By Andria Kades
WHEN Britain’s RAF Akrotiri base began being used last year to bomb the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, some local residents believed there was a greater purpose to the war and put aside their fears in light of the greater good.
But following the decision by the British parliament this week to expand the bombing to IS in Syria, Akrotiri residents say they now have to live with the fear of a retaliatory attack despite multiple and repeated assurances from the authorities of increased vigilance.
“Our lives are being lived in a state of fear. We hear the planes going over our heads all day but what can we do? Our hands are tied,” a restaurant owner in Akrotiri told the Sunday Mail.
“The bases do whatever they want. We can’t hide or do anything. Maybe we could complain to Brussels but it’s not going to go any further than that,” he added.
In the eyes of many of the residents, trust in the-powers-that-be has fallen to an all-time low. “They (the bases) may be serving a good purpose on the war on terror… if it’s really jihadists they’re bombing, but we seriously doubt that’s the case. It’s Assad they’re fighting,” Neophytos Georgiades who lives in the village said.
Georgiades, along with several other men sitting in a local coffee shop agreed: “We don’t know where they’re striking, we don’t trust them.”
Essentially, the overriding consensus across Akrotiri is a feeling that the bases are a law unto themselves and no matter what people feel or say, their concerns and fears are brushed aside.
“The village has been abandoned by the Republic of Cyprus, the bases and the English. They have our fate in their hands yet no one seems to care,” a resigned Georgiades added.
Akrotiri community council leader George Stylianou echoed the same feeling of helplessness. “It’s a decision taken by superiors.”
Asked if there were fears of a terrorist attack in Cyprus he added: “I can’t say such a thing. Fear of an attack exists across the world.”
Demetris Mihail however, is worried. “We are exposed to danger. Do we want this war? We shout but no one listens to us.”
“Did we mess things up in the Middle East? They did. Who caused the upheaval in Libya, Iraq and all these countries? Why should we have to suffer because they want to fight them? Why is it my fault?”
And the fear is beginning to turn into paranoia. Georgiades said the other day while at the coffee shop, they saw a stranger at church with a backpack over his shoulder. “We froze. We all started wondering who he was and we were terrified,” he said.
The foreign ministry acknowledges that although a terrorist may not understand that it is not Cyprus attacking them but the British using their bases said the move to attack IS in Syria has increased vigilance. “It has also increased the level of cooperation we have with the British on sharing intelligence,” said an official. “We live in a dangerous area and time”.
Affecting their day-to -day life, Georgiades said not only were residents subjected to loud sounds that deafened them, “I had guests come over and they left. A jet flew over the house and they got terrified and the kid started crying. It’s really difficult.” Akrotiri residents for one, feel if Britain wants to wage its war it should do so from its homeland and not through Cyprus. “Why should we suffer because they want to fight? They should fight from England, we are stigmatised through the affiliation but whatever we say means nothing to anyone,” another resident said.
Political analyst and international relations expert Costa Constanti said there needed to be better management on how the matter was handled. “Visually, it’s Cyprus people see. You turn on CNN, BBC and they say ‘launching from Cyprus’.”
“The feeling in Cyprus for those concerned following the launch of British strikes on Daesh in Syria from our island is that in general we agree Daesh needs to be eliminated and we comprehend the logic of using the well-located British Sovereign Area bases in Cyprus (a remnant of the colonial period). But our real immediate concern is if Cyprus itself is secure enough to guard against retaliation, either by measures put in place by Nicosia, or London,” he said..
“Many Cypriots feel that although we believe Daesh and the Arab / Muslim world in general have no problems with the Cypriots they could still decide to punish Cyprus for perceiving that they have allowed the British to launch from the island.
“They could say we love the Cypriots but let’s sail across to the north, cross the border to the south and blast up Ledra Street or Ayia Napa where there are British tourists, just to send a message.”
What authorities also need to remember, Constanti said, is that if refugees in makeshift flimsy boats can travel 130km then jihadists, with far more resources and technology can do the same.
“Our island home is once again being treated as a non-sinkable warship. In 2015, Cyprus is being used by its former colonial rulers to protect the homeland (UK) on the other side of the continent 4000kms away,” Constanti said.
Akrotiri residents want reassurances. “If something’s going to happen it can happen anywhere. We’re just at greater risk because we’re close to the bases but it’s not just the terrorists. It’s also the planes themselves, only a few months ago we were protesting [when two missiles fell off a Tornado jet],” one business owner said. “We want reassurances that the necessary measures are being taken. More patrols, more checks, police checking who comes and goes, patrols in and out of the village.”
A written statement from the bases said security was of paramount importance both to them and the Republic of Cyprus. “Both authorities are working prudently together to achieve this collective objective,” it said.
It reiterated comments by British Prime Minister David Cameron saying “when it comes to the risks of taking military action, the risks of inaction are far greater.”
“Cyprus Foreign Minister Mr [Ioannis] Kasoulides fully supports the use of the bases in the fight against Daesh and has stated ‘we are all in the same strategic boat’”, a bases spokesman told the Sunday Mail. “We enjoy a very strong working relationship on every level, our common objective is to regulate peace, stability and security.”
Akrotiri resident Adamos Dimosthenous is one who would certainly prefer Cameron’s ‘risk of inaction’. “They shouldn’t attack, we’re scared… it might help to stop terrorism but it puts us at risk.”
One elderly man, Takis Mihail felt that there should at least be some quid pro quo for what they have to put up with. “We’ve actually got problems with our ears. Only one person in the area was found to have 95 per cent good hearing and he’s dead now.”
Asked what the exchange could be, sitting next to him, Georgiades said it could be anything “repairing roads, putting trees in the area, fixing our ears as that have been deafened or find a way to make the planes go a different route.”
Another elderly man quietly sitting in the corner of an Akrotiri coffee shop shouted his sole contribution: “The village is like a second Karpasia. Just like the occupied territories. Abandoned. ”
Members of the community hope to meet with the bases and the foreign ministry soon to gain some reassurances over what measures are in place. The bases, who say their doors are open at any time to hear of any concerns say the next meeting is scheduled for January.