By Chris Elliott
We are fast approaching the culmination of the Christmas season and the start of the New Year when mankind around the world gives thanks irrespective of religion and race and looks forward to a peaceful and profitable future, but this was not always so in Cyprus.
Cyprus – The Shame of Christmas 1963
“By John L Oakes
The epic defence of the Turkish Cypriot community which shattered the island of Cyprus in 1974 has etched itself into the world’s memory.
But there is another, much earlier anniversary, which fewer people know about – let alone commemorate : a date which shows that the Greek ambitions of Enosis and the Akritas plan were firmly in place over a decade before the Turkish occupation which is commonly blamed for the island’s division.
For on Christmas Eve 1963, fifty years ago this week, over 100 Turkish Cypriot men, women and children were slaughtered by armed and trained Greek Cypriot Militia, in what was possibly the worst Christmas present in the history of mankind. The political context was that Archbishop Makarios had tried the month before to abolish eight of the basic provisions in the 1960 Independence Treaty which guaranteed the rights of Turkish Cypriots. His aim was to reduce Turkish Cypriots to the status of a mere minority, wholly subject to the control of the Greek Cypriots, before their ultimate destruction or expulsion from the island.
“When the Turkish Cypriots objected to the amendment of the Constitution, Makarios put his plan into effect, and the Greek Cypriot attack began in December 1963,” wrote Lt. Gen. George Karayiannis of The Greek Cypriot militia (“Ethnikos Kiryx” 15.6.65). The general was referring to the notorious “Akritas” plan, which was the blueprint for the annihilation of the Turkish Cypriots and the annexation of the island to Greece.
On December 24th, 1963 the Greek Cypriot militia attacked Turkish Cypriot communities across the island. Large numbers of men, women, and children were killed and 270 mosques, shrines and other places of worship were desecrated.
These were the days before instant television-reporting from every global trouble-spot was common, and the news leaked out slowly, from lone reporters.
On Dec. 28, 1963, the Daily Express carried the following report from Cyprus: “We went tonight into the sealed-off Turkish Cypriot quarter of Nicosia in which 200 to 300 people had been slaughtered in the last five days. We were the first Western reporters there, and we have seen sights too frightful to be described in print. Horror was so extreme that the people seemed stunned beyond tears.”
On Dec. 31, 1963, The Guardian reported: “It is nonsense to claim, as the Greek Cypriots do, that all casualties were caused by fighting between armed men of both sides. On Christmas Eve many Turkish Cypriot people were brutally attacked and murdered in their suburban homes, including the wife and children of a doctor-allegedly by a group of 40 men, many in army boots and greatcoats.” Although the Turkish Cypriots fought back as best they could and killed some militia, there were no massacres of Greek Cypriot civilians.
On Jan. 1, 1964, the Daily Herald reported: “When I came across the Turkish Cypriot homes they were an appalling sight. Apart from the walls they just did not exist. I doubt if a napalm attack could have created more devastation. Under roofs springs, children’s cots, and gray ashes of what had once been tables, chairs and wardrobes. In the neighbouring village of Ayios Vassilios I counted 16 wrecked and burned out homes. They were all Turkish Cypriot’s. In neither village did I find a scrap of damage to any Greek Cypriot house.”
On Jan. 2, 1964, the Daily Telegraph wrote: “The Greek Cypriot community should not assume that the British military presence can or should secure them against Turkish intervention if they persecute the Turkish Cypriots. We must not be a shelter for double-crossers.”
On Jan. 12, 1964, the British High Commission in Nicosia wrote in a telegram to London: “The Greek [Cypriot] police are led by extremist who provoked the fighting and deliberately engaged in atrocities. They have recruited into their ranks as ‘special constables’ gun-happy young thugs. They threaten to try and punish any Turkish Cypriot police who wishes to return to the Cyprus Government… Makarios assured Sir Arthur Clark that there will be no attack. His assurance is as worthless as previous assurances have proved.”
On Jan. 14, 1964, the Daily Telegraph reported that the Turkish Cypriot inhabitants of Ayios Vassilios had been massacred on Dec. 26, 1963 and reported their exhumation from a mass grave in the presence of the Red Cross. A further massacre of Turkish Cypriots, at Limassol, was reported by The Observer on Feb. 16, 1964.
And there were many more. On Feb. 15, 1964, the Daily Telegraph reported: “It is a real military operation which the Greek Cypriots launched against the 6,000 inhabitants of the Turkish Cypriot quarter yesterday morning. A spokesman for the Greek Cypriot government has recognized this officially. It is hard to conceive how Greek and Turkish Cypriots may seriously contemplate working together after all that has happened.”
Turkish Cypriot resistance began to mount in the face of these unprovoked attacks. Ergun Olgun, now a co-ordinator in President Eroglu’ secretariat, remembers the events well: “I was a 19-year-old student in Ankara at the time, and we knew there was no organised Turkish Cypriot resistance capable of dealing with this sort of situation. A group of 500 of us pleaded with the Turkish government to allow us to return and fight for our community. We were given training by the Turkish equivalent of Dad’s Army, issued with World War 2 weapons, and sent back to Cyprus.”
“I was a Bren gun carrier, got seriously wounded for my pains, and so was forced to leave the conflict before it was over. These acts showed what Greek intentions were, long before 1974.”
The Author (John L Oakes) acknowledges historic and other input from former Conservative MP Michael Stephen .”
As we approach Christmas Eve 2013, it is 50 years since this period of madness perpetrated by those with political desires who would stop at nothing to achieve their aims of Enosis with Greece. For the last 50 years there have been stop-go attempts by the UN to bring the two communities of Cyprus together but because of the lopsided political and governing structure approved by the world, the UN and the EU, nothing has changed.
Living in North Cyprus and getting to know the Turkish Cypriots it is hard to get them to talk about the past and in fact they have accepted it and do not burn with a severe hatred because of it. They have adopted a stance of accepting the truth and moving on and making a new life which they have done so successfully. North Cyprus, whilst not accepted by the world at large, has been developing since 23rd December 1963 with direct help and support being given by Turkey since 20th July 1974.
Will we see peace and stability return to be celebrated at Christmas 2014? It will take a very big effort and brave effort by the older generations of Greek Cypriots to accept the truth and tell their younger generations about the mistakes that have been made. Then perhaps we will see the communities trying to live in peace and harmony, side by side and share the great resources and opportunities that the famed “Island of Love”, Cyprus possesses.
In memory of some of the Turkish Cypriots of those who lost their lives in those desperate hours on Christmas Eve 1963, we include a slide show of some pictures supplied by historian, Ismail Veli and would point that most of the civilians murdered were in Nicosia areas with the exception of Ayse Hasan Buba and Ayse Ibrahim who were murdered in the village of Ayios Vassilio.
There is a very stong desire to see peace return among the Turkish Cypriots but when you read the article of the 22nd December in the the Cyprus Mail : “Fifty Years on and we still don’t accept what we did in 1963“, the world must question whether it will ever be possible for Greek Cypriots to agree to live with Turkish Cypriots again? Click here to view the article.