About 1,000 Cypriots are still missing after disappearing during the 1960 and 1974 conflict. With witnesses dying, time is running out to find them.
A bright yellow machine somewhere between a vacuum cleaner and a tiny scooter crawls down a narrow village street in Cyprus, solving a painful mystery from the divided island nation’s conflict-ridden past.
It uses radio waves to detect any disturbances in the layers of soil beneath the asphalt – potential evidence that could support eyewitness accounts of a mass grave containing the remains of people who disappeared nearly half a century ago.
The Cyprus Committee on Missing Persons is testing PulseEco – a deep ground penetrating radar – which will help locate the remains of hundreds of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots who disappeared in the conflict during the Turkish invasion of 1960 and 1974. They went.
Since then, the island has been divided along ethnic lines, with Turkish Cyprus in the north separated from Greek Cyprus in the south where the internationally recognized government is located.
Radar is working against time as many witnesses to the violent events are no longer alive. It is one of the few glimpses of hope left for relatives of the missing, like Sofia Stavrino.
His father was last seen on 14 August 1974, when he and his fellow Greek Cypriot soldiers retreated from Turkey’s massive military advance.
The remains of the soldiers who were with Stavrino’s father that day have been found and returned to their relatives. But not his father.
‘Witnesses are dying. We need this technology’
“Hopefully,” she said. “To be honest, I don’t know if it’s going to happen or not.”
The committee, which includes a Greek Cypriot, a Turkish Cypriot and a rotating member appointed by the United Nations, is looking to use high-tech gear to help save both time and money in the search.
Bruce Koepke, special assistant to the UN-appointed member of the committee, says the machinery is expensive but it is worth the investment in radar.
“Witnesses are dying, so we need to use this technique,” he said.
On the isolated Turkish Cypriot side of the island, in the village of Exo Metochi, or Düzova in Turkish, the radar is busy collecting images from underground along the road between a two-story house and a fig orchard.
Harry M. Joll, a professor of geography and anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, who owns PulsaCo, says that subsequent computer analysis of the images could reveal soil “anomalies” that could potentially lead to excavation of the burial site. Has happened due to.
Jol told The Associated Press that identifying such anomalies could help direct resources toward “promising” sites rather than costly and time-consuming excavations that may yield no results.
“If you can see down to a depth of one metre, it could be a year’s worth of excavation work,” said Joll, a Canadian citizen who volunteered on the project in Cyprus with his son, in images collected by radar. Doing, said. And assistant Connor.
969 people are still missing
The two were visiting four sites in Cyprus over the course of a week, with the committee only covering their travel expenses and accommodation.
The committee’s investigation coordinator Yagmur Erbole said that nothing was found in the earlier excavations conducted at the garden site adjacent to the road. But after persistent eyewitness accounts indicated that many Greek Cypriots may be buried there, a second search was launched using Pulseico.
For Zol, this is the second time he has traveled to Cyprus to test the radar.
A trip last year produced some solid results, but now they are using a more powerful version of the radar, which can probe deeper into the ground.
If proven effective, it might convince the committee to purchase its machinery.
“We are still testing the equipment and once a decision is made, the committee will meet to decide whether to purchase the equipment,” Koepke said.
Of the 2,002 people who disappeared in Cyprus between 1963 and 1974, the remains of 1,033 have been identified and returned to their families since search efforts began in 2006.
According to Paul-Henri Arni, the outgoing UN-appointed member of the committee, this is the second-best success rate in the world after the former Yugoslavia, where thousands of people disappeared during the ethnic wars that accompanied the country’s breakup in the 1990s. .
Determining the fate of those still missing – 769 Greek Cypriots and 200 Turkish Cypriots – remains a major challenge.
“Now we have such difficult cases when someone was killed at the same place, taken 20 km away in a pickup truck and unburied [a] Witness at another location,” Arni told reporters last week.
Technology Key for Excavation
With information on burial sites unclear and less-reliable, the technology is seen as the key to speeding up excavations by ruling out areas where there is little or no evidence of soil disturbance.
Nicos Sergides, president of the Organization of Missing Relatives, said new technology, such as GPR, could allow the discovery of potential grave sites where the topography has changed significantly from how witnesses remember.
“We hope that any new technology used can speed up this process and it is important now more than ever for relatives to have access to it,” Sergides told the AP.
Testing PulsaCo is crucial for the committee, which relies on international donations to support its €3.2 million budget, mostly funded by the European Union.
Jol, who participated in the search for genocide victims in Latvia, said the technology could be a game-changer for burial sites in other former conflict areas.
The whole purpose of his work, Jol said, is to help the families of missing people by “doing the job myself.”