds of demonstrators, Tassos Isaac among them, surged forward and clashed with Turkish security forces and counter-demonstrators at the village of Dherinia, south-east of Nicosia. Isaac was beaten to death with clubs and rocks, allegedly by members of the Grey Wolves, an extreme right-wing Turkish organisation, who had come over from the mainland.

Three days later Archbishop Chrysostomos, the powerful and ultra-nationalist head of the Greek Orthodox Church on the island, officiated at Isaac's funeral. The grey-bearded archbishop did little to damp passions, praising the young man's "heroic act, which must be an example to us all".

As soon as the funeral was over, Isaac's grief-crazed cousin led a charge by several hundred stone-throwing Greek Cypriots into the buffer zone. As Solomou climbed a flagpole to remove the green star-and-crescent Turkish flag, a Turkish officer calmly shot him in the head. Another 11 people were wounded.

Among Greek Cypriots, Solomou was hailed as a national hero. Archbishop Chrysostomos declared: "We congratulate the parents of the young man who tried to tear down the flag of the foreign occupier from the soil of Cyprus."

The Turkish Foreign Minister, Tansu Ciller, who flew to Cyprus on Thursday, warned: "We'll break the hands that reach out in disrespect of the flag ... We won't allow any violation of border lines, any attacks on the flag." As a British UN officer put it: "The message was 'Next time we'll shoot 10 of you, and 10 more after that if we have to.'"

President Clerides has tried to discourage Greek Cypriots from taking revenge. "National issues cannot be solved in this way," he said.

But the politicians have only themselves to blame. Ever since 1974, Greek Cypriots have been fed an unremitting diet of propaganda that their land and homes in the north will be returned, and their pride restored.

Solomou died within sight of Famagusta, a weed-encrusted ghost town from which his family was driven in 1974, and which remains a palpable symbol for the Greek Cypriots of their humiliation and defeat. Like everything north of the 120-mile dividing line of rusting sand-filled oildrums, watchtowers, minefields and razor-wire that slices Cyprus in two like an unhealed wound, Famagusta remains in Turkish hands.

But the invasion followed 10 years of inter-communal bloodletting, and the bottom line for Turkish Cypriots is that since 1974, protected by more than 30,000 Turkish troops, they have had security for the first time.

Until last week there had been 22 years of relative calm. But sectarian divisions have deepened, cleaving through Nato's south-eastern flank and preventing Greece and Turkey, both members of the organisation, from becoming allies in anything more than name.

Regional tensions that were mostly held in check during the Cold War are surfacing again. Greece and Turkey went to the brink of war in January over a chain of rocky islets in the Aegean, and on Cyprus, divided by politics, religion and economic fortune, events may be running out of control.