One of the darkest and most agonisingly painful aspects of the 1974 Turkish invasion, which has for decades been hidden under the carpet, has recently been brought to the limelight: the rape of Greek Cypriot women by Turkish soldiers. A heinous crime used during wars which terrifies the victim and scars lives for ever. Cyprus was unfortunately no exception to this awful practice.
Rape victims, who have talked to CNA about their experience on condition of anonymity, have said that apart from fighting back the memories of their terrible experience, they live with the “shame” families and society at large have bestowed on them. “Social stigma” is how they describe themselves, even though everybody knows they are not to blame. Tormented by memories which they want to forget but cannot.
The state, for the first time since `74, has come out into the open and recognised, albeit belatedly, the drama of Greek Cypriot women who were raped during the invasion in the summer of 1974 and has promised it will act with discretion and sensitivity in an attempt to heal the wounds of such a crime through consultation and financial aid.
The Minister of Labour, Welfare and Social Security Zeta Emilianidou, in statements to CNA, has explained that a special committee will examine testimonies from women without actually forcing them to be present and relive their experience.
Adolescents, most of them at the time, they remember how their families had tried to obliterate the stigma their rapes brought to them. Many were sent abroad, others were hurriedly married to “wash off the shame”.
CNA has secured the testimonies of two women who were raped repeatedly, Anna – not her real name – from a village in Kyrenia district and Maria – not her real name – from a village in Famagusta district. Both of them were fourteen years old in `74. Life was never the same after that, the suffering, physical, emotional and psychological marked their tender souls for ever.
Maria`s father, working in animal husbandry, did not want to leave his animals when war broke and so the whole family remained enclaved.
“We went to the fields, outside the village. We were about hundred people, four days hiding. The night became day. They threw flares and knew we were hiding. We heard tanks on the road going back and forth endlessly. They threw leaflets from a helicopter, depicting half of Cyprus painted white and the other half red and ordered us to surrender, otherwise they would kill us.
We returned to the village, surrendering, arms up in the air. We saw people lying dead on the road. They gathered us in the school yard. They separated the men from the women, the babies, the elderly over sixty, and put them in classrooms. Two trucks loaded the prisoners of war. My father was one of them.
My mother, my six year old sister and I were taken with other women and put in the last houses of the village. On the first night they came to count us. They dragged me and other girls and led us to nearby fields, in darkness. My mother tried to pull me away from them but was hit by a gun. They pulled me by force, outside. They raped me repeatedly. I pleaded with God to help me. I screamed. I was only fourteen. They had their fun and took us back. I heard the women in the house talking about leaving the kitchen gas supply on to commit suicide, to save ourselves from this torment.
Every night this same scene was repeated. We tried to hide in the attic of the house, but they found us and dragged us by the hair. This torture continued for two to three months,” Maria recalls, tears rolling from her eyes.
Today Maria is divorced with three children, sick and facing serious financial problems. She has never told anyone about what she has been through, nor even her own father who died last year without knowing anything.
“My life started on the wrong footing, a lie but not my fault. When I heard that they raise this issue in Parliament, I said to myself better late than never, the state will assume its responsibilities. I`m still suffering from that experience, desperate, I am not working now. My arms are scared from their cigarette buds they extinguished on me,” she says.
Anna’s story is no different. She still has the scar on the chest from the bayonet. Only she went abroad to continue her life.
“They put us in the school hall at Voni, along with the rest of the family. There entered whenever they wanted, they chose girls and took them out to satisfy their sexual desires. I was wearing my grandmother`s clothes to look old but they could see my face. I only went out when I needed to go to the toilet. I was wrapped up most of the time in a quilt, had children sitting all over me and around me so that the soldiers will not drag me out to rape me. This lasted three months before the Red Cross arrived. A man who had escaped informed them that we were being held hostage by the Turkish army. The Red Cross, along with other things, sent us contraceptive pills to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. I was scared, in fact terrified, I still am … even today after so many year,” she recalled.
Anna remembers the reaction of her own relatives to what she had been through. “Send her abroad, nobody will be interested in her now,” they told my mum. And this is what she did. “She sent me abroad, I was the black sheep of the family, I had brought shame to my family, even though everybody knew I was a victim of war, through no fault of mine,” she told CNA.
Living abroad did me a lot of good, she acknowledged, because “I was not around those people who believed I was the stigma on my family, all villagers knew my story. I got married, I have two children and two grandchildren, I am 55 years old and I have never forgotten what happened to me in that horrible summer of 1974.”
Now, she tells CNA, 42 years later, “the state remembered us and sent us a letter to address the matter, saying we have to produce medical certificates proving the rape. This is the ultimate humiliation.”
So far, these women have never received any assistance, psychological, medical or financial from the state.
The Minister of Labour, who also talked to CNA on this issue, promised the state will act with discretion, confidentiality and sensitivity, stressing that nobody will undergo medical examination nor will any letters of proof be requested.
“Our policy is that these women will be assisted, even with additional help. A Committee will examine the events without the women having to be present at any time”, said Zeta Emilianidou, who invited all the women rape victims to come forth and apply for assistance.
The President of the House Refugee Committee Skevi Koukouma explained that the letters initially sent to women asking for medical evidence of their rape have been withdrawn and the process will proceed with “the utmost confidentiality, otherwise victims would be discouraged from seeking help”.
“When these women contacted me, I could not imagine that a wound of 40 years could still be so painful,” she said.