My SymiWillSymi remembers Cyprus 07/03/2008, 14:06

For most people who come to Symi, I would guess that the Greece/Cyprus/Turkey “problem” of the past few decades is of no consequence; they are here for a good holiday and to escape the numbing politics that they have to put up with at home. There is nothing at all wrong in this, and Symi is more than able to give them what they want. Turkey sits just across the water with day-trips from Symi, Turkish gulets are prominent in the harbour and off the beaches in the summer months, and the sound of Turkish chatter and music is often to be heard at the harbour-side restaurants. This all adds something positive to the whole “Symi experience”.

I often here it said “Oh, the Greeks hate the Turks” by people back in the UK, as though this were an undeniable truth. Well, it is not. Yes, there are problems, and there is an awful lot of “history” to contend with, but this type of general animosity is not something I have ever come across in Greece. There will always be those Turks who feel that the Dodecanese Islands should be Turkish, and those Greeks who feel that most of Asia Minor should be Greek. Nobody pays these people much attention; their like is found the whole World over. One day, it is to be hoped, Turkey will have done what it needs to do to be accepted into the European Union and it will be more apparent that what we have in common is far more important than what we believe makes us different.

Much of the European press and the politicians that seek to placate it imply that the biggest problem with Turkish membership of the European Union is that the country is a predominantly Islamic nation and that this makes them too different from the rest of Europe. In the Greek press and for all but the most right-wing of the Greek politicians, however, the religion of the Turkish people is irrelevant; the real problems are Turkish Nationalism, Human Rights abuses and more than anything else, the injustice of Turkey’s actions against Cyprus.

In July 1974, the Greeks say that “Turkey invaded Cyprus” while the Turks say “Turkey began a Peace Operation in Cyprus”. I have talked with both Greeks and Turks, and have yet to find a single one who disagrees with their country’s official line.

The facts seem to be these; Turkey occupied more than one third of Cyprus in the summer of 1974, displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Today, almost 1600 Greek Cypriots still remain “missing” after the events of 1974 with the Turkish occupiers of the north of the island still failing to provide any information of worth about their fate. Turkey has imported well over a hundred thousand settlers into the occupied north in defiance of UN resolutions, letting them occupy the homes and land of Greek Cypriot families, and skewing the demographics of the island ahead of any negotiations for peace. A peace deal brokered by Kofi Annan in 2004, if it had been passed, would have legitimised some of the Turkish actions and allowed most of the occupied land to have remained in Turkish hands.

I remember watching the Cypriot President, Tassos Papadopoulos, in a live TV broadcast recommending to his people that they reject the Annan Plan that he himself had had such hopes for; the tears flowed down his cheeks as he once more spoke of the betrayal of Cyprus by an international community that refused to admit that Turkey had no excuse for over thirty years of illegality.

If you look, you can find a few examples of the solidarity that Symi has with the people of Cyprus.

My own favourite is the Cypriot flag that has fluttered from the central flagpole on the bridge in the harbour for many years now. Any boat that comes into the Customs House will fall under its shadow. It is a nice way for the council here to remind Turkish visitors that they are welcome, but that Symi does not forget.

Anyone coming into Symi on a boat from Turkey will already have been reminded of Cyprus, however. The large graffito “KYPROS” on a wall in Horio has been around for as long as the flag on the bridge, though is finally beginning to fade a bit. I am fully expecting someone to go up and give it a fresh lick of paint soon.

The most poignant of all reminders of Symi’s solidarity with Cyprus is the small memorial to two Greek Cypriot cousins, Tassos Isaak and Solomos Solomou, murdered in August 1996.

You can find it just by the road up to Horio, at the junction with the road to the petrol station. The two murdered men had nothing to do with Symi, but the Greek Government saw their fate as another insult to the nation.

Tassos Isaak was 24 years’ old when he attended a demonstration in the UN buffer zone near Dheryneia on Cyprus.

A large number of “Grey Wolves”, the illegal far-right Turkish-nationalist terrorist group, had descended upon the area aware that some Greek Cypriots had planned a demonstration against the (then) 22-year long occupation. In the struggle, Tassos was hit by a rock or other projectile and fell to the ground. As he struggled to rise, a number of the “Grey Wolves”, armed with rocks and sticks, descended upon him and beat him. The blow to the neck that is believed to have killed him came from one of the Turkish “peace-keepers” that joined the rout.

The UN patrolmen, hopelessly under-staffed and ill-equipped, did nothing but look on.

After Isaak's body was buried three days later, a group of Greek Cypriots, including his cousin Solomos Solomou, returned to the scene of his murder to demonstrate. The demonstration was being filmed by Greek TV journalists and what followed was broadcast live. Solomou ran towards the Turkish military post at the edge of the buffer zone and climbed the flagpole that stood there with the intention of taking down the Turkish flag. Three shots were fired at him by a Turkish sniper, two in the head and one in the body, clearly with the intention of killing him. The sniper, caught on camera by the assembled journalists, was clearly identified and named, but to this day, the Turkish authorities have failed to charge him with the murder.

If you feel up to it, you can watch the live broadcast on YouTube, by clicking here . Please be aware that this video shows the violent murder of a young man and you may find it distressing.

Both Isaak and Solomou were declared national heroes by the Greek State, with the Hellenic Republic stepping forward as godparent to Isaak’s daughter Anastasia who was born a few months after her father’s murder.

My own favourite Greek singer, Haris Alexiou, dedicated her song “Tragoudi tou Helodoniou” (“Swallow’s Song”) to the child. The video on the left is where she performed it as the final song in a concert she gave in the Cypriot Capital, Nicosia, last summer.

"..a song that was written for these guys who wrote their own history, that I wrote and dedicated to little Anastasia."

Next time you’re on Symi, pay the memorial a visit if you can. Symi does not forget the injustice of Cyprus, even while the pressure is piled upon Greece & Cyprus to do just that.


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