The most fitting memorial to all who died in Cyprus’ still unresolved conflict is an agreement that would create permanent peace on the island, US Ambassador John Koenig said on Tuesday, marking 40 years since the assassination of American Ambassador Rodger Davies and administrative assistant Antoinette Varnava.
“I am mindful that a day does not go by in Cyprus when we are not reminded of the many who have died in a conflict that has remained unresolved for far too long,” Koenig said. “We understand that the most fitting memorial to all who have lost their lives in Cyprus would be an agreement that would create a permanent peace on this island.”
Davies was shot to death at the US Embassy (then located opposite the Hilton hotel) in Nicosia on August 19, 1974.
He had been seeking shelter in a hallway when a bullet struck him in the heart. Varnava was shot in the head.
The embassy was under siege by Greek Cypriots demonstrating against what they perceived as Washington’s failure to prevent the Turkish invasion of that summer.
Ambassador Davies had arrived in Nicosia just a few weeks earlier with his daughter and son.
He was grieving the recent loss of his wife to cancer and hoped that life on a quiet Mediterranean island might help the family work through its grief and move forward.
Antoinette, a Maronite and still just 30, had already worked at the embassy for a decade and was part of a close-knit team.
“Ambassador Rodger Davies was a skilled diplomat but more importantly he was a very gentle, human man who cared deeply about his family and his embassy staff whom he treated as family,” Koenig said. “Antoinette was young and smart and a devoted employee. Her loss deepens our outrage and drives home the senselessness of these awful events.”
To honour Davies and Varnava, the embassy renamed the residence The Davies House and the employee lounge to Varnava Lounge.
“To my mind, this memorial is long overdue here in Cyprus,” Koenig said. “I feel a certain kinship to Ambassador Davies. His life and sacrifice gives special meaning to my efforts here.
However, as I have said many times, just as Cypriots from all walks of life have suffered because of this conflict, Cypriots from all walks of life need to lend their voices and their efforts to the task of creating a new Cyprus.”
According to a book by Makarios Droushiotis, two men were charged in connection with the assassination about two years later.
The two suspects initially faced manslaughter charges of homicide but prosecutors subsequently decided to change the charges to illegal possession of firearms, apparently wary that the murder charges would not stick.
The court found the two defendants – G. Ktimatias, the gunman, and N. Leftis – guilty as charged, sentencing them to seven and five years in prison, respectively. Their sentences were subsequently reduced and they were released after 18 months.