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Vindication for EOKA ‘traitors’
AT THE age of 71, and more than 50 years after the event, Petrou Panagi Stylianou still cries whenever she talks about her father’s brutal murder by masked men beating him with bats embedded with nails.
Her father, Panayiotis Stylianou, died as a “traitor” during the EOKA insurgency against British rule; his reputation only restored by Cabinet this week in a landmark decision setting the record straight on the wrongful deaths of 19 people during the years 1955-59.
They were murdered on the pretext of being traitors to the EOKA movement, though their only crime was being members of left-wing AKEL.
Extreme right wing elements of EOKA led by anti-communist general Georgios Grivas “executed” these people, and have been accused of sometimes brutally killing them without providing evidence they were indeed traitors.
The Cabinet decision follows through on an electoral promise by incumbent AKEL President Demetris Christofias who is not running for re-election this February. Following the decision, opposition parties DISY and EDEK accused the government of intervening with history and selecting names on political criteria.
But the relatives say the decision finally exonerates the dead.
Petrou was just 17 when her father hurriedly handed her over his granddaughter - her seven-month-old baby - and got beaten to death. Her mother was also beaten within an inch of her life.
“It was the biggest crime done to a poor, innocent family-man. Just 38 years old and working from the crack of dawn all day long to put food in our mouths,” said Petrou in tears.
Her father, Panayiotis, did any odd job around the village - Acheritou in Famagusta - to make ends meet. He would make brooms and get on his bike to sell them in Varosha, dig holes and break down stones for people’s homes. When he was killed in 1958, he had just managed to get some sheep and had become a shepherd, said Petrou’s husband, Dimitris, who was only 20 at the time.
“All this has steeped deep in our souls,” Petrou said. She and one of her five siblings, a five-year-old boy at the time, watched the brutal killing.
Her father had come to a relative’s home to fetch her after getting chased from the village coffee shop. “Then at the [house’s] fence, seven [masked] people appeared carrying bats and there were as many others nearby. My dad gave me the baby and they swung the bats and hit his forehead.” They continued beating “even when he fell down, they hit him on his neck,” she said.
“I ran out to scream but I had no voice,” she said.
“I didn’t even know where my baby was, I had thrown her on the bed and I didn’t think about her,” Petrou said. She broke down as she described her father’s last moments prompting her husband Dimitris to take the phone away from her and continue the story.
“We lived through very hard times at our very bloom. My wife is traumatised, just think how many years we have been going through this,” he told the Sunday Mail.
The bats had spikes six inches long, he said. Two inches stuck out and the aggressors had to try to get the bats out of his head each time. “We found pieces of him… It was a cannibalistic death and sadly for my wife she saw it all.
“These people who restored his reputation, they are saints to me,” he added.
An association for the relatives of those killed for political reasons between 1955 and 1959 was set up in 1995, although AKEL had officially called on Grivas twice in 1958 to set up an independent committee to determine who actually was a traitor, said association member and journalist, Michalis Michael.
Over the years, Michael has interviewed relatives and gathered facts in relation to these “politically motivated deaths”.
It is no accident that most of the deaths took place in Famagusta, a traditional stronghold for AKEL, Michael said.
During these dark times of Cyprus’ history, “hundreds were killed either for political reasons, for treason - not to say they weren’t any traitors - or because of personal rivalries,” said sociologist Gregoris Ioannou. For example, Turkish Cypriots belonging to the left were killed by TMT, the Turkish Cypriot paramilitary organisation set up in late fifties to counter EOKA. And there are even missing EOKA fighters from the fifties “who just disappeared”, Michael said.
During the inter-communal fighting of the sixties, shortly after the birth of the republic, and then in the aftermath of the 1974 invasion, the time was not right to pursue the matter, despite individual efforts from relatives, Michael said.
Efforts resumed in earnest in the nineties on the level of political lobbying, but there was resistance from the EOKA fighters’ association and then later from the Tassos Papadopoulos government.
“The EOKA fighters said they would not vindicate traitors and so it went until Christofias promised he would look into it,” Michael said.
For Koulla, the daughter of Andreas Michaelides who was shot in the back of the head on November 18, 1956 in Kato Pyrgos, when she was just five years of age, the Cabinet decision is a “relief”.
“It’s what we wanted. We didn’t want revenge,” Koulla told the Sunday Mail this week.
“I have nothing against EOKA… [But] EOKA should have done their homework before killing innocent people.”
Andreas, 32, a relatively affluent tailor, was left-wing but supported EOKA and would send food to guerrilla fighters in Paphos who had even sent word out that he was not to be touched.
“It is clear now that my father was killed because of [another man’s personal] jealousy,” Koulla said. Her mother, Ioanna, just 27 at the time, was convinced this man’s grudge was behind her husband’s death and she cursed the man who authorised the “execution”.
“If it was your fault, my Andreas, then it serves us right. But if it weren’t your fault, then may the one who’s to blame not see 40 days after you.”
That man died 26 days later, Koulla said.
The whole family was terrorised after Andreas’ death and they eventually moved to London to start again. Mother and daughter have recently returned to their village in Cyprus, following the death of Koulla’s husband.
“My mother has been waiting for this day for 50-odd years,” Koulla said.
Others might have considered themselves lucky to have been killed by a shot to the back of their head.
Savvas Menikos from Goufes died a horrific death after having been tied to a eucalyptus tree in the village church courtyard on May 23, 1958. Primary school children stoned him in the presence of the priest, according to information gathered by Michael. Eventually, they untied him, placed a stone on him so he could not breathe, kicked dirt into his mouth and urinated in it while kicking.
Despite everything, Michael said the relatives did not want anything more than an apology.
“We know who did what. But we don’t come out saying them,” he added.
The government has also said they do not intend to prosecute anyone.
“These families are satisfied with being vindicated. They want no money, no prosecution, no revenge. It shows great humanity after all this,” Michael said.
“The village knew he was no traitor but still, living with the taint of being a traitor, it’s good that strangers will know,” said Dimitris, the husband of Petrou who is doomed never to forget what happened some 54 years ago.
The nineteen are: Neophytos Cleanthous from Mesogi, killed in October 13, 1956; Andreas Michaelides from Kato Pyrgos, October 18, 1956; Michalis Mikrasiatis from Frenaros, December 10, 1956; Christodoulos Ornitharis from Frenaros, December 10, 1956; Costas Sfiggos from Xylotympou, November 11, 1956; Panayiotis Tsaros from Ashia, November 26, 1957; Georgios Polytechnis from Lefkoniko, 1957 (no exact date given); Michalis Petrou from Lysi, January 21, 1958; Elias Ttofaris from Koma tou Gialou, January 21, 1958; Kyriacos Patatas from Pigi, May 6, 1958; Savvas Menikos from Goufes, May 23, 1958; Andreas Sakkas from Pera Orinis, May 25, 1958; Demetris Matsoukos from Gypsou, May 23, 1958; Panayiotis Stylianou from Acheritou, May 29, 1958; Nicodemos Ioannou from Ayios Theodoros Agrou, June 18, 1958; Savvas Thouppos from Tympou, August 9, 1958; Maria Charitou from Milia Famagusta, August 26, 1958; Despoula Katsouri from Milia Famagusta, August 26, 1958;aAnd Pieris Pistolas from Lefkoniko, December 1958.