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Clinging to hope as time runs out for finding Cyprus’ missing

Archaeologists Cinar-Karal and Noli Moysi (R) at Mia Milia-CNA

By Kyriaki Christodoulou

Archaeologists from both sides of the Cyprus divide who work on exhumations with the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) are living in hope.

They hope that more people will come forward with information on where remains might be buried, they hope that they can identify as many sets of remains as possible, but mostly they hope that they can relieve the suffering of the relatives 44 years after the invasion and 54 years after the intercommunal troubles.

Several of the archaeologists spoke to the Cyprus News Agency this week during a field trip to two excavation sites in the north, one at Mia Milia and the other in Kyrenia.

Currently, there are four groups of archaeologists who work on excavation sites for the remains of Greek Cypriots and three groups for Turkish Cypriots. Soon, another two groups are set to start excavations.
At Mia Milia, excavations are taking place near an old brick factory after someone provided information about possible burials of six or seven Turkish Cypriots. The information is considered credible.
Excavations there began on September 13, 2017. So far, no human remains have been located but the work will carry on and archaeologists are waiting for the green light to excavate a different location, very close to the first site.
Turkish Cypriot archaeologist Cinar Karal and Greek Cypriot archaeologist Nolli Moysi are working there.

Cinar explained that the brick factory stood in the area until 1970. She said archaeologists with a backhoe loader opened a huge cavity from which they removed tonnes of soil to be examined for bones. As no remains were located the soil has been put back into the hole.
Cinar has been working for the CMP since 2009. She has never counted the sites she visited for excavations or exhumations but said every time her feelings are the same.
‘’I like my job, we are helping the relatives, every time we start excavating we are hopeful that we will find bones, we are searching very carefully, there is always hope inside us,’’ she said.
The message she wants to pass on to those who might have information on burial sites is that a long time has passed since 1974 and most of the people who were witnesses to events have passed away while many more are getting too old to remember details. They should come forward and share whatever they know, Cinar said.

Team leader of the Kyrenia site Guliz Buruncuk-CNA

‘’Please give information to us, for the sake of the relatives because they are waiting, the families are waiting, they hope their missing persons are somewhere but until we tell them they are dead they cannot accept it,’’Cinar said.
Nolli Moysi has been an archaeologist with the CMP since 2012 and has a real sense of pride in her work.
‘’At the beginning, of course, we all feel anxious when we excavate, this is a job that needs patience, we need to work hard and with persistence,’’ she said.

But she concedes that a sense of disillusionment is growing.

‘’Every year it is even more difficult to find remains due to the lack of information, problems that you are facing, changes in the environment, so every year you have to be working harder,’’ she said.
She too appeals to the public to give information and stresses that their privacy and anonymity would be respected.
Away from Mia Milia, where a huge mosque is now being constructed, we headed to Kyrenia where a second site of excavations is taking place near the Nicosia-Kyrenia highway.

Guliz Buruncuk and Frixos Markou are the archaeologists who have been working at the site along with backhoe loader driver Umit Hadimci.

Archaeologist Frixos-Markou at the Kyrenia-site-CNA

The work started last November and some human remains have been found in the area. However, as is so often the case, the remains are commingled or intermixed which hampers identification and DNA tests are still underway.

Guliz said they had information about Greek Cypriots being buried here. The information came from someone who said that while driving on the road to Nicosia during the invasion, he saw a lorry and people dumping bodies.

She explained that there was a river bed in the area and the archaeologists digging in the southern area were using the trenching method.

‘’While extending the excavation on the west side we found some bones but not in an anatomical position, in commingle, later we found out that while some apartments were being constructed, more bones were found but were moved,’’ Guliz said.

Frixos has been working for the CMP for almost eight years. He says that every time they head to an excavation site, they have the same hope that they will find bones.

Backhoe loader driver Umit Hadimci at the Kyrenia site-CNA.

‘’Anyone who knows something, who has seen something, can come to us, information can be given anonymously, even on the spot, when we are excavating one can come and put a mark, this has happened before,’’ he said.

He also says that most of the time the archaeologists themselves tell the neighbours or bystanders or people who just pass through the area, what they are looking for and ask them to share information.

“We often go to coffee shops where older people meet and we believe they might know something,” Frixos said.

Umit Hadimci is the backhoe loader driver at the excavation site in Kyrenia. He is new to the job and was hired only six months ago.

‘’I like driving the machine and helping in locating missing persons, I am satisfied when this happens because families will be satisfied too,’’ he said.

Some 500 Turkish Cypriots and 1,500 Greek Cypriots disappeared during armed clashes in the 1960s and during the 1974 Turkish invasion. So far, 801 missing persons from both communities have been identified and returned to the families for a dignified burial.

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