Alaniçi: 89 murders in Murataga-Sandallar (3)

toplu mezar = mass grave

toplu mezar = mass grave

89 inhabitants of Murataga and Sandallar were murdered on August 14 1974; the youngest was a 16 days old baby, the oldest 95 year old. Cyprus that got independency and a brand new constitution in 1963 had developed into an area of war. Not only had Turkish Cypriots been dismissed from government jobs, put into enclaves and the like; in 1974 heavy fighting was going on between different Greek Cypriot factions (related to the regime change in Greece November 1973). There was a general threat that ENOSIS, the annexation of Cyprus as part of Greece, would finally be realized.
On July 20, Turkish troops had landed on Cyprus to come to the rescue of the Turkish Cypriots as ethnic cleansing had become a fact of life for them. Two Greek-Turkish-British conferences in Geneva followed in order to try to solve the problems of Cyprus. But the negotiations in which the Turks demanded the lifting of the Greek siege of Turkish Cypriot villages were unsuccessful.

Buried with bulldozers
Then the Turkish army proceeded their operation in a new offensive on August 14 but at that moment they were not yet near Murataga and Sandallar. Most men of those villages had been taken as prisoners of war to Famagusta, a harbour city with strategic Greek installations. The men were helt there as a human shield to prevent Turkish bombing. In the absence of the men, Greek Cypriots from neighbouring villages most probably supported by national guards and Greek soldiers, came to Murataga and Sandallar. They gathered the women, children and the elderly villagers and brought them to a huge hollowed out pit in a field used for dumping rubbish. All were shot dead on the spot and subsequently buried with the help of bulldozers.

Buried in new graves
They were found only weeks later and dug up on September 1 under the surveillance of UN soldiers (photos of that day exist). Apparently the bodies were severely damaged by the bulldozers and difficult to identity. In a recent project to find the many people that were ‘lost’ in the 1963-1974 period – both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, see also this 2016 article – identification of the then found bodies has started. And here I stood, many years after these horrible events, at a cemetary that looks rather new. The dead of 1974 Murataga and Sandallar finally seem to get their own final grave to rest. The burial of 4 newly identified victims took place just a few days after I was there (see this article, in Turkish only). All the tombs are ready but most of them are still empty. They will probably be filled one by one.

Impressions on the spot
I found this place thanks to the indication of locals in Alaniçi after a surprising visit to the churches in that village (see my first and second blogs about this subject) and it impressed me deeply. A photo exposition gives some information about the events, and a marble sign points to the place of the mass grave. I went there. It has a marble monument next to the spot of the former mass grave and what really irritated me, an information board that has just fallen to the ground. On lifting it, the information was visible and no different from the information at the place of the tombs. But however, either you want to give that information at two spots, then take good care of it, or you just remove it from the second spot. A mass grave is not a place to be so disrespectful, that is really disturbing…

Next on my road was Atlilar, the 3rd village where a mass murder took place in 1974. But on the way to go there, I came across a museum, the Sehitler Müzesi (museum of the martyrs), another unexpected surprise that I will tell more about in my next blog.

* Harry Scott Gibbons – The Genocide Files – Charles Bravos Publishers UK 1997

Alaniçi: ethnic cleansing was early history here (2)


After the visit of the 3 churches in Alaniçi I went to a coffeeshop in the middle of the village to find out more about the background of the extensive graffiti on those churches, mentioning EOKA, ENOSIS and more signs of a cruel past and ethnic cleansing in Cyprus. It was easy to get in contact with some elderly locals. They explained that they originated from villages in the Larnaka region, now in Southern Cyprus. When the Turks came to the rescue of the Turkish Cypriots in 1974, many Greek Cypriots flew to the south while Turkish Cypriots flew to the north.
It was a traumatic event where many inhabitants from both sides had to leave not just their possessions but also the neighbourhoods and the lands they deeply loved. Greek Cypriots have been mourning loud and clear ever since, asking back their belongings and the lands of their ancestors. The Turkish Cypriots have been mourning too, about a lost past. As their safety was at stake in the period of the conflict, they had no interest to go back to where they came from after 1974. They helt no political lobby and just mourned in silence. See also my blog about different perspectives on heritage between the north and the south.
Alaniçi (Peristerona Pigi) was originally a mixed village, with Cypriots of Greek and Turkish background. But already long before 1974, no more Turkish Cypriots lived in this village, an old man told me. They went to neighbourhoods further in the fields because they were threatened. Ethnic cleansing had an early history here (later I found confirmation of that story on this website). In 1974 the Greek Cypriots left Alaniçi for the south while Turkish Cypriots coming from the south were rehoused in empty Greek villages.
When I asked about the graffiti of EOKA on the churches, the locals became emotional and did not want to talk any more about this subject. It was only then that I realized that the places of the 1974 massmurders were here; I always thought they were close to Lefkosa (Nicosia) and had been looking without ever finding them. The locals were happy to show me the road to those villages: Murataga, Sandallar and Atlilar; I think they were just happy that going there meant I would leave them alone. There was no anger or bitterness in their avoidance: just an immense grief. They would not express that in words. It was like a cloud that had covered them – and me, by the way.
The road went through fields where there seemed to be absolutely nothing. And then, suddenly, it was there. A monument, a graveyard that looked quite new, a short photo exhibition, a sign pointing at the location of a mass grave. It is difficult to imagine that there can be so much hatred in the wideness and largeness of empty fields… but it had been there. I stepped out of the car to take a closer look into the cruel past of Cyprus (to be continued in the next blog).
 

Alaniçi: churches and signs of a cruel past (1)


Alaniçi (Pigi Peristerona) has 3 churches that are not just monuments; they happen to wear the signs of a cruel past. I went to Alaniçi to see the churches and make some pictures to describe them in a blog as I did before with many other churches. See for example my blogs about the Panagia Eleousa church or the monastery church Antiphonitis. I didn’t know it was going to be a heavy day with a confrontation of violence and murder that took place particularly in this area in the years 1963-1974 (1974 is the year the Turkish army took hold of the northern part of Cyprus to protect the Turkish Cypriots, thus ending this type of terror). In this blog I describe the three churches as I searched and found them – it will have a follow up in the next blogs.

Agia Marina
The first church is (most probably) named Agia Marina.  It is beautiful but in bad shape. The doors are closed but entering through a large window is possible. Pigeons live there in large quantities so the dirt is obvious. Most of the church’s interior is destroyed; see for example the marble altar in pieces in front of the church choir. It is possible to go upstairs to the first floor; the stairs are intact but I didn’t risk to walk on the wooden balcony though. What surprised me however, was to find the words EOKA and ENOSIS on the outer walls of the church, along with other Greek writings I could not decipher at that moment. I was surprised because during my multiple visits to Greek churches in the North all over the Island I never found these on church walls: just once, on the wall of a churchyard at Agios Prokopios church. I took some pictures but didn’t pay too much attention to it.

Agios Anastasios: two churches
Next, easy to find when you just follow the main road through the village, was the enormous Agios Anastasios church, built in 1953. It is open and also the first floor can be visited. There is still a good impression of what this church was meant to be. The state of the concrete and several details does not look attractive at this moment but my opinion can be biased because I don’t like this kind of new churches.
The old monastery church that stands nearby is also open because a door is missing. There is nothing interesting left at the interior. I could not find any history about this church, whether and how it was used after the new church opened in 1953. A short look down the stairs lead to a small cellar under the church. Some buildings next to the church could have been sleeping places for monks or stockrooms. Nothing really left there either.
Just like the Agia Marina church, these churches had the words EOKA, ENOSIS, Kupros and Ellas and other Greek texts on the walls in large quantities, mostly with blue paint. Their visibility was limited because some white paint covered it more or less, but not enough. I was surprised and also a bit shocked because churches are religious places; it is difficult to see them related to political and ethnic violence. What had been going on here? And why were signs of a cruel past found on the churches here and not in other places in Northern Cyprus? I decided not to leave Alaniçi (Pigi Peristerona) immediately but to look for a restaurant or a coffee house. Maybe it was possible to meet with locals who could tell more?
You can read that in my next blog

Interesting links
Info about the Agia Marina church (with a ? behind the name).
Info about the two Agios Anastasios churches: the new and large church, and the old monastery church.
Info about the population of Alaniçi – Pigi Peristerona (displacement and resettlement).