By Angelos Anastasiou
Initial suspicions of vandalism at a Nicosia cemetery, after the tombstones of 12 commandos involved in the 1974 coup against President Makarios were found to have been removed on Wednesday morning, were laid to rest after it was discovered that the stones had been moved legally.
A contractor, who has been commissioned by the government to build a controversial and widely criticised monument to the men elsewhere in the Constantinou & Eleni cemetery, had removed the stones without telling anyone in advance.
When the commandos’ tombstones were found missing on Wednesday, police investigators – from various departments, including the CID and secret police – rushed to the scene to collect evidence.
The immediate suspicion had been vandalism and desecration by critics of the decision to build a monument.
Police questioned those present, and even went as far as seeking CCTV footage from nearby shops and houses.
But the mystery was soon solved, after the contractor revealed that he was the one who removed the tombstones, so they could be part of the monument.
The 12 men were reburied there last year, after they had been found in an mass grave elsewhere in the cemetery. The government decided to give them military funerals, sparking outrage by parties and organisations representing the people who defended the presidential palace on July 15, 1974.
In defence of the funerals, the government argued that the commandos had only been following orders.
“They bear none of the responsibility,” Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos said at the funeral in October 2014. “They had the misfortune of serving their military service at the wrong time.”
“Invoking orders from superior officers does not absolve anyone, nor does it allow laurels for those who fought democracy,” an association representing the men who fought the coupists countered.
The decision to build a monument was made earlier this year by the government, which even approved €25,000 and invited tenders for its construction.
Once again, the decision was controversial. It also meant that the men’s remains would have to be dug up again and reburied for a third time.
“We call on the government to end this provocation immediately, and warn that, otherwise, we will resist it,” the Pancyprian Association of Democratic Resistance Fighters said in a statement.
“We will use every legal means to avert the construction of this monument.”
Undeterred, the government pressed ahead with its decision and commissioned a contractor to build the monument. He then went ahead with removing the tombstones and crosses on Tuesday, but failed to inform anyone, causing unnecessary confusion.