Memorial service marks the start of work to locate remains of Greek airmen

Memorial service marks the start of work to locate remains of Greek airmen

A brief religious memorial service took place in Nicosia today at the Tomb of Makedonitissa – a military cemetery and war memorial – marking the first phase of excavations to locate the remains of 19 Greek soldiers, killed when their plane was shot down by friendly fire during the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus.

The NORATLAS plane crashed at the site of the Tomb. The aircraft was part of a secret mission from Greece to assist the Greek Cypriot National Guard fighting the advancing Turkish troops, equipped with the state of the art military hardware, which invaded Cyprus on July 20, 1974. The plane was shot down on July 22 by friendly fire as Greek Cypriot soldiers mistook it for a hostile aircraft. All but one of its airmen were killed. Thirty-two men were on board the Greek NORATLAS. The remains of 12 of them have been found at the Lakatamia military cemetery and were identified by the DNA method.

Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Issues, Photis Photiou, laid a wreath on behalf of the President of the Republic and Bishop of Mesaoria Georghios laid a wreath on behalf of Archbishop Chrysostomos II. Ambassador of Greece Elias Photopoulos also laid a wreath, as did the Chief of the National Guard Lieutenant General Georgios Basiakoulis and on behalf of the Commander of the ELDYK Hellenic Force in Cyprus, Deputy Commander Alexandros Kalogeropoulos.

In statements after the ceremony, Fotiou said the state has a national duty to proceed with this excavation so that relatives of the fallen heroes, after 41 years, can proceed with a proper funeral of their beloved ones and the state can accordingly honor those heroes.

`Our wish is to locate the remains of the 19 soldiers`, he added.

The Greek Ambassador thanked the Government of Cyprus for this operation and noted that “these brave men came to fight for Cyprus and lost unfairly, like so many others in 1974, their lives.”

Fotopoulos assured that the Greek Government will provide its assistance if needed.

The coordinator of the implementation of the project, Head of the Division of Humanitarian Affairs of the Cyprus Foreign Ministry, Xenophon Kallis, told journalists that today they begin the first phase which concerns the preparation of the ground for the excavation. The first stage, he said, will be concluded by the 17th of August.

Replying to questions, he said that there are strong indications that the Greek airmen will be found there, but said that one should wait and see the results.

A relative of the missing commandos, Theodoros Anastasopoulos, who served with ELDYK as a sergeant in 1974, said “we hope that apart from finding pieces of the aircraft, they will also find something of our children. All families are waiting for this day”.

When the first stage is completed, a team of local and foreign experts will try to locate and identify the remains of the young Greek soldiers with help from the anthropological laboratory of the Republic of Cyprus and the Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics (CING), in Nicosia.

The Council of Ministers decided in February 2014 to proceed with the excavations for NORATLAS after the recommendations of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the case of the families of two Greek military officers who perished on board the plane against the Republic of Cyprus.

The Republic of Cyprus remains divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied 37% of its territory.