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A Living Souvenir

Often, we forget how ordinary heroes can be.

Mr. Michalis Skaros runs a souvenir shop in Protaras, Famagusta.

Sitting before me, behind the counter of his souvenir shop, with his sweat-stained white shirt and his black slippers which he wears without socks, Mr. Michalis Skaros looks like someone’s dad or grandad.

Although the temperatures in the coastal resort of Protaras can reach 43 degrees Celsius, Mr. Michalis does not turn on the air conditioner in the souvenir shop. He had a heart attack last year and he says that air-conditioning is not good for his health. So, a small fan above where he sits behind the counter tries to do the impossible: to cool the place down.

“Mr. Michalis is a millionaire,” says Theodora, a secondary school history teacher who rents the flat on top of the souvenir shop from him. “His family owns a luxury hotel and a lot of land in Protaras. On top of the souvenir shop and our flat, he personally owns two villas, the Mexican restaurant next door and some other properties near the beach.” According to Theodora, Mr. Michalis could be living any life he wants to, but instead he sits all day in his shop.[1]

In Cyprus, life is easy. We live in a small island where everybody knows everybody and the beach is, at most, a half-hour drive from anywhere.

However, we have a sense that in Cyprus nothing moves. Sometimes we think that it is the heat which drains all our energy away or the tiny economy of our country which cannot accommodate much space for innovation and create career opportunities. It is a blessing and a curse to live on this island. To be able to call home an idyllic paradise with a slow-paced, Mediterranean way of life but also to not being to dream far.

Our Cypriot dreams are always restricted by geography. Our country is the most eastern member state of the EU, divided by sea from all the other states. With a land area of 9,250km it is the 3rd smallest member after Malta and Luxembourg.[2] We can get to work every day in 10 mins with our own cars, without getting crammed in metros like the Londoners and the Parisians do but we can never enjoy the wages and the opportunities they have.

1974 Cyprus
The Republic of Cyprus was created in 1960 after a nationalist struggle by the guerrilla organisation EOKA gained its independence from the British empire who had ruled it since 1878.

Life in Cyprus can get boring sometimes. So, when we want to get a dose of action we turn to Hollywood and watch the big and expensive war films with their American heroes. We watch them from a safe distance, knowing that the things we’re seeing on the screen will never disturb our calm, island life. Despite living in the 7th most militarized country in the world, the Cypriot National Guard usually serves as a running joke among men obliged to complete two-years of compulsory conscription.[1] The Cypriot Air Force does not own a single airplane.[2]

However, we forget that 44 years ago a war devastated our island, with around 7,000 dead and 210,000 people displaced.[3]

How does Mr. Skaros fit in to this story?

Apart from being an under-the radar millionaire, Mr. Skaros is a war veteran.

His story starts on a bed in Bogazi, Famagusta, on July 15, 1974. Mr. Skaros, originally from Paralimni, was serving his military service as a corporal at the 399 Infantry Battalion in Bogazi. After finishing his early morning tasks, he sneaked back to his chamber and laid on his bed to rest.

“It was around 08:15, I was holding a radio and listening to music. While I was lying down, our captain saw me,” he says.

His captain was Georgios Papalambrides, a mainland Greek army officer, who had been transferred to Cyprus a year earlier. “He trusted me and some other soldiers more than the officers. I expected that he would start shouting. I immediately got up and told him ‘Sir, I’m feeling a bit sick, that’s why I’m lying.’ But he said nothing. He just turned around and left.”[4]

A few minutes after, the state channel, CYBC, broke from its usual schedule and started broadcasting news instead of music. It reported that far-right EOKA B paramilitaries, backed by the mainland Greek right-wing junta government who controlled the Cypriot National Guard, had stormed the Presidential Palace to kill President Makarios. Although originally a nationalist who favoured enosis (political union with Greece), Archibishop Makarios III had gradually changed his stance and favoured the independence of Cyprus. His former comrades in EOKA did not like his switch and organized a coup to overthrow him and achieve their dream of enosis.[5]

As soon as he heard the news, Mr. Skaros jumped off his bed in excitement and started running around the camp and shouting about what had happened. “We were 20 years old, right-wing nationalists. We wanted the so-called enosis with Greece. We thought that we had the power in our hands now. I got excited and gathered the whole company and took them marching to the headquarters. I’ll never forget this incident because afterwards the commander started shouting that corporals are not allowed to lead a company,” Mr. Skaros says.

EOKA B plotter and journalist Nikos Sampson became president after the coup. His reign lasted for eight days. Subsequently he served three years in prison and after his release he went back into the publishing business.

Mr. Skaros says they could not predict what was coming in the following days. “They started placing the leftist soldiers and officers, the supporters of Makarios and the Communist Party, in the guardhouse. This was done in every camp. It was an order from the headquarters. We saw our friends going to the guardhouse and we were wondering why.”

On July 16th, Mr. Skaros’ company was ordered to set up a road block in the coastal road of Famagusta-Apostolos Andreas. Captain Papalambrides had put him in charge.

“I remember that one day we stopped a Land Rover carrying EOKA B paramilitaries. They were wearing berets and carrying Kalashnikovs. We had never seen such weapons before. We were holding STEN guns and Martini rifles,” Mr Skaros says.

The common view has it that at the time of the coup EOKA B was controlling the island. Mr. Skaros says that this was not the case. The mainland Greek-junta was the real government. And, with many Greek officers occupying the high-ranking positions of the Cypriot National Guard, the junta had a chokehold over the army.

“We had orders not to let the EOKA B people pass. I met their leader, a guy called Papadopoulos. He told me that they wanted to go through because they were hunting Makrides, a local, powerful supporter of Makarios who escaped the coup and went hiding in his quarry in the village of Kantara.”

In 1974, Cyprus numbered only 14 years as an independent state. In the 20 years preceding 1974, the country had gone through an anti-colonial rebellion which managed to kick out the British colonizers in 1960, only to be troubled again by civil strife between the Greek and Turkish-Cypriots in 1963. Since then, the two ethnic groups had lived in largely separate territories of the island, with the Greek-Cypriots (82% of the population then) occupying most of the land and the economy, while the Turkish-Cypriots (17% of the population) were living in precarious conditions in heavily militarized enclaves.[1]

Today we might say that Cyprus is one of the most corrupt places on the earth. But the rule of law was not that strong back then either. People such Makrides served as unofficial chieftains of villages and larger areas of Cyprus. Makrides was a Makarios supporter but the nationalists and the Communist Party had their own chieftains. The government tried to keep them happy and exercised control through them.

1974 Cyprus
Today, the population of the Republic of Cyprus is around 1,2 million people while the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus numbers around 350,000.

Despite the fact that they were carrying better weapons, the EOKA B paramilitaries accepted the instructions of Corporal Skaros and turned around to leave.

“I watched where they were going. They went back, drove through some fields parallel to the main road and managed to get to where they wanted. We saw them [circumventing us] but we could not leave our positions to chase them down,” Mr. Skaros says.

A few hours later, the soldiers manning the National Guard road block saw the same Land Rover coming back in the opposite direction. “I wasn’t surprised because I had seen earlier that they had managed to bypass us,” Mr. Skaros says. What surprised him, though, was that this time, he could not see their leader. “I asked them: Where is your boss? They told me that he was dead.”

The paramilitaries reported that they had engaged in a battle with Makrides’ men at his quarry, and Papadopoulos had been killed. Mr. Skaros wanted proof, so he asked them to show him the body. “He was covered with a blanket. They didn’t just kill him. They had also thrown something in his face. He was disfigured. I immediately put the blanket back.”

After asking what happened, Papadopoulos’ men told him that their opponents had thrown acid on him.

Coincidentally, Makrides’ son, Andreas was completing his service as a sergeant in Mr. Skaros’ battalion. He remembers him as a fine, strong fellow. He had been imprisoned at the guardhouse during the week of the coup and was not aware of the incident.

Five days after the coup, on Saturday 20th of July, the event that would change Mr. Skaros’ and all Cypriots’ lives for ever, happened. Turkish forces disembarked on Kyrenia and invaded Cyprus to protect the Turkish-Cypriot population of the island, fearing for their fate at the hands of the nationalist plotters as well as for geopolitical reasons. The ethnic cleansing of whole Turkish-Cypriot villages and the rapes during the civil strife of the 1960s between Greek and Turkish-Cypriots were still fresh in everyone’s memory.

Three companies from the 399 Infantry Battalion, Bogazi were sent to stop the marching of the Turkish army which had almost three times the numbers of the Cypriot National Guard. In 1974, the Turkish army presence on Cyprus consisted of 40,000 Turkish soldiers and 20,000 Turkish-Cypriots, while the Greek-Cypriots had 12,000 men supported by around 2,000 soldiers from Greece.[1]

“We were more than 200 soldiers. As there were not enough army trucks, the government mobilized some civilian buses. Our platoon had to use one of them. They were strange buses that had a metallic thing on top to carry stuff. Because it was too hot I decided that I would not get in and I would climb on the roof to get air. Andreas Makrides came with me. From that moment and until he died we were together,” Mr. Skaros says.

Close to midnight on the 20th of July 399, the military convoy from Bogazi reached the village of Dikomo, just outside Kyrenia. “We stopped at a forest with olive trees. Before we got off the bus our captain called us. We realized that we wouldn’t rest because Captain Papalambrides ordered us to prepare for a night-time operation.”

According to Mr. Skaros, the Turkish army was marching from Kyrenia towards the Turkish-Cypriot enclave of Kionelli in Nicosia. 399 Bogazi had orders to stop them and the only way they could do it was to pass through Dikomo. However, they did not know that the Turkish army was already there.

Divided into platoons, the Greek-Cypriot soldiers got off the buses and began marching on foot. “They gave us three grenades each. Most of the soldiers were born in 1956, so they had only six months of training,” Mr. Skaros says.

Soon after, they were stopped by explosions. The Turkish army which was camping at Dikomo for the night, spotted them and started firing. “It was so dark, and the explosions created a suffocating atmosphere.” The Turks could not see them clearly, so they were blind firing at them. “We kept going and going in an area that was full of hills. We stopped near a Turkish outpost that had 5-6 soldiers inside. It didn’t take us long to capture it because we numbered about 70 men.”

While they were crawling on the ground, Mr. Skaros realized that Andreas Makrides was next to him. “I asked him ‘what’s happening?’ and he told me ‘wait and we will see.’”

After they captured the outpost, they sat quiet, waiting for orders from Captain Papalambrides. “While it was quiet they started shooting at us with mortars… Holy Mary, those mortars, they sounded like death, they kept falling and falling on the ground. At some point I heard someone screaming ‘Captain, my leg is on fire.’ I thought, ‘Oh god, this is Andreas’. He had a raucous voice, so it was easy to tell him from the others. His screams were like those of a pig in the slaughterhouse. The mortars did not stop for a whole hour. At some point, I panicked, I had a mental breakdown for the first time in my life. I was waiting, minute by minute to have the fate of Andreas.”

Eventually, Captain Papalambrides ordered his soldiers to retreat. “We did not look back to see who was alive, dead or wounded. It was a tragic situation. The mortars kept hitting us. We left five soldiers behind. I have photographs of all of them,” Mr. Skaros says.

“This is where our soldiers died,” Mr. Skaros says as he shows me a picture of an excavation from 2010. That year he was called by the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus to point them to the area where the battle took place. A Turkish soldier who participated in the fight tipped them on the location where they had buried the bodies of the five dead Greek-Cypriot soldiers. “They found them in a group grave,” Mr. Skaros says. The committee wanted to double-check the information and Mr. Skaros was there to do that. Eventually, the DNA tests proved that the bones they discovered did indeed belong to Mr. Skaros’ comrades, thus their families could finally give them a proper burial.

On the next day, 21st of July, the remaining soldiers started marching towards the village of Sychari, climbing the Kyrenia mountains. They spent the night there. “Tents were a luxury that we did not have”, Mr. Skaros says, “we put our heads on rocks and slept.”

On the 22nd of July, they continued their route to Kyrenia. If you are looking at it from the south, the coastal city is located behind the Kyrenia mountains. “We were marching in line, one behind the other. It took us almost two hours to reach the foot of the Pentadaktylos peak. When we got on the top I remember I saw Kerynia for the last time.”

Pentadaktylos in Greek means five-fingered. It is named after its most distinguishing feature, a peak that resembles five fingers. The location of the Kyrenia mountains near the sea made them desirable locations for watch towers and castles in the Middle-Ages. Due to its peculiar shape, Pentadaktylos has always been a source of legends. It is visible from almost every part of the island.

After the war, the Greek-Cypriot people displaced from Kyrenia had nostalgically mythologized them and connected them with their lives before the division. The borders between the Republic of Cyprus and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus were closed until 2004. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus painted a 425-metre-wide and 250-metre-high flag of the state, which is illuminated at night, on the southern slope of the Kyrenia mountains, below Pentadaktylos. The Greek-Cypriots consider the flag an act of provocation.

1974 Cyprus
Next to the flag the motto “Ne Mutlu Türküm Diyene”. Next to it a Kemalist phrase meaning “How happy is the one who calls himself a Turk”, has been painted. Picture by Cyprus Mail.

After they reached the peak, the soldiers started their descent to Kyrenia. “The mountain was steep. Getting down a mountain is harder than climbing it, but we were 20 years old, we did not care,” Mr. Skaros says.

The team found a glade where the ground was level and decided to camp there. Below them, on a dirt road, followed a Land Rover which carried their food and ammunition.

As he was describing what happened, Mr. Skaros reached below the counter of the souvenir shop to get a notebook that contains some of his writings and pictures. He keeps around seven to eight such notebooks below his counter. In them he stores pictures of his fallen comrades and areas where they found their bodies, as well as texts that he and other soldiers have written on their experiences. He also keeps a list with all the names of the missing soldiers of 399 Bogazi. Whenever the remains of a soldier are found he puts a cross next to his name. The relatives often turn to Mr. Skaros to gather those soldiers who are still alive and to give speeches at the funerals. “I am the scholar but Mr. Skaros writes better than me,” says Theodora the history teacher who rents the flat above the souvenir shop.

He has a recent picture of the glade with computer-generated red arrows pointing to the locations where bodies were found. He says that this time his comrades were not buried but their bones were covered during the following years by dirt.

“While we were up the glade, the captain ordered me to get down and get the equipment and the food from the car. I took ten soldiers with me because we had to carry all those things up there and go back again for the rest. We did not know that Turkish soldiers were waiting for us. Instead of getting the ammunition on our first trip, we took the water and fruits.”

When they returned to the glade, Captain Papalambrides started shouting at him to go back and get the ammunition. “I left my STEN gun behind because I could not carry it with all those things. On our way back, 10 metres before we reached the glade with the ammunition, they started shooting at us with machine guns, mortars, everything they had. We fell on the ground and could not get our heads up. We later learned that it was a team of Turkish marines.

“At some point I saw two Greek-Cypriot Special Forces commandos that were there before us. When I saw their green berets, I got some courage and stood up and asked if they need any help. They replied: ‘No but leave because the Turks are next to you.’ When I realized how close the Turks where I panicked. One of the green berets got hit by a bullet that passed through his mouth and the other one was hit by many bullets. They did not ask for any help.”

Corporal Skaros immediately shouted at his team to retreat. “We started going down, retreating.” Again, they did not have time to see if they had left anyone. After they escaped to safety they found out that many men were missing. “Some showed up eventually. Others never showed up, including the captain. We lost 20 men from our battalion that day, but our main concern was the captain.”

Mr. Skaros says that later that day, he talked to a soldier, named Zacharias who managed to escape from the glade. He asked him whether he had seen the captain. “He said, ‘Yes, he’s dead. He fell on me. He was standing at a rock with his pistol shouting at his men to stand up and start fighting. When he fell I thought that he had tripped but when I saw the blood I realised that he was shot in the head’. Zacharias’ shirt was covered in blood and specks of brain. The captain’s brains.”

That night Mr. Skaros remembers that he had a dream with his captain. “There are some things in life that you never forget, but most dreams we forget, right? But that night when I fell asleep, I could hear the captain shouting ‘You Cypriots don’t know how to fight.’”

When the remaining men heard that their captain was dead, they lost their morale as they saw Papalambrides as a leader. Their overall commander, Greek army Lieutenant Colonel, Theodoros Ganos, then took charge. Although he had a higher-rank than Papalambrides, Mr. Skaros says that he did not have the personality of their captain.

1974 Cyprus
Mr. Skaros says that the Turkish marines who attacked them posed for a picture after the battle (above) which featured in a newspaper in Turkey. He keeps it under his counter.

399 Bogazi started retreating to Nicosia. On their way they could see the Turkish tanks nearing the capital. “When the tanks came close, the commander said that nobody would move and that we were going to stay and fight. But then he started shouting, ‘Retreat, retreat!’ He did this twice. One time he told us that we are going to stop the tanks with our bodies.”

On the eve of the 23rd of July, the battalion reached Nicosia. The next day the commander decided that they should go back to Famagusta. “We had to travel a distance which was covered by tall eucalyptus trees to get to our fighting positions. That day, I won’t forget how close the bullets were flying next to me. The Turks could see us moving because we had only the trees for cover. That day I was the most scared since the start of the war because I could hear the bullets passing next to my ears. We walked, and every now and then we would take cover behind a tree.”

The battalion managed to reach the industrial area of Mia Milia, outside Nicosia and camped there. On the 24th of July the fighting stopped, the junta in Greece and the plotters in Cyprus collapsed and Cyprus, Britain, Greece, Turkey and the US commenced peace talks in Geneva.

Separated from the Turkish Army by the UN Peacekeeping Force, 399 Bogazi remained in Mia Milia. “Between the first and second round of the invasion we took fighting positions there. We got familiar with the area and used some of the buildings. We could see the Turks with our binoculars. There was a little field with pear trees and we would go there and eat. It was quiet.”

After consulting the UN, they set up mines in an area between them and the Turkish army, leaving a passage for the UN vehicles to go through.

On Wednesday the 14th of August, the peace talks broke down and the fighting started again. Hidden in a trench, Mr. Skaros was waiting for the Turkish tanks, that were closing in on them, to hit the mines. But no such luck. “The tanks were coming in dozens, on the left, on the right and directly at us. They had seen the passage and used it.”

Seeing their battle plan failing again, he panicked. “I broke down. I could not think straight. I grabbed my gun and started running towards the factories that I had got familiar with during the ceasefire. To go there I had to go through a small field with some horses where I had some cover. When I passed that and reached the road I was in the open with nowhere to hide. I kept running towards the factories. I ran as fast as I could, but I felt like I was not covering any distance. At some point I saw a Turkish tank near me. There was a soldier on top manning the machine gun. I was so close I could see his teeth. He did not fire at me.”

Spared his life, Mr. Skaros looked back to see if he was being followed, only to see the tank leaving the area. He was reunited at the industrial area of Mia Milia with three soldiers of his battalion. Through some broken windows, they managed to get in an abandoned factory. “This was during the early hours of Wednesday. After some time, we heard gunfire and people shouting. The Turkish army was pillaging the factories. On the first day they would take over an area and on the second day they would go inside and pillage the buildings.”

Now trapped in the factory, the three men were awaiting their fate.

Suddenly, they heard the factory’s phone ringing. “I crawled under the office and hid under the desk. I could see the Turkish soldiers from the window. I grabbed the phone and answered silently. I heard a voice saying in Greek: ‘Who are you?’ I asked the same back. He then asked me if I was Greek or Turkish. Before I answered he told me ‘You are Turkish, bastard’ and hang up.” Mr. Skaros took the opportunity of finding a working phone and called his brother in Paralimni to say that they were trapped inside a factory.

The next day, they heard UN soldiers shouting though speakers for them to come outside.

Three Greek-Cypriot soldiers who were hiding in nearby factories also appeared. “If the UN had not come we would be dead. After half an hour though, they told us that they would leave and come back later.”

1974 Cyprus
The glade where the battle in Kyrenia mountains took place and below the dirt road where the Land Rover with the equipment was waiting.

With the Turkish army and the UN nowhere in sight, the now seven soldiers went back to hiding in the factory. “We could not see them, but we thought that they might be watching and waiting for the UN to leave so they can come and kill us. I remember nobody wanted to go to the windows to watch outside.”

Desperate and afraid, Mr. Skaros found a white cloth and gathered the other soldiers to surrender. “We were waiting for five minutes for them to come and capture us. Nobody came.”

Still trapped in the factory, they spend Thursday and Friday trying to devise an escape plan. “The others wanted to go back to Famagusta, but I disagreed. Thankfully, they listened to me and agreed to go towards Nicosia which was much closer. At that time, we didn’t know how much the Turks had advanced, if they captured Nicosia or even the whole country.”

Although, they now had an escape plan, the men would not dare to leave the factory. Mr. Skaros says that every now and then they could hear vehicles, gunfire and shouting in Turkish. Among them there was a soldier from the reserve army, Leontis, whom he describes as a middle-aged, quiet man. Leontis had asthma and he kept coughing inside the factory. “I was telling him to stop because they would hear us. He was trying to stop by holding his mouth and nose, but he couldn’t.”

Early in the morning on Saturday, the soldiers woke up but Leontis was nowhere to be found.

They never saw him again. Mr. Skaros speculates that the Turkish army captured him while he went outside to cough. He admits that for years he could not muster the courage to tell Leontis’ wife and daughter what happened.

He finally did it last year. He was surprised by their reaction as they consoled him and told him that Leontis probably wanted to get outside and get some air. “His wife told me that he would have got us all killed if he stayed inside.”

On Saturday, three of the soldiers decided to escape. After half an hour, one of them came back because he was scared.

On Sunday night, without knowing that the war had already ended, they decided to abandon the factory. “We opened the back door and left. We were there for five days, no food, no water, no nothing. We were so afraid that we did not even think of hunger.”

While they were walking back he remembers reaching the suburb of Pallouriotissa in Nicosia. “All the houses were abandoned. We found a house where two elders were staying and spent the night at their balcony. They gave us cigarettes. We did not ask for food. Man… that Lucky Strike was like honey.”

The next day the army sent for them. “A Greek officer picked us up, stood in front of us and started shouting some patriotic things to us. From there on we lost track of each other.”

399 was disbanded as it had so many casualties that there were not enough soldiers left to man it. Fifty-five men had died in the first phase of the war alone. Many of the others are still missing.

Corporal Michalis Skaros completed the remaining months of his mandatory conscription in 361 Infantry Battalion in Nicosia. He was discharged on the September of 1975. When asked where he served he never mentions 361, “my battalion is 399,” he says.

1974 Cyprus
Mr. Skaros (4th standing from the left) with comrades and members of the Committee on Missing Persons at the outpost outside Dikomo where Andreas Makrides was killed.

Unlike American movies, real war veterans do not get to go back home and just be heroes. It’s a weird thing that in Cyprus we don’t use the word veterans to refer to the people that fought in the war. It’s like it’s too honourable a term for a war that we started by our own mistakes and lost so badly.

Mr. Skaros was given no medals. He is not a hero for fighting a nationalist war (although like every other man of his age who was completing his mandatory conscription at 1974, he did not have a choice) but he’s a hero for all the things he has done since.

“I had to move forward. When you are young - 20, 21 years old - you don’t think about these things. Later, however, they come back to us because we keep them inside for our whole lives. In our daily life, when we talk with others we feel like we’re normal. But sometimes when we are somewhere or when we are sleeping, it all comes back to torture us.”

Mr. Skaros says that most of the soldiers who managed to escape alive from 1974 suffer from mental issues. “For years I used to wake up during the night trying to open windows to find some light. I had no sense of where I was. I did not know that I was in my house. My wife would run behind me asking ‘This again?’ It used to happen every night. It took me a while to get over it.”

About a decade ago, Mr. Skaros remembers going on a cruise to Greece with some of his friends. He says that whenever they went on a cruise they took their sleeping bags and slept on the deck. However, that time, they booked a cabin. “When we switched off the lights in the cabin I went crazy. It was like hell. I was trying to open the door to go to the corridor. When I finally did it, the corridor was pitch black too. I run all the way up to the deck to find some light. That day I swore: never in a cabin again.”

When he does manage to sleep, Mr. Skaros says that sometimes he dreams of his comrades. One of his dreams was adapted to a poem by a local folk poet. “I dreamt that all the 399 battalion was gathered around a white tree with a very wide base which got narrower as it went up. The tree’s top reached the sky and we were all around it, waiting for the missing soldiers to come down. Kokos got down and Artymatas, then Stylianou Andreas and at some point, Captain Papalambrides. When I saw him I told him, ‘Captain come here to see the others’. He talked to them and gave them courage. After that we all decided to go up to that glade to find the rest. We got in a bus and the driver asked, ‘Who is the leader’? The captain went missing again, so Serkos stepped up. He was one of the commandos that was wounded up there but he’s still alive today.”

Mr. Skaros is a respected figure among the community of the veterans and their families. He attends all the funerals of the soldiers of his battalion, and those of 361, and gives speeches. A few months earlier, the Committee on Missing Persons discovered the remains of another of his comrades. The funeral will be held this upcoming Saturday, 44 years after the soldier’s death. It is the first one that Mr. Skaros will not attend. “The funerals wear me down mentally and I have heart problems now,” he says.

1974 Cyprus
Captain Georgios Papalambrides was born in 1946 in Ioannina, Greece.

Like many other war survivors who suffer from PTSD, Mr. Skaros says that he feels guilty that he made it out alive. “Some people had to die for us to live. We feel guilty about this.” He says that with all the speeches he writes, with all the material he saves, he does it to honour the memory of the dead. “We don’t do it for the relatives, for their brothers and sisters. It is our deed towards the dead.” He says that he has saved a speech for when the remains of his captain are found.

After the borders opened in 2004, he and other 399 soldiers started going on excursions to the North. “It was my life’s mission to find the remains of our dead comrades.” He gave information for a number of excavations and helped to identify the dead. He also participates in excavations in battles in which he did not fight. A sometime Greek nationalist, he admits that he participated in a dig to find the remains of a Turkish-Cypriot missing person in Paralimni. He says that he has been to the places where he fought more than a hundred times.

1974 Cyprus
Mr. Skaros (second from left) with 399 comrades visiting the North.

One incident that stuck out was the first time he returned to the factory in Mia Milia. After the war, the leader of the Turkish-Cypriot community, Rauf Denktas, gave benefits to war veterans including previously Greek-owned land and equipment to start their own business. “The old factories in the industrial zone are used by the Turks now. I took a friend of mine to show him where the tanks were going through. While I was talking to him I heard someone saying in broken Greek, ‘What are you doing there?’ My friend told him that I was showing him where I fought. The Turk said, ‘This is dangerous. They might capture you and accuse you of spying. There is an army barrack here’. My friend replied, ‘He is just telling me what he did here in 1974.’ The Turk turned to me and asked if I was a soldier here. I said yes. He said that he was a soldier here too. He was also one of the first that Denktas gave land to, so he knew the area well. I told him that I really want to go to that factory. He said get in the car. He had an old Mercedes.

We got in and he took us at there. When I saw the factory, I was gobsmacked. Everything came to mind. After 40 years, seeing the factory that all those things happened inside. I got inside, they did change a few things, but it was the same factory that I had stayed inside for five days.”

1974 Cyprus
The souvenir shop in Protaras.

[1] Jan Asmussen. 2008. Cyprus at War: Diplomacy and Conflict during the 1974 Crisis. London. I.B. Tauris Publishers.

[2] Michael Spilling. 2000. Cyprus. Cavendish Publishers.

[1] Farid Mirbagheri. 1998. Cyprus and International Peacemaking 1964-1986. London. Routledge Publishers.

[1] Max M. Mutschler. 2016. Global Militarization Index 2016. Bonn International Centre for Conversion.

[2] 2016. Cyprus Air Force.

[3] Peter Loizos. 2008. Iron in the Soul: Displacement, Livelihood and Health in Cyprus. New York. Berghahn Books.

[4] One to one personal interview: Protaras, 26/07/2018.

[5] Makarios Drousiotis. 2006. Cyprus 1974: Greek Coup and Turkish Invasion. Athens. Peleus Publishers

[1] One to one personal interview: Nicosia, 25/07/2018.

[2] CIA. Cyprus – The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency.


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