Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Death and denial: Stephanos Stephanou and the Syriac Bible

Arrested during a raid on antiquities smugglers, Stephanos Stephanou died in police custody. This tragic case appears to involve: theft, illicit trading and smuggling of antiquities; illegal undercover antiquities police work; deep state criminal activity; possible police brutality; and a cover-up by Church and State.

Stephanos Stephanou died on the 1st of November 2007. Arrested on the 18th of October during a Turkish Cypriot police raid on Turkish Cypriot antiquities smugglers, sixty-four-year-old Greek Cypriot Stephis Stephanou had been detained without charge for two weeks when he had a fatal heart attack. It was a suspicious death in mysterious circumstances.

Detention and death

Turkish Cypriot police must notify detained suspects' families 'at the earliest possible time'; but they did not notify Stephanou's relatives, and he was only allowed to contact his family on the 22nd of October, four days after his arrest. As antiquities smuggling is a serious crime, Turkish Cypriot police were legally able to detain Stephanos Stephanou without charge.(1)

Yet the (Cyprus) Star and Bayrak (BRTK) reported that they charged Galip Arnavut, Mehmet Asvaroğlu and Turgut Göztaşı with antiquities smuggling, then held them for three days; and the Star later reported that, on the 20th of October, they also charged Yılmaz Göktaşı and Atalay Hiçkorkmaz with antiquities smuggling, then held them for three days.

Nevertheless, all the charged Turkish Cypriot smugglers were released afterwards; only Stephanou remained. Turkish Cypriot police caught Stephanou with three people already suspected of antiquities theft and smuggling, with illicit antiquities, and with three photographs of illicit antiquities on his own mobile phone, but they did not arrest or charge him.

One of the reasons Turkish Cypriot police did not charge Stephanou may have been that the photographs on his phone were not photographs of the illicit antiquities in the other suspect's home. Instead, Turkish Cypriot police held Stephanou as a 'flight risk' (someone likely to flee Turkish Cypriot police jurisdiction if released on bail).(2)

The family contacted Greek Cypriot Communist Party (AKEL) leader Demetris Christofias, who personally guaranteed left-wing Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat that Stephanos Stephanou would return to northern Cyprus for his trial, but Christofias could not win Stephanou's release.

The family asked Stephanou's DIKO Party comrade, Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos, for help. Apparently, he put his aide, UNFICYP peace envoy Tasos Tzonis on the case, but nothing happened. Notably, it was Papadopoulos's government that had not commented and continued not to comment on the case. (It is now Christofias's government that does not comment.)

When the family went to the Greek Cypriot police, they found out that the Cyprus police had known and contacted UNFICYP about Stephanou's detention on the 18th of October. Thus, it is inconceivable that the Greek Cypriot leadership did not also already know about the former politician and former consul's detention when the family asked for its help.

If the Greek Cypriot government or police did try to secure Stephanou's release, it did it very quietly, and equally unsuccessfully. As a member of his family commented, '[e]veryone knew and they did nothing, but they'll say they tried'.

Still, UNFICYP did not secure Stephanou's release either. Nevertheless, UNFICYP were trying to secure the release from Turkish Cypriot custody of someone believed to have tried to steal and smuggle cultural heritage from northern Cyprus. Now we can only wonder what might have happened had the truth been public knowledge.

Death

Heart disease sufferer Stephanou had to be taken to hospital at least twice during his detention, and he may have been taken for treatment for violent injuries. The last time his family saw him conscious, Stephanou had told them that 'his entire left side was severely bruised and he could neither walk nor breathe in comfort.... he was in great pain'.

Unfortunately, Cyprus Mail journalist Jean Christou said in one sentence that 'Stephanou did not talk about how he received his apparent injuries', but in the next that Stephanou did talk about how he 'had stood up to the animals that beat him', and only one of the two sentences can be true.(3) In fact, Katerina Liasis did say Stephanou said 'he had been "beaten heavily and interrogated"'.(4)

So, Stephanou may have been a victim of police brutality. After he slipped into a coma, the family tried to get him to a specialist in southern Cyprus, but the Turkish Cypriot police first refused, then agreed but, 'as soon as the okay was given', the Turkish Cypriot Ministry of the Interior told the family Stephanou had died.

There is a great deal of confusion over the autopsies. First, Christou reported that the family's private pathologist, Panos Stavrinos, 'observed' and United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) medical staff 'attend[ed]' the Turkish Cypriot pathologists' post-mortem.

Later, Christou recorded that Stavrinos 'carried out a post mortem in the north in the presence of a pathologist from Turkey and two doctors from the UN'; however, at the same time, Christou claimed that the observing Turkish pathologist 'prevented' Stavrinos investigating completely.

UNFICYP had 'express[ed] "growing concern" about... the "negative speculations"' of a suspicious death and problematic post-mortem. It concluded that there was 'full professional co-operation' between the pathologists, and that there was 'no evidence of injuries other than those consistent with standard resuscitative procedures'.

But Greek Cypriot administration pathologist Eleni Antoniou's 'post mortem showed that Stephanou... had been beaten while in custody'; she categorised him as 'the "victim of a beating"', though she didn't say whether he had been beaten to death or not.

The Turkish/Turkish Cypriot pathologists and UNFICYP claimed the eleven broken ribs were broken during resuscitation, but Stavrinos and Antoniou agreed that the ribs were too low to have been broken during resuscitation. Even if the pathologists cooperated professionally, they disagreed professionally too. And my well-placed Greek Cypriot source claimed that '[t]he UN doctor agreed with him [Stavrinos] in surgery and disagreed in [the] report'.

Contrary to UNFICYP's claims of 'full professional co-operation', the family's pathologist 'was prevented by "the Turkish colleague" from taking eye fluid for toxicological investigation' for poison. But it was not a simple disagreement between the two sides: there was not even professional cooperation between the Greek Cypriot pathologists. The Greek Cypriot administration's pathologist took the fluid for tests, 'but... the family has still not seen the results'.

Furthermore, my well-placed Greek Cypriot source claimed that,
During the official [Greek Cypriot] autopsy by Helen Antoniou here in our side she came out of the morgue and told [people]... that the deceased died from a heart attack probably caused by severe beatings with punches and possibly kicks (!) causing the ribs to break... making breathing impossible... leading to heart attack.

On her report later she reversed her opinion!
Apparently, the Greek Cypriot administration's pathologist made then retracted the claim that Stephanou was beaten to death, and the United Nations' doctors made then retracted the claim that he had been beaten at all. It is possible that they had good professional reasons for changing their mind, but evidently they have not given those reasons, and that is only fuelling negative speculations.

Denial

After the initial police raid, both communities' media reported that a Greek Cypriot had been arrested, but not whom or why; and according to Jean Christou, it was not widely reported in Greek Cypriot media.

Christou noted that there had been 'no comment from the [Greek Cypriot] government, a silence that has surprised observers given that... a Greek Cypriot died in Turkish Cypriot custody.... [H]is detention received no attention or condemnation in the government-controlled areas'.

Stephanou had been a founding member of DIKO, the ruling party in the coalition government of the time – the party of then president, Tassos Papadopoulos – but all his family received was a statement of condolence from the party. Christou believed that Greek Cypriot officialdom had been 'strangely quiet'.

Neither the government, nor any of the other political parties, had condemned the events; I have not seen any Greek Cypriot Orthodox Church condemnation. Neither the government nor the police even told the family about the official inquest; they found out by accident.

Illicit antiquities trade, illicit antiquities police work

Greek Cypriot media had claimed that Stephanou was an antiquities expert, 'retrieving icons and other artefacts looted' in northern Cyprus. (Greek Cypriot) Antenna TV reported that a former police officer, who had recruited Stephanou 'to help return stolen Greek Cypriot artefacts to the Church', said that he 'was working under cover for the state'.

Christou judged that '[a]ll of the evidence' suggested Stephanou was recovering antiquities 'on behalf of the Church and state'. His daughter, Katerina Liasis, said that 'the church had sent him' to meet 'his contact [who] was the son of a Turkish general'.

The higher levels of the antiquities trade are controlled by mafia, paramilitaries and terrorists. In Turkey and northern Cyprus, that would probably mean the nationalist network of military, paramilitary, political, bureaucratic, public and business activists referred to as the Turkish deep state, the Turkish Grey Wolves, Turkish Hizbullah, Turkish al-Qa'ida, or the Kurdish PKK.

Here, the antiquities trading was evidently connected with elements within the Turkish military, which would imply the Turkish deep state. Both the public information and my personal sources suggest that the Greek Cypriot state was recovering antiquities from the Turkish deep state.

Daughter Liasis believed Stephanou was caught in a Turkish/Turkish Cypriot criminal counter-sting operation against the Greek Cypriot police sting operation. He may have been, but the Turkish Cypriot police were trying to stop the illicit antiquities trade.

If the Turkish Cypriot police had been helping the alleged counter-sting, they would not have arrested Göktaşı and Hiçkorkmaz; their release would have made the police look incompetent or corrupt.

And if the Turkish criminals had been running the alleged counter-sting, they would not have wanted Göktaşı and Hiçkorkmaz arrested; their release would have made Arnavut, Asvaroğlu and Göztaşı's release look suspicious.

It seems like the Turkish Cypriot police arrested all of them in good faith, but the Turkish deep state used its power to free Arnavut, Asvaroğlu and Göztaşı (and later Göktaşı and Hiçkorkmaz), while the Greek Cypriot administration did not use its knowledge to free Stephanou.

This Greek Cypriot undercover antiquities police work came to light when their police were caught in Turkish Cypriot police raids on antiquities smugglers. That undermines Vassos Karageorghis's (2000: 217) claim that if the Greek Cypriot administration didn't 'salvage' artefacts, they would be lost, and undermines Maria Anagnostopoulou's (2000: 37) assertion that 'an official state, Turkey, plunders and detains the cultural treasures of another state, Cyprus' (see also Leventis, 2000: 146).

Neither the Turkish Cypriot administration, nor the Turkish state, nor even the Turkish army, per se, "plunders" northern Cyprus; indeed, the Turkish state and Turkish Cypriot administration strive to preserve it. But the states are poor and weak, and the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot nationalist gangs that do plunder northern Cyprus are incredibly powerful and constitute the Turkish deep state (which has had incredible power within - or over - the true state).

Illegal undercover antiquities police work

This has not been discussed at all in the media. It's possible that they are simply unaware; it's probable that Stephanos Stephanou was unaware. But in Cyprus, undercover antiquities police work was, and is, illegal. In 2008, the police had requested the legalisation of undercover work for sixteen types of crime. They had specifically requested the legalisation of undercover police work on '[i]llegal trading in cultural goods, including antiquities and artefacts'.

But Jacqueline Theodoulou reported that it was 'unanimously rejected by Parliament'. If the state was using Stephanou for undercover police work, it was breaking its own law. Embarrassment and fear of prosecution would be a powerful incentive for Church and State to cover up their involvement in the matter. And I have had independent confirmation that Stephanou was indeed conducting undercover police work. Remarkably, that brings us to another case I discussed recently.

The Syriac Bible

When I first read that Stephanou had been trying to recover an early Bible, I assumed it was just one of the many Hellenic and Byzantine artefacts looted from northern Cyprus. But after I blogged about the Turkish Cypriot police's recovery of a Syriac Bible, I was contacted by a very well-placed Greek Cypriot source.(5)

Over several exchanges, the well-placed Greek Cypriot told me that
That bible was what lured... Stephanos Stephanou into the north after he had worked with police to catch a gang of TC smugglers by posing as a buyer in the south. He was tricked and was taken to prison there without any charges and died.
The well-placed Greek Cypriot detailed,
The CID [Criminal Investigations Department] had him posing as a businessman interested in antiquities. The team of smugglers that got arrested 3 years ago by the police rea[l]ised that [Stephanou] was behind the setup and 2 years later they placed another call to him telling him about an ancient bible.

They took pictures of it which I have and place[d] a newspaper and watch near the bible so that he is convinced that they held it that day and what size it was. The pages were black and the text was in gold.
Christou said that 'the CID [Criminal Investigations Department]' had warned Stephanou and his partner 'not to cross again because they "would be killed"'; but it was '[t]he former [police] officer [who] reportedly warned Stephanou' (Christou, 2007c).

It seems like his police handler tried to protect him, but the police force did not. Convincingly, daughter Katerina Liasis observed that '[h]e might have thought he would be protected from our side, if they were sending him. He must have felt safe'.

And the well-placed Greek Cypriot told me, '[h]e called the CID t[o] inform them that he's got another project and they told him that he'll need to go alone to determine whether all this is for real'. So it was still an official Greek Cypriot police operation.

[Updated on the 9th of July 2009. The crossed-out material below isn't wrong, it's just irrelevant. Stephanou's "Syriac Bible" was not that "Syriac Bible".]

As I relayed in the Syriac Bible post, this year, Turkish Cypriot police raided Turkish Cypriot antiquities smugglers and recovered a Syriac Bible, a Christian prayer statue, a carving of Christ, an antique church bell and dynamite (see Bahceli, 2009; Cyprus Mail, 2009). Despite the recovery of the Syriac Bible and a vague reference to the theft of a Bible from the Monastery of Saint Barnabas, the Greek Cypriot Orthodox Church made 'no comment'.(5)

I summarised the Syrian Orthodox Church and its communities' problems in that post. Certainly, Syrian Orthodox Christian Bibles, crosses, etc., are being stolen (for example in Diyarbakir and Mardin (see Rabo, 2003a; 2003b)). Turkish Cypriot police may have found one of these: one expert believed that it was probably from Tur Abdin, an area spanning the borders of the provinces of Mardin and Şırnak.

Turkish Cypriot police, however, may have found something very different: the Bible may have been a forgery. Aramaic and Syriac scholar David Taylor believed that it was 'one of a large number of fake Syriac manuscripts currently being produced in northern Iraq and southern Turkey'.

Still, Aramaic translator Steve Caruso was more cautious; he felt it could be either a modern forgery or a genuine post-medieval Bible. And Hebrew and Aramaic scholar Erica Hunter observed that there were also similar, 'genuine [Bibles] (albeit of recent production)'. So, it could be a genuine antique Bible or a genuine modern Bible from south-eastern Turkey or north-eastern Cyprus, or it could be a fake modern Bible.(7)

[Image removed]
(The Syriac Bible, (c) Ktisti and Bahceli, 6th February 2009)

[Image removed]
(The Syriac Bible, (c) China Daily, 7th February 2009)

[Image removed]
(A manuscript forgery, (c) Caruso, 6th February 2009)


If the Bible were stolen from a Syrian Orthodox community in south-eastern Turkey, it would be very strange for the Greek Cypriot Church/State to rescue it; but it is not impossible. If the Bible were stolen from Saint Barnabas's Monastery in Famagusta, it would explain the Church and State's pursuit of the object and silence about its consequences, and it would even complement the Turkish deep state's peculiar attachment to St. Barnabas's.

Nevertheless, there is a horrible possibility that Stephanou died trying to save a fake. [Aramaic and Syriac scholar David Taylor said that there were 'a large number of fake Syriac manuscripts currently being produced in northern Iraq and southern Turkey'.]

This uncertain, confusing, sprawling story exposes some of the bizarre relationships that the illicit antiquities trade creates between the mafia, paramilitaries and extremists stealing and smuggling antiquities, and the states trying to stop them. Whatever the details, it was a tragic case. Stephanou's family 'feel truly blessed and honoured to have had a father who lived and died for his faith and Country'; but he was forsaken by his Church and his State, and his family were forsaken along with him.
  1. A Turkish Cypriot judge would have had to approve Stephanou's detention three times in those fourteen days: once by the second day; once by the fifth – after his first visit to hospital; and once by the thirteenth – the day before he died.

    Continued detention must be approved by a judge 'not later than twenty-four hours after [the suspect's] arrest', and 'not later than three days from such [approval]', the suspect must be released or remanded in custody (awaiting trial), when '[t]he judge may remand him in custody for a period not exceeding eight days at any one time' (CATRNC, 1985: Chapter 2, Article 16). That could have continued for three months, though that would have been truly exceptional (USBDHRL, 2008); even 'Turkish criminal law only permits 7.5 days' detention before charge' (Liberty, 2007: 5). Still, Stephanou's 14 days' detention was nearly twice that.

    The Constitution of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus declares that:
    'The position of the person arrested or detained shall be brought to the knowledge of his close relatives at the earliest possible time and quickly, except in cases where there are grave objections to the disclosure of the extent and substance of the investigation' (CATRNC, 1985: Chapter 2, Article 16, Paragraph 4).

    'The person arrested shall, as soon as practicable and in any event not later than twenty-four hours after his arrest, be brought before a judge, if he is not in the meantime released' (CATRNC, 1985: Chapter 2, Article 16, Paragraph 6).

    'The judge sell [sic – shall] promptly proceed to inquire into the grounds of the arrest in a language understandable by the person arrested and shall, as soon as possible and in any event not later than three days from such appearance, either release the person arrested on such terms as he may deem fit or where the investigation into the commission of the offence for which he has been arrested has not been completed remand him in custody. The judge may remand him in custody for a period not exceeding eight days at any one time[.]

    Provided that the total period of such remand or detention in custody shall not exceed three mouths [sic – months] from the date of the arrest[,] on the expiration of the said period every person or authority having the custody of the person arrested or detained shall forthwith set him free' (CATRNC, 1985: Chapter 2, Article 16, Paragraph 7).
    The 1985 Constitution of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was derived from the 1975 Constitution of the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus, which was derived from the 1960 Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus. For example, according to Article 11 of the 1960 Cypriot Constitution, 'every person arrested has a right to contact immediately by phone, in person and in private, a lawyer of his own choosing, and to be informed of his above rights.... [and] every person arrested must be brought before a judge not later than 24 hours after, or be released. The judge inquires into the grounds of arrest, and must release the person so arrested not later than 3 days from the day of such appearance on such terms as the judge deems fit, or where the investigation into the commission of the offence for which the arrest was made has not been completed, remand him in custody from time to time for a period not exceeding 8 days at anyone time. The total period of such remand in custody cannot exceed 3 months from the day of arrest, and on the expiration of this period every person or authority having custody of the person arrested must forthwith set him free' (Government of the Republic of Cyprus, 17th February 2006, cited by the Republic of Cyprus Permanent Representative to the Council of Europe (ROCPRCE), 2006: 4).
  2. It must have been categorised as
    the arrest or detention of a person effected for the purpose of bringing him before the competent legal authority on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence or when it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent his committing an offence or fleeing after having done so (CATRNC, 1985: Chapter 2, Article 16, Paragraph 2, Sub-paragraph c).
  3. It seems reasonable to assume that he would have explained his injuries, if his injuries had been the result of an accident or an illness.
  4. Turkish Cypriot media claimed that Stephanou had had cancer, and Turkish Cypriot police claimed that he had caught pneumonia and died of septicaemia, but the (multiple) post-mortems disproved these claims (Christou, 2007d).
  5. I have independently confirmed his access to this information.
  6. The Cyprus Mail (2009) talked about 'a [i.e. single] ring of antiquities smugglers', so I assume that all of the arrests were in one operation against one gang.
  7. This is just an idea, but, if it were a modern forgery, and if Stephanos Stephanou were caught in a Turkish deep state counter-sting, it's possible that the fake Bible was made for the counter-sting.
Bibliography

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2 comments:

  1. Thankyou on behalf of my father for the article.
    God bless you.

    Anna Stephanou
    By the way, I was present during the autopsy performed on the Turkish Cypriot side. The UNFICYP doctors, investigators, know damn well what went on in there ........it makes me sick to my stomach....they did anything to close the case so as not to ruffle any feathers

    ReplyDelete