“I want no vengeance,” says man who saw his family massacred
Today, the deceased members of the Liasis family, one of two families nearly annihilated in Palekythro village during the fiery August of 1974 will be finally laid to rest. The funeral of the other family will be held soon.
The Liasis and Souppouris families, who came from the village of Palekythro in Mesaoria, lost most of their relatives when Turkish Cypriot extremists stood 22 innocent civilians, most of them women and young children, before a firing squad and shot them. Only four people survived the slaughter including Yiannoula Liasi, 27 years old at the time, George Liasi, 15, and Petros Souppouris, 10. His brother, Costas Souppouris, 9, managed to escape by running away.
Within weeks, the two Souppouris orphans will finally hold a funeral for their father, mother, two brothers and one aunt who were killed before their eyes in 1974. Their remains were found in a mass grave in Palekythro and identified by DNA-matching in the labs of the United Nations Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus. The remains of yet another brother, Yiannis Souppouris, who is among the victims, have not been found in the same grave. Though known to have been killed, he is, officially, still considered missing.
It all happened on August 14, 1974, when the General Staff of the Turkish Army ordered the commencement of the second phase of Operation Attila. The talks in Geneva which had aimed at a permanent ceasefire and the negotiation of a permanent solution of the Cyprus issue had just collapsed. Cyprus was already suffering the tragic consequences of the first wave of the Turkish invasion. The Turkish Army, which had landed on the beaches of Kyrenia on July 20, had already occupied ten per cent of the land area, from Kyrenia to north Nicosia.
Operation Attila Two began with an all-out attack on two opposed fronts simultaneously: to the east towards Famagusta, and to the west towards Morphou. The forces of the Cyprus National Guard, besides being overwhelmingly outnumbered and outgunned, had also already been depleted, disorganised and demoralised both by the July 15 coup d'etat and the Turkish onslaught that followed it in late July. The defences on both fronts immediately collapsed. Civil Defence was nonexistent. Civilians, without any guidance or protection, took flight to save themselves.
It was the Turkish Army's 39th Division, under General Suleyman Demirel, that was tasked with the advance towards Famagusta. In his memoirs, the Turkish general described the images that greeted him in the abandoned Greek Cypriot villages:
“The doors of the houses were wide open. People's belongings, food and clothing were abandoned inside. Baby food, unfinished meals and half-eaten fruit was in the kitchens. [...] The bedrooms and living rooms were abandoned just as they were. It was impossible not to feel pain when faced with such events.”
Palekythro is a village in the eastern Mesaoria plain, on the way to Famagusta. Its inhabitants, mainly farmers who worked the land or tended animals, fled. Three families, however, chose to stay behind to look after their animals. Among them was Andreas Souppouris' family of seven.
A group of young Turkish Cypriots from the village of Epicho went looting in Palekythro. They came to Souppouris' farm and took his cows and his modern milking machines. But that was not the worst that fate had in store for a man who had chosen to remain in his village and not be severed from his roots. The Turkish Cypriots returned, armed and determined to kill. Either to silence eyewitness accounts of the looting, or to take revenge, they ordered all members of the Souppouris family and two more families who had sought refuge in their home into the back yard, where they began to shoot them. Their bodies fell on top of each other. Of 21 people, 17 met a horrific death. Four emerged from the carnage wounded, but alive. One, nine-year-old Costas Souppouris, ran away and managed to escape.
Petros Souppouris was wounded in the abdomen. “First they shot the adults, then the children. I was last out of the house. They shot me and I fell unconscious. I came to, and heard one of the wounded asking for water.”
After the executions, the perpetrators took Andreas Souppouris' car and drove away. Later, a Turkish Army officer, apparently the area military commander, arrived. He gathered the four wounded, ordered that they be given medical care, and ordered that the dead be buried in an olive grove.
The survivors were then taken to another village, Voni. The two surviving Souppouris children were removed by the Red Cross to the free areas of Cyprus, where they grew up with their aunts. Their story moved the whole Greek-speaking world. Journalist Yiannis Marinos visited Cyprus, met them and made sure that the Greek-based Bodosakis Foundation would take care of their education.
Petros Souppouris always wanted to be a pilot, but on commercial airliners, not military aircraft. He was excused from national service as a result of his family tragedy, and at 20 he concluded his commercial pilot training in Oxford. His brother Costas went on to study information technology, specialising in cryptographic systems, and is working with the Cyprus Police.
After the opening of the Green Line checkpoints in 2003, Turkish Cypriot journalist Sevgul Uludag published the story of the Souppouris family in Yeni Duzen newspaper and took the initiative to try and help find the mass grave of the missing of Palekythro. In the summer of 2007, the grave was located and excavated by the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus. Last month, the families were formally informed of the identification of their relatives' remains.
Petros Souppouris, who experienced the horror of that war more than any child of his age, has stated that he does not feel that it is up to him to see that the guilty are punished, or that he should seek revenge, and that is why he has never sought to find out the names of his family's killers. “Those who did this will be punished by life itself,” he said.
After the checkpoints opened in 2003, Petros took his children to his village and showed him the spot where the grandparents, uncles and aunts they never met were murdered. “A good man now lives in my house, who told me that I own the house he lives in and that when I wish to return he will let me have it back,” he states.
“Those events took place under the circumstances prevailing then. The challenge now is to become conscious of that. Some people gained, some lost, some were affected by what happened and some were not. What matters now is that my children, your children, our children never have to experience what we did. We have to become conscious of what happened to avoid a repeat of the same in the future.”
Petros Souppouris has taught his children not to hate, and not to see anyone as their enemy. “Whether you have lost your house or not is not important. What matters is that we should learn to live together with the Turkish Cypriots and all our fellow human beings of all nationalities, to understand the concerns of all nationalities.”
Last summer, Petros Souppouris took part in a bicommunal event on reconciliation, where, before a small audience, he related his experiences of the pain that war could wreak.
With him was Hussein Akansoy of Maratha, who was seventeen years old in 1974. Hussein described how he lost 30 of his close relatives in a mass slaughter of Turkish Cypriot civilians, and how he has overcome the pain and rage he felt at the sight of his dead brothers' decapitated bodies to become a supporter of reconciliation.