By Margaret Sheard……
Although Chris previously visited Erenköy in 2011, I was very disappointed not to be able to make the trip at that time having just managed to break 3 toes and my foot and leg were in plaster, so I was delighted that this year I was able to join the throngs of people who make the annual journey to Erenköy to pay their respects to the people who lost their lives there during the siege of Erenköy in 1964.
Erenköy (Kokkina) was defended from April 1964 by initially 500 Turkish Cypriots including Turkish Cypriot students that had returned by sea in small fishing boats from Turkish Universities. A small number of volunteers including those from Britain managed to get through the Greek security lines but the total defenders remained very few and were only armed with lightweight weapons. The area defended originally consisted of 5 villages but the defenders were eventually forced back to make their last stand here in Erenköy.
With the mountains surrounding this pretty bay being taken over by Greek and Greek Cypriot armed forces whose numbers swelled from 1,500 to 3,000, the fire power they directed down into the village, from artillery and mortars, was devastating and the defenders were also attacked from their rear by three Greek patrol boats. During this period the UN had an observation post in the village but was powerless to take any action to stop the fighting.
The defenders managed against overwhelming odds to hold their ground until the Turkish Air Force intervened with action on 8th August which deterred any more major offences by Greek or Greek Cypriot forces. Surely this is a story of man’s resolve to stand firm and is rather like that of the Spartans who faced overwhelming forces in ancient times.
We had an early start, meeting the coach in Girne at 05.30am on 8th August, and we then proceeded on the long journey to Erenköy, stopping for a brief rest at the Yeşilirmak Muhtarliğli where the 34 coaches met up to continue the journey in convoy to our destination. There were around 570 people making the trip, mostly Turkish Cypriot but also British, German, Dutch and Swedish people who were there to pay their respects.
We had a wait at the Yeşilirmak border crossing and at this time the Turkish military personnel were delivering water and also caps provided by the Erenköy Freedom Fighters Association, to the people on the coaches. Then the journey continued with an escort by a UN vehicle and we finally entered Erenköy where again we were given water and some food.
We made our way to the memorial area where we were delighted to meet up with an old friend, Dr Ata Atun, and here we were very privileged to be given a press badge and allowed access to the press area ready for the commemoration ceremony which was led by the President, Dr Derviş Eroğlu, who arrived by helicopter and we recognised the former President Mehmet Ali Talat, recent temporary Prime Minister Dr Sibel Siber and also the Turkish Ambassador among the dignitaries accompanying him. Before long the ceremony started with speeches from the President and many others including ‘Jimmy’ Keço the President of the Erenköy Freedom Fighters Association. and there was the laying of wreaths by Government officials and other organisations. To see so many dignitaries moving between the graves of the martyrs and comforting the relatives was so nice to see and they must have found the occasion to be one of sadness and yet pride in their fallen heroes. I personally found this to be a very moving and emotional occasion and so pleased and honoured to have been able to attend.
With the ceremony completed, people then started to make their way to the area where lunch was to be served, this was rather a long walk and after looking appealingly at some passing coaches, eventually one stopped and offered us a lift with a welcoming hoş geldiniz as we got on, we were so grateful to this kind driver as the day was by then getting extremely hot. Arriving at the lunch area we were served with a nice lunch, more drinks and a bag of sweets to celebrate Bayram which we took to a huge area of seating where the hundreds of visitors were sitting in the shade enjoying their lunch and no doubt discussing the wonderful occasion we had just experienced. We were also treated to the music of a military band for a while.
While sitting under the shade of some trees, a lady who was sitting nearby made a speech from a podium which had been set up in the area. I managed to have a conversation with her later and found she spoke excellent English so I asked her what her speech had been about. Zehre Bilge Eray is with the Kibris Tűrk Kűltűr Derneği Istanbul Şubesi and is an Architect in Istanbul, she told me she makes the journey each year to Erenköy in memory of her brother, Mehmet Eray, who was killed there at the age of 21 when he joined the 500 students who came from Turkish Universities to try and help in 1964. This must be a very sad time for Zehre and I noticed she was very overcome when she was escorted back to her seat by a very sympathetic soldier. I later located the grave of Zehre’s brother in the memorial area.
Chris went to look around the area and to visit the museum to take photographs while I rested my very weary legs, and after a while I made my way to the area where the coaches were waiting to take us on our return journey. We had quite a long wait at the point the UN vehicle was to join us to escort us back to the checkpoint area but eventually the UN and Greek Police vehicles arrived and we were on our way.
This was an incredible experience and I have every admiration for the people who arrange this annual event, it was so well organised especially with the huge number of people attending. There was water and food available at many of the stopping points and on arrival. There is always a 112 ambulance which travels with the convoy in case of an emergency. This was such a well organised event and I am so pleased that everything went well and there were no unpleasant incidents but it is such a shame that being able to make this journey still cannot be done as a normal visit to an area within this beautiful island.
Watch for a further article soon to be published on the same subject which gives a factual account from a person who was there at the time of the siege of Erenköy so the truth is being told and the world should take note.