Some 45 years after they were killed, 21 villagers who fell victim to Greek Cypriot violence were given a final resting place. At an emotionally charged funeral yesterday, the relatives of the victims joined Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı and other dignitaries at Sandallar Martyrs' Cemetery in Muratağa village of the divided island. The victims, from the villages of Muratağa and Sandallar, were among the many massacred by Greek Cypriots on Aug. 14, 1974 at the height of escalating tensions between the two communities on the Mediterranean island. Speaking at the funeral ceremony, Gürsel Benan, who heads an association for families of victims of Greek Cypriot violence, said 126 innocent people, from a 26-day-old infant to a 95-year-old villager, were slaughtered 45 years ago "in a massacre the world only watched" in the villages of Muratağa, Sandallar and Atlılar.
"We hope our community does not see such acts of violence again and hope such tragedies will not be forgotten," he said.
Following speeches, a minute of silence, a military gunshot salute and funeral prayers were held for each victim before their burial. On Aug. 14, 1974, a group of Greek Cypriot fanatics from neighboring villages and flanked by Greek Cypriot soldiers raided three Turkish villages. They rounded up 126 Turkish Cypriots in a village square and executed those resisting the roundup, while the rest who did not resist were taken outside the village and were buried together after they were killed. Most victims were women and children, including 16-day-old Selden Ali Faik. The island's divided state and unceasing tension hindered efforts to locate the whereabouts of their mass graves.
The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus is working to return the remains of victims listed as missing in 1963, 1964 and 1974 to their families. To date, the committee has identified 960 out of the 2,002 missing individuals and returned their remains to their families.
Many people went missing in the 1960s and in 1974 as tensions between Turkish and Greek Cypriots escalated to abductions and extrajudicial killings. Although the Turkish military operation in 1974 succeeded in stopping the killings, the burial sites of those missing remain unclear and work to identify discovered remains is taking a long time.
Time is the main obstacle in identifying the remains. As time has passed, forensic teams' meticulous work of identifying the victims has been hindered by a lack of witnesses and remaining relatives.