Cypriots unearth a little reconciliation
Greek and Turkish Cypriots exhume mass graves to help move beyond a bitter past.
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Cyprus, ruled by the Ottomans and then by the British, gained its independence in 1960. But by 1963, the new country made up of Greek and Turkish speakers was in shambles, with intercommunal violence leading to the arrival of UN peacekeepers. The island was partitioned in 1974, after Turkey invaded in the wake of a Greek-led coup that sought to reunify Cyprus with Greece. The Turkish-occupied northern part of the island in 1983 declared itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a ministate of 264,000 currently only recognized by Ankara.Skip to next paragraph
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After decades of futile negotiations, the two Cypriot communities have recently restarted talks in the hope of finding a settlement that will lead to the island's reunification.
Ahmet Erdengiz, an official with the Turkish Cypriot Foreign Ministry and a member of the CMP, says he believes the group's work could be helpful in bridging the gap between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
Unlike the search for mass graves in violence-scarred places like the Balkans, the CMP's efforts are taking place before a political settlement has been found, he says.
"The politicians are actually following in our footsteps. We are offering them a model," Mr. Erdengiz says.
"We are proving every day to the politicians on both sides that, yes, under the right conditions, the two communities can work together."
A team of Greek and Turkish Cypriot archeologists, for example, leads the CMP's mass grave excavations. Inside the committee's lab – a prefabricated building inside the UN-controlled buffer zone in Nicosia – Greek and Turkish Cypriot forensic anthropologists work side by side at long tables strewn with bones recovered from mass grave sites.
"I think that by doing this work and working together we are helping the communities heal," says lab technician Elena Styliano.
"And by healing, we can move on," she says.
Not far away, on the Greek side of Nicosia, Cyprus's divided capital, Tassoula Lazarou is still coming to grips with the discovery of the remains of her brother, Nestoros. Missing since 1974, the Greek soldier's bones were found in 2006 in a grave in an open field with three other missing Greeks.
"I was very sad in the beginning, but now I'm feeling better, stronger. The sadness is still there, but it's not as strong. We feel more at peace," says Ms. Lazarou, who keeps her brother's picture on her diningroom table, along with a wooden box containing dirt-specked scraps of his uniform.
"I can sympathize with the families on the other side," she says, adding, "I want all the families to feel at rest."