The strategic stance of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has for some years now been one of “zero problems with our neighbors”. And since those neighbors include a number with which Turkey previously had longstanding quarrels and conflicts, the AKP government, in power since 2002, has worked hard to find ways to de-escalate and resolve those conflicts.
I’ve blogged quite a lot over the past 14 months about Turkey’s rapprochement with neighbor Syria. And more recently, that outreach has been extended even further, into the project for a visa-less free trade zone involving Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.
The present Turkish government has also been working to resolve Ankara’s longstanding tensions with Armenia, Greece, and Greek Cyprus. Today’s Zaman has an intriguing article on its website about the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, a project in which some 40 Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots work together to locate and exhume as many as possible of the 2,000 people who were killed or went missing during the 1974 war between the two sides. (That war also involved the Turkish military, which intervened after the island’s ethnic-Greek leaders unilaterally announced a Union– Enosis– with Greece.)
TZ also, today, carries this short item about Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu having recently visited graduation ceremonies in private Greek-language and Armenian-language elementary and high schools in Istanbul. The article said she was, “the first education minister to have paid a visit to an Armenian school in the history of the Turkish Republic.”
Regarding the work of the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) in Cyprus, that TZ feature article notes that the CMP’s work has been supported by the governments of both Turkey and Greece. The CMP has been able since 2006 to work on both sides of the line that has divided Cyprus since 1974.
The article gives these details:
- Some 1,500 Greek Cypriots vanished in 1974. About 500 Turkish Cypriots also are missing, some in the war, some in intercommunal violence in the 1960s.
Highly praised by the Argentine experts who helped train them, the committee’s searchers have recovered 630 sets of remains, have returned those of 217 individuals to their families, and are still working to identify the rest while doggedly looking for more.
“We don’t care if we’re looking for Greek Cypriots or Turkish Cypriots. For us, it’s the same,” said anthropologist Andri Palla, a 29-year-old Greek Cypriot, as she stood in a muddy field said to be a mass grave on the Turkish Cypriot side of Nicosia, the main city.
“Families say ‘thank you’ to us. For that, we feel good,” said Evren Korkmaz, her 27-year-old Turkish Cypriot colleague.
While the latest round of talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders has made little progress in 19 months, they clearly recognize the importance of keeping the painful issue free of politics that had encumbered the committee’s work in the past.
Both sides fund the committee’s work, along with foreign donors including Turkey, Greece, Britain, the European Union and the United States.
The CMP apparently works very hard to keep its work insulated from the still thorny politics of the effort to resolve the Cyprus issue. The article also notes the following important aspect of its work:
- To encourage witnesses to come forward, the committee stresses that it does not seek to identify killers. “Laying blame is not important anymore. It’s about finding bodies … and bringing relief to relatives,” [anthropologist Andri Palla, a 29-year-old Greek Cypriot,] says.
Some skulls have bullet holes, and Christofis was found in a grave with 38 others. Eyewitness accounts speak of execution-style killings on both sides, but the scientists avoid going into such questions and refuse to theorize.