Last call for owners to claim cars left in 1974 Cyprus war

AP News
Posted: May 26, 2016 1:36 PM
Last call for owners to claim cars left in 1974 Cyprus war

EPISKOPI, Cyprus (AP) — It's last call for the owner to reclaim a late 1950s Dodge Coronet, shades of sky-blue paint still visible on its tailfins, that's been rusting on a British military base for over four decades.

The lone Dodge sits among some 400 vehicles — including Land Rovers, Fiats, Lambretta mopeds and Bedford trucks — that were abandoned by the Turkish Cypriot owners inside the Episkopi Garrison amid the confusion of a 1974 war that cleaved Cyprus along ethnic lines.

The vehicles have sat since inside this wind-swept, fenced-off field for safe-keeping. But the relentless Mediterranean sun and humidity, coupled with a huge brushfire that swept through the field 15 years ago, have turned more than half of them into little more than rusting hulks.

Now, base authorities are hoping to reawaken the interest of owners — either in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot northern part of the island or abroad — to reclaim the vehicles before their disposal starts next year.

"We have to make the effort to give them back before we start disposing of them, it's the proper thing to do," said Ian Brayshaw, a British Bases official in charge of the project.

The overwhelming majority of the vehicles are of little value other than scrap metal. But there are a few gems that could be worth some money, including the aluminum-framed Land Rover Mark 1 and a decrepit Volkswagen Beetle that is said to be worth as much as 2,000 euros ($2,230) despite its condition, Brayshaw said.

It doesn't all necessarily boil down to money — the sentimental value can't be brushed aside. There have so far been around two dozen inquiries about the vehicles, with the son-in-law of one man who used to own a bus fleet making the trip to look at six bus carcasses.

"He was quite emotional because of the obvious history of the buses," Brayshaw said. "He was grateful for the efforts of the bases to give the vehicles back, but disappointed at their condition."

Many of the vehicles, some vandalized and damaged, were abandoned on streets of RAF Akrotiri — a British air base in the island's southern, Greek Cypriot half.

With tensions running high immediately after an invasion Turkey mounted in response to a coup aiming to unite Cyprus with Greece, Turkish Cypriots couldn't drive their vehicles out of the base. Instead, the refugees were flown out from RAF Akrotiri and taken to Turkey before ending up in the island's Turkish-controlled northern part with whatever belongings they could carry with them.

"The sad thing for me is when you see a child's toy in the backseat of a car and it makes you think about how serious this all was, it was war," Brayshaw said.

Some Turkish Cypriots have come forward over the years to reclaim mostly agricultural equipment, said Brayshaw.

Owners have until the end of the year to claim their vehicles. Those that aren't reclaimed will either be sold for scrap or auctioned off. Brayshaw said all the money raised will go to projects helping the Turkish Cypriot community.

Photos of most of the cars, trucks, tractors and motorbikes are posted on the base website for owners — and others who may be interested — to peruse. Anyone who wishes to take a vehicle is responsible for all transport costs.