In August 1996, in order to commemorate the 22nd year of Cyprus being a divided country, over 200 bikers from several European countries had organized a rally from Berlin (the last divided city in Europe other than Nicosia) to Kyrenia. They left Berlin on 2 August and were planning to arrive at their destination on the 11th where they would be joined by Greek Cypriot bikers.
Simultaneously, around 2,500 members of the far right Turkish organization Grey Wolves were being transported to the northern part of Cyprus by the Turkish Government in order to confront the European and Greek Cypriot bikers.
Due to heavy political pressure (even by the U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali) being applied to the Cypriot Motorcycle Federation to cancel the 11 August event, CMF finally succumbed. This was met with disapproval by a large portion of the bikers and other protesters, who decided to march on their own.
Among them was Tassos Isaac, who together with other demonstrators, entered the United Nations Buffer Zone in Cyprus near Deryneia, just south of the town of Famagusta.
During the confrontation in the UN buffer zone between the Cypriot bikers and the Turkish Grey Wolves, Isaac found himself trapped in barbed-wire without his co-protesters noticing he was left behind. Soon, a large group of Grey Wolves ran towards him and attacked him. They continued for several minutes, unchallenged by the nearby UN peacekeepers. By the time Greek Cypriots managed to take him back from the mob, aided by the UN peacekeepers, Tassos Isaac was dead. According to video footage that captured the attack, along with the UN peacekeepers, a number of Turkish Cypriot policemen were also viciously beating him.
Funeral and reactions
Tassos Isaac’s funeral was held on 14 August 1996 and was attended by thousands of people. Protests after the funeral led to the death of Isaac’s cousin, Solomos Solomou.
Solomou was originally from the town of Famagusta, which fell under the control of the Turkish military as a result of the Turkish invasion of 1974. Like hundreds of thousands of other Cypriots, Solomou and his family became internally displaced persons. They fled to the nearby town of Paralimni, where he grew up with other Greek-Cypriot refugees.
Following the funeral of Tassos Isaac, who was beaten to death by a Turkish mob in the UN buffer zone three days earlier, a group of unarmed Greek Cypriots re-entered the area where Isaac was murdered in order to demonstrate. Among these demonstrators was Solomou, who was a second cousin of Isaac. At around 2:20 pm, Solomou distanced himself from the rest of the demonstrators and walked towards a Turkish military post in Deryneia. Ignoring Turkish soldiers’ warnings, Solomou climbed a flagpole with the intention of removing the Turkish flag but was shot by the soldiers in the face, neck, and stomach.
The whole scene was taped by nearby journalists and was seen on live television. Solomou’s funeral was held on 16 August in Paralimni, attended by thousands of people with an official day of mourning. A few days after the killings, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis visited Cyprus; together with Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides, he visited the homes of the families of Isaac and Solomou. Turkish Foreign Minister (and later Turkish Prime Minister) Tansu Çiller, who also visited Cyprus a few days after the killings, addressed a rally by saying that Turks would “break the hands” of anyone who insulted their flag.
Identification of Solomou’s killers
According to Cyprus Police, Solomou’s killers were identified using photographic evidence as Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources of Northern Cyprus Kenan Akin and Chief of Special Forces of Northern Cyprus Erdal Haciali Emanet. Warrants were issued by the Republic of Cyprus for the arrest of Akin, Emanet, and three others: Chief of Police of Northern Cyprus Attila Sav, Lt. Gen. of the Turkish Cypriot Security Force Hasan Kundakci, and Maj. Gen. of the Turkish Army Mehmet Karli. In October 2004, Akin, wanted by Interpol for the murder of Solomou, said the former Turkish Military Commander Halil Sadrazam had given the order to shoot. Sadrazam denied the accusation. Akin was later arrested in Istanbul on unrelated smuggling charges. He was released by Turkish authorities despite being wanted for murder by Interpol, prompting a question on Turkey’s judicial cooperation by Dimitrios Papadimoulis of the European Parliament.
The photo of Solomou climbing the Turkish flagpole has often been used as symbol of protest against Turkey’s military occupation of northern Cyprus. Solomou’s courage was praised by a number of Greek politicians, and several prominent Greek composers and singers dedicated their songs to him. Dionysis Savvopoulos dedicated “Odi sto Georgio Karaiskaki” (“I Am Georgio Karaiskaki”), Dimitris Mitropanos and Thanos Mikroutsikos dedicated “Panta gelastoi” (“Always Laughing”), and Stelios Rokkos dedicated “Gia to Solomo Solomou” (“For Solomo Solomou”). The 2009 Notis Sfakianakis song “Itan trellos” (“He Was Crazy”) directly deals with Solomou’s death and the ongoing Turkish occupation of Cyprus.
Solomou is considered a national hero in Greece and Cyprus, where he is often referred to as a “hero-martyr” (Greek: ηρωομάρτυρας). On 24 June 2008, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of Solomou’s family in the case of Solomou and others v. Turkey.
On 22 November 1996, the Cypriot Police issued international arrest warrants for the death of Tassos Isaac against Hasim Yilmaz, a Turkish settler and former member of the Turkish Secret Service, Neyfel Mustafa Ergun, a Turkish settler, serving in the Turkish North Cypriot police, Polat Fikret Koreli, a Turkish Cypriot from Famagusta, Mehmet Mustafa Arslan, a Turkish settler, leader of the Grey Wolves in Northern Cyprus, and Erhan Arikli, a Turkish settler from the former Soviet Union.
Greek government as godparent
When Isaac was killed, he left behind his pregnant wife. As a token of gratitude for his services to Greece, the Greek government decided to be the godparent of the yet unborn baby. When the baby girl was born, she was baptised Anastasia (after her father) by the then Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Theodoros Pangalos. The Greek singer Haris Alexiou has dedicated to her the song “Tragoudi tou Helidhoniou” (“Swallow’s Song”).