Some 33 years since Turkey invaded his country, Kyriacos Christodoulou, ex coordinator of Lobby for Cyprus tells his story, and explains what the Lobby is doing to raise its profile.
The church of Ayios Amvrosios (Saint Ambrose) in occupied Cyprus
I genuinely believe that in the long term, justice will prevail and refugees will fulfill their dream of returning home
My story begins in 1974, as a 17-year old. I am from a small town in the northern part of Cyprus, called Ayios Amvrosios, where most of the invasion took place. It is difficult to explain my feelings at the time – I couldn’t believe that this was happening. I expected that the international community would not allow a massive country like Turkey to invade a country like Cyprus with 600,000 people, but it was happening before my own eyes.
There were two invasions, on July 20 and August 14. The second invasion saw most of the inhabitants of my town – including me – board whatever vehicles were available and flee to save our lives. We went across the mountain to the sanctuary. I have seen devastation, raging fires, and bombardment from sea, air and land. It was a horrific experience for a youngster like myself.
I will never forget my final journey away from Ayios Ambvosios. We were on a truck; there were maybe 50 people – mainly women and children. I can remember the driver driving around the town once more while we all screamed ‘what are you doing?’ He replied that he wanted all of us to see the town one last time. It was a very moving experience. That final departure from the place of my most carefree and loving times was when I first felt a sense of deep injustice, and that I must do something for as long as I can. And this is what I have been doing for most of the rest of my life.
Since then the situation has changed, unfortunately only for the worse. At the start of hostilities’ in 1974 there were 200,000 inhabitants living in the north. By 1994, only 715 remained in the occupied area, while by 2001, 415 people – mainly over 70 years old – remained.
In recent years, the Turks started a massive frenzy of illegal and uncontrolled building of apartments and holiday complexes on our own, stolen lands, in an orchestrated effort to prevent us, the refugees, from returning and reclaiming them, contrary to legal and international laws.
It is a massive struggle. I have been involved with Lobby for Cyprus since 1992 – that is 16 years hard campaigning. I find that the British press has turned. In the 1970s, the British media was very good – damning the invasion – some headlines used the word ‘Barbarians’ to describe what the Turks did to Cyprus.
Then things started changing. The British started shifting to the Turkish position, and the press did likewise, because of the super-powers’ interests – Turkey is a big ally of the Americans and the British. So human rights were put aside in the case of Cyprus. Therefore Lobby for Cyprus has tried very hard to counteract this, doing an enormous amount of work for a completely voluntary organisation. We have done a lot of campaigning through the press, through seminars and lobbying at the British and European parliaments. We have had a lot of small successes, but in the grand scheme of things, we are really up against it. However we will carry on for as long as it takes because I genuinely believe that in the long term, justice will prevail and refugees will fulfil their dream of returning home.
My message for the government is that human rights should not be implemented selectively. If British foreign policy is to be taken seriously, then such rights must be applied across the board, not just where it suits Britain.
The above interview appeared as a full page article in the high profile magazine Moderngov, March 2008. The magazine’s readership includes central government, MPs and other key decision makers.