After literally years of lobbying by Cyprus in all corners of the globe to push Turkey to cooperate on the issue of the missing, the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) announced in a brief statement recently that Turkey had granted access to 30 suspected burial sites in military areas in the north without any time constraints for excavations.
The CMP, which is a tripartite body with Turkish Cypriot, Greek Cypriot and UN participation, said they welcomed the decision, which would accelerate the committee’s humanitarian work.
The committee has been saying in recent years that it was finding it almost impossible to get any further, and the number of remains being identified was shrinking exponentially as time went by.
Other than the brief CMP statement, the news got little or no play in the political sphere or in the media even though it came shortly after a study conducted by the Red Cross according to which 41 per cent of the relatives believe that their loved ones are still alive.
The low-key response to the military sites being opened only made it look as if the Greek Cypriot side, both officialdom and the media, could not bring themselves to welcome the move as it might involve giving Ankara credit for something. Even a story published on Saturday put it thus: “as regards the access given recently to 30 burial sites…” as if the ‘access given’ had fallen out of the sky.
True, it’s difficult to believe Turkey is acting purely altruistically. It has been repeatedly named and shamed by the Council of Europe over its lack of cooperation on missing persons while also being in the doghouse with Brussels at the moment over all things Cyprus. Turkey cannot be lauded for waiting as long as it has to cooperate, and of course, there is no guarantee it will keep its promise to grant access when the time comes.
However, putting aside Turkey’s decades-long belligerence on this issue, it was significant news for both the CMP and for the relatives and may even help uncover the remains of as many as 100 people.
The insipid response to what was on the face of it, good news, raises the question of whether factions within the political sphere would prefer the missing persons issue drag on even longer so that it can continue to be used as a political cudgel against Ankara in international for a. Yet, what’s really important, as they themselves state time and again, is to “resolve this humanitarian issue’. Anything that leads to that should be welcomed by everyone.
Some politicians might also want to ask themselves why almost half of the relatives persist in believing their loved ones are still alive after 45 years. They might want to reflect on who led these relatives to continue to believe this.