By Evie Andreou
The plight of rape victims from the Turkish invasion in 1974 has come to haunt the women for a second time, after an effort by MPs to secure some grant or aid for them turned into a bureaucratic nightmare, especially as many have kept their physical and psychological wounds secret from their families.
MPs slammed the Labour ministry on Monday for insisting that women who were raped during the invasion by Turkish soldiers submit proof of their abuse before they are offered psychological and financial assistance.
Rapes of women during the invasion were not uncommon, but until today, they have not received any state assistance like the rest of the people who were injured and sustained some form of disability due to the 1974 war, the head of the of the House Refugees committee and AKEL MP Skevi Koukouma told the Cyprus Mail.
DISY MP Kyriakos Hadjiyiannis added during a discussion on state broadcaster CyBC that the rape victims were not only women.
So far, three women had the courage to come forward and submit applications for state support from the labour ministry following Koukouma’s public appeal a few months ago.
“Forty-one years after the invasion, nobody addressed this issue. These women too bear injuries from the war, just as the rest of people who were wounded. It is our obligation to apologise to these women and offer them support,” Koukouma told the Mail after first raising the subject during the Budget debate last week.
She said that during a meeting with Labour minister Zeta Emilianidou, it was agreed that these cases would be handled discreetly and with sensitivity.
“But instead, two of them were sent letters to their homes asking them to appear before a medical council with proof they were raped back in 1974, in order to be allowed the benefit,” Koukouma said.
She added that one of the three women, who is already receiving psychological support, appeared before the medical board last month.
“How are they going to prove they were raped? We are re-victimising these women, asking them to go through a faceless bureaucratic system to receive the aid they are entitled to,” she said, adding that there are more such cases, who fear of coming forward.
Koukouma said that all three women were 13 when they were raped, not once but repeatedly by five or six Turkish soldiers at a time, and it was not done secretly, as the whole village knew about it. She said that during the war, the Red Cross was handing out contraceptive pills to women to avoid getting pregnant if raped.
“After the war, their families would usually send the girls abroad until the issue was forgotten. These women today face financial and psychological problems,” she said.
She added that in October she had a meeting at the Red Cross International headquarters in Geneva where she inquired whether there were files about rape victims of the 1974 war in Cyprus and she received a positive answer. However, she said, this information is only given to the individuals concerned.
“So, now we are forcing these women to go to international fora to access the information the ministry requires,” Koukouma said.
She said that she feared that this procedure that the ministry is following will put off many other women, who will be too afraid to seek aid because they will be asked to present proof, and the discomfort this will cause them and their families. Many cases receive psychological support by the state mental services, she said, so they are known.
Speaking on CyBC on Monday the permanent secretary of the labour ministry, Andreas Assiotis, acknowledged that “it was a mistake” to send the letters, but claimed that the officer who did so, did it because the women could not be reached by phone.
Commenting on Koukouma’s and EDEK MP Koulla Mavronikola’s comments whether his ministry should recall the letters and not ask for proof, he said that this is standard procedure provided by the law.
“If the MPs believe that it must be amended, then it must be addressed,” Assiotis said. He added that his ministry can and will handle these case with the utmost discretion.
Koukouma said that if necessary, they will push for amendment of the relevant legislation.