Cyprus Mail

Cyprus Mail 75 years: a few metres away from a murder

Feature 75years Jean Tassos Isaac Was Mercilessly Beaten
Tassos Isaak was beaten to death in 1996 in Dherynia

It’s not an easy task to go back over 30 years of reporting and find that one defining story you covered that sticks out. There were several moments when I felt I was really witnessing history. One such story came early on, in August 1996 when Tassos Isaac was murdered in the buffer zone in Dherynia.

At the time I was stringing for the French news agency AFP as well as working for the Cyprus Mail. There was not much by the way of the internet and definitely no social media to stream such events live. All I had was a big clunky Nokia phone with a short-life battery, hoping it would last long enough if anything major happened to call it in to the desk.

A colleague from another news agency and I started off in Nicosia where the bikers protest was to be held, having been told by then President Clerides not to go to Dherynia. The protest at Sopaz got a bit out of hand when someone set a fire and UN soldiers desperately tried to hold people back from entering the buffer zone.

Then we heard that another group was in fact heading to Dherynia so we left and raced across a field to the car and headed there instead. It was absolute pandemonium. Police were doing nothing to stop protesters and a number of them had already entered the buffer zone.

Standing on a nearby hill, we witnessed Tassos Isaac, trapped in barbed wire, on the ground being beaten mercilessly by counterprotesters and men in police uniforms. The UN stood by and did not intervene. After about 10 minutes, Isaac was taken bloodied and unconscious from the area. We raced to the ambulance station and saw him being put on a stretcher. Some time later – we stayed put – the ambulance came back and my colleague overheard one of the drivers say: ‘We’ve lost one of ours’.

Then came the mad scramble to phone that in and have it confirmed and up to the desk in Nicosia to get the news out. The rest of the day is now a bit of a blur but like 9/11 when the second plane hit the Twin Towers, there are images you will never forget and they are as clear today as they were then. The murder of someone a few hundred metres away from you is one of those moments.

Other major stories where I found myself witnessing history would have been the absolute chaos of the opening of the Ledra Palace checkpoint in April 2003, being present at the Cyprus negotiations in Burgentstock in 2004 and covering the subsequent referendum on the Annan plan, all of which have left their mark on the history of Cyprus, and on me as a reporter because that’s what the job is all about, or used to be about. Today, driven by social media, it’s a whole different ballgame and other than a few old dinosaurs still knocking about, the profession as a whole is all the worse for it.



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