Erenkoy Commemoration 52 years and the Truth
By Steven Roberts……..
I first found out about Erenköy (Kokkina in Greek) and the fierce battle that raged in this otherwise sleepy north west corner of the island in the ‘Rough Guide to Cyprus’ I read before coming to the island for the first time in 2004. This was a great little book written and researched by Mark Durbin. It told you a lot about the history and politics of Cyprus in addition to containing all the usual tourist information. (Sadly the 2013 edition of the book was ‘dumbed down’ and reduced in size and content, but the 2005 and earlier editions written by Mark are readily available in second hand shops and bookstalls, and worth getting hold of).
A few years later when the Green Line crossing at Yesilirmak-Kato Pyrgos opened up, I visited this part of the island for the first time. After crossing and going through the small coastal town of Kato Pyrgos, I noticed how far you have to go inland along winding mountain roads to get to the next coastal town in the south – Pachyammos. All the way you see military presence, outposts of the Turkish Army, the Greek Cypriot National Guard, and the United Nations forces.
I often wondered what the coast looked like behind those winding hills. What (if anything) was left of the coastal villages of Erenköy and Mansoura?
A couple of years later I picked up a copy of a book “Memories of a 64th Generation Cypriot” by Rustem Koken (ISBN no. 978-944-5351-5-1). He was born in Famagusta but like many of his generation went to study at University in Istanbul. A large number of Turkish Cypriot students like him interrupted their studies to come back to the island to volunteer their help in the defence of the Erenköy area. Rustem was one of these and gives a detailed account of his experiences.
I also read the articles about Erenköy on Cyprusscene.com, and listened and watched the video of the recorded interview with Willy Lindh linked to one of them. Willy was in the Swedish Army and attached to UN forces stationed in the Erenköy area in 1964, and he gives a clear and fascinating account of what really happened.
During the inter communal clashes of 1963/4 Erenköy was the only enclave held by Turkish Cypriots which had a deep water access to the sea. As such it was being used to supply arms and equipment to the Turkish Cypriot fighters. George Grivas from the EOKA war period had been brought back to Cyprus to organise the Greek Cypriot fighters. He was determined to overrun Erenköy and push its defenders into the sea, even if this meant defying President Makarios who understood that a massacre at Erenköy would cause irreparable damage to the international reputation of Greek Cypriots.
The defenders of Erenköy were not military men, but mostly volunteers (in much the same way as those who volunteered in defence of the elected Government in Spain against the force of General Franco in the Spanish Civil war in the 1930s). They were heavily outnumbered by the forces under Grivas and suffered heavy bombardment by artillery whilst having only old rifles and light weaponry to defend the area. After fierce battles the defending force had to retreat from 4 of the 5 villages in the enclave, and Erenköy village was going to be the last stand.
It was clear that the Greek Cypriot forces were planning a war of attrition until the Turkish Cypriots ran out of supplies. After waiting 2-3 days the Turkish Air Force intervened. On 8 August Greek Cypriot patrol boats off the north west coast were attacked by Turkish fighter planes, seven crew members were killed and others wounded. This was followed by attacks on many targets within the nearby coastal area, including the towns of Pomos and Polis. Following the intervention of US President Lyndon Johnson, a cease fire came into force. The Turkish Air Force stopped bombing and the Greek Cypriot forces halted the attack on Erenköy. UN troops monitored the uneasy truce.
Eventually the civilian population of the village were evacuated and the descendents now live mainly in Kucuk Erenköy and Yeni Erenköy.
As a member of The Foreign Residents in the TRNC (TFR), I was pleased to get an e-mail from Willy Lindh of TFR (yes the same ex UN soldier – he now lives in north Cyprus) asking if any members were interested in going to Erenköy for the memorial ceremony on 8th August 2016. So at last I would have the chance to see this otherwise inaccessible coast. Around 1000 Turkish Cypriots (and a small number of immigrants to Cyprus like me) were marshalled into bus convoys at Yesilirmak to travel with UN escort through the western crossing point and into the enclave.
To enter at Mansoura our convoy had to turn right off the main road from Kato Pyrgos onto a dirt track, we then went through a UN barrier along a dirt road for few kilometres until we stopped in Erenköy. We disembarked the buses and walked to the cemetery but due to delays for our coaches, we arrived just as the last post was sounded. The small cemetery was crowded, but we arrived in time to hear TRNC President Mustafa Akıncı speak. Unfortunately my Turkish was only good enough to pick up the odd phrase, but the news reports say he emphasised that the Erenköy Resistance played an important role in the Turkish Cypriot people’s struggle for a free and equal life on the Island. The future should be built upon lessons from the past, Akıncı noted, in order to prevent the same events occurring again. Akıncı also stated that the Turkish Cypriot people wanted a solution for the island that would preserve their security, political equality and freedom, as well as maintaining Turkey’s guarantee.
After the speech the President placed a red rose on each of the 13 graves of those martyred at Erenköy in 1964. I have to say the tone of the event was very respectful, it acknowledged the sacrifice of those who fell, yet avoided overt displays of nationalism or triumphalism. As is often the case in armed conflicts there were casualties on both sides, but neither side really ‘won’ a decisive victory,
Following a short break for lunch, there was an opportunity to visit the museum established in a former mosque, and also look at the area around the village and coast. There are very few houses surviving, and most of those are derelict and have warning notices attached advising people not to enter. More poignant are what looks like holes into the mountains. These are in fact small caves that were dug out by villagers as shelters to escape the bombardment. If these hadn’t been used it is probable that many more would have died. Living conditions must have been really primitive for months on end.
As the Erenköy enclave has been effectively ‘off limits’ for 52 years, the lack of development, though obvious, is striking. You get a real impression of how much of the coast of Cyprus must have looked in the days before mass tourism.
Whatever happens in the future, I do hope this area can be preserved as it is when it ceases to be used by the military. It would be a terrible shame to see it buried in concrete and used for yet another gaudy all inclusive hotel and casino complex. Its relatively remote location may save it, but we should remember both the Akamas and the Karpaz are under pressure from developers.
Overall this was a memorable day, a chance to consider the recent history of this island, and a rare opportunity to visit areas that most residents and tourists will never see or know anything about.