Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

The punishment of war crimes

epa04311852 A handout photograph dated 20 July 1974 and made available by the Turkish Veteran Soldiers Association, showing soldiers sitting on their tanks as they move along a road in the aftermath of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. re a ceasefire was announced, while some 40 per cent of the Island was occupied in the second Turkish invasion in August 1974. The Turkish-occupied north is only recognized as a separate entity by Turkey. EPA/VETERAN SOLDIERS ASSOCIATION / HANDOUT BLACK AND WHITE ONLY HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

LATELY, a lot is being said in the mass media and the social media about the need to prosecute and punish all those who have committed war crimes and, in particular, those who have committed crimes against civilians, either in the course of the Turkish invasion or before or after the invasion.  That such atrocities have been committed is beyond any doubt. That the crimes committed reveal the animal instincts of the perpetrators is also beyond doubt.

The last thing I would wish to do is to appear as justifying this kind of unacceptable behaviour, which indicates barbaric instincts and the absolute lack of human empathy.

However, I am concerned with the motives of those (on both sides) who systematically promote the punishment for the crimes that were committed a long time ago. Their motives may not be as innocent as they appear to be.

What crosses my mind is that the revolting details, which are set out in the stories unearthed from time to time by self-proclaimed super-patriots, do not aim at securing the punishment of the perpetrators of the crimes. Their goal is to reinforce the fears, which undoubtedly persist amongst Cypriots, and their ultimate goal is to promote the partition of Cyprus.

In the history of humanity, war crimes have been committed by both ‘civilised’ and ‘uncivilised nations.

The “aggressive” war, as a method of imposing the choices of selected groups on other people, is itself, a crime. Nevertheless, it is a time-honoured tool that has been extensively used throughout the ages, based on various excuses and pretexts.

In a war where the death of a soldier is often a precondition for the survival of another soldier, depriving human life is the basic rule of the game. Thus, within the lunacy of a war and the mob psychology, which invariably prevails, it is objectively difficult to draw a line between what is a “permissible” and what is a “non-permissible” crime.

The first is a “heroic” act; the second is a “disgraceful” act. Nor, of course, is it acceptable to justify dreadful acts on the strength of the argument that “the other side has committed similar and possibly worse crimes”. The truth of the matter is that the thirst for revenge is often the driving force behind such disgraceful behaviour.

However, let me revert to the main theme of my note. My preference and suggestion is that we should forget the punishment of war crimes, by absolving the perpetrators, as our religious (Christian and Islamic) rules dictate, on only one condition.

The condition is that the perpetrators of the crimes should acknowledge their mistake and apologise to those they have harmed.

Such an approach would provide hope for the reunification of our homeland and a good prospect that such crimes will not be committed in the future. On this basis, one could hope that peace will find a resting ground in the blizzards that have been battering the souls of many of our compatriots.

Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail and Alithia

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