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. In ten years time, 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 in this series) 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 fallen to the ground and is left there, neglected. 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