Murder of a Priest – Lurucina 1924
The history uncovered
By Ismail Veli ‘Kirlapo’
The events surrounding the murder of Papa Charalambous Michelides and the hanging of Mustafa and Yusuf Bairam in 1924 had created controversy and debate like no other in the history of Lurucina. Even today 90 years after the event debate, speculation and opinions are exchanged on a constant basis. The debate is not so much about who killed Papa Charalambous Michelides, but how two innocent victims of this tragic event were hanged as scapegoats, hence the never ending debate.
Mustafa and Yusuf were by all accounts two young men who were mentally immature and simple persons who were framed for the simple reason that the perpetrators expected the British rulers to dismiss the notion that they were capable of murder. Some even argue why bring up something that happened in 1924? They say it simply attracts a negative feeling against the people of our village. This is a ludicrous line to take. Firstly no one alive today is responsible for what happened 90 years ago and neither is a murder event unique to one village. These things happen in many parts of the island even today, but to close our eyes to historical evidence or learning is simply to accept that we should all stifle our knowledge of our past. Subject matters should always be taken in the historical context of the prevailing conditions of each period.
We need to learn from it and move to other research matters, thereby expanding our knowledge of how and what happened at any given time. Admitting and discussing our past with honesty, rather than hiding it, is the first prerequisite to a mature and tolerant society.
In the aftermath of the murder the 2 brothers were quickly arrested and held at Dali and Athienou local prisons for interrogation. after intensive pressure they allegedly confessed to the crime and the trial began as soon as possible.
The chief witness for the prosecution Osman Garaoli who claimed to be an eyewitness to the killing of the Priest was devastating and the return of a guilty verdict became a foregone conclusion. On the night of the murder Osman Garaoli claimed that the 2 brothers Mustafa and Yusuf went to his garden (in those days most farmers had a small bedroom to sleep in their fields during the summer period) and asked him to join them in killing Papa Charalambous. He stated that his initial thoughts were that it was just a joke. The persistence of the 2 brothers and their threatening attitude made him nervous and he decided that he had to go along to the priest’s summer room and garden which was near the half way house, presumably due to its location between Lurucina and the main Nicosia/Larnaca road. It seems strange however that two cold blooded killers with such a plan would drag someone else to join against their will at the last minute. It’s very inconsistent with the vast majority of premeditated murders as it could impede their plans. When they arrived at the Priest’s house they found him to be asleep with his bed up against the garden wall. It was around 9.00 to 10.00pm. Osman then went on to explain that Mustafa picked up an axe and Yusuf a club. on seeing that Mustafa and Yusuf were really serious Osman became very frightened and refused to participate. Mustafa went to the priest’s bedside and bludgeoned him with a tremendous blow, with the defenceless priest’s sudden jerking movements Yusuf was called to hold the priest’s feet and rain in a few blows with his club. It was a most gruesome murder and the one and only witness Osman Hasan Garaoli gave the most vivid description of the murder possible.
The Chief Medical examiner Robert William Clark confirmed the manner of the killing in his forensic examination and for the 2 brothers worse was to come. The testimony of their sister Dudu (spelled Doudou in the transcript) of the two accused. Acting as a witness for the prosecution ended with devastating consequences for her brothers. Her testimony can just about be understood on Document number 40, page 2 of my website. In her statement she claimed that late on the evening of the 24th September 1924 her mother handed her Mustafa’s shirt which had blood on the sleeves. This, together with the chief witness Osman Garaoli’s statement, was powerful and the defence had little answer to these damaging statements.
Another strange and contradictory twist to Osman Garaoli’s incriminating eye witness statements to the court, was that when Mustafa Bairam gave his own statement, he was asked by the police to admit that it was Osman who actually carried out the killing, and together with his brother the two against Osman would carry much more weight. Apparently they refused, not knowing that Osman had already accused the two brothers of the crime. Doc No; 67 page 111. This can be seen on Priest’s murder, page 2 of the families of Lurucina website relating to this story.
Almost everyone in the village believed the murder was perpetrated by individuals much more aggressive than the two simple brothers whom everyone thought incapable of such a heinous crime. They even go as far as to claim that blood was put on their shirts and made to confess making them believe that they would not be hanged. From todays perspective all the speculation is hearsay. Only dying confessions from any perpetrator giving vivid descriptions of the crime and an explanation on how they planned and set up the crime would really carry any weight in finding the truth. Short of that we can only speculate.
By today’s standards however the murder which took place on the 24 September 1924 ending with the sentence of death on the 17th November 1924 was an incredibly short period of only two months. So could a fair trial be prepared and end in such a short period of time? Judging by the statement given by Mustafa Bairam at the trial (Doc No; 069 page 111 on 7 November 1924) it’s clear that massive pressure was brought to bear on a young immature and simple person to admit to the murder in order to save his life.
Many would argue that it’s inconceivable to make a confession if one is innocent. But is it really that simple? Yusuf claimed that they were pressured by the police to confess or blame Osman Garaoli, if they did not confess then they would be hanged. He admitted to the court that he was frightened so admitted thinking it would save his life but denied the actual murder in his court testimony. Doc No; 069. Admittedly the handwriting of the court usher is difficult to read, therefore making it hard to fully understand every word, but it’s clear from the defendants point of view that their mental disability and lack of sufficient intelligence to comprehend what they were really up against worked against them. One example on how the authorities can get it terribly wrong was the notorious murder of Beryl Evans and her baby Geraldine Evans by John Reginald Christie at 10 Rillington Place in 1949, and the miscarriage of justice which ended with the hanging of Timothy Evans who was the husband and father of the victims also confessed to the murder of his child only to subsequently deny and admit he was in shock and not knowing what he was saying. This of course only came to light after he was hanged. The capture of John Reginald Christie the real murderer and his confession with all the other evidence including other bodies of his victims forced the British Home Office and police to admit that Timothy Evans was innocent prompted them to grant a posthumous pardon. Timothy was also a very simple man who often spun pub tales which were not often the truth. The propensity to make up stories worked against him in court as being a liar and it sealed his death sentence.
The whole village believed that the two brothers were totally innocent. In spite of the passage of time, many questions still remain unanswered. Did the British authorities find it easier to speed up the court case and just hang two innocents in order to look like justice had been served? Why was the trial so rushed? Why did the authorities not investigate the matter more thoroughly? The hanging of Yusuf and Mustafa seemed to them a much easier option of appearing to do justice rather than investigating the murder much more thoroughly. It’s clear that the priest’s massive attempts to convert as many Turkish villagers to the Orthodox faith possibly cost him his life. Equally the British authorities were eager to wrap up the case as quickly as possible in order to calm what was obviously a tense situation in the village. Whatever the reason there is little doubt that this controversy is set to continue.
The family of the 2 brothers want a reversal and posthumous pardon of the two young men. Whether new evidence after 90 years can be found to achieve a pardon is debatable. No witnesses are alive. Only what older people heard from original villagers are known. I’m no lawyer, it’s clear however that word of mouth and hearsay is in itself inadmissible in the court of law. In spite of everything however, I have yet to meet an old-timer who believes Mustafa and Yusuf to be guilty. It is not for me to speculate on who the real killers were. By today’s standards the brothers’ police questioning, and maybe the trial itself fell far short of anything we are accustomed to in todays much more transparent justice system. Whether they were innocent or guilty is not something I’m in a position to know, much less speculate. The court witnesses and forensic evidence was overwhelming against them. All I can do is present the original documents as a matter of historical evidence and interest. The conditions prevailing in Cyprus in the 1920s were nowhere near the world we live in today. Corruption, cronyism, manipulation of illiterate people by the ruling class was at a very high level, therefore speculating can only be done from a basis of historical interest rather than any new concrete evidence which is not available.
Many in Lurucina may point out that Papa Charalambous Michelides attempts to convert the Muslim population to Christianity had to be stopped, or else the pursuit of the priest’s aims would cause the families of this village to rupture and bring division and help destroy the Turkish families’ unity. The Enosis Plebiscite (Union with Greece) In Lurucina on 25 March 1921. Recorded in the “Biblion du phsithisman 25 March 1921” obviously encouraged Papa Charalambous Michelides to pursue his energetic efforts to convert the Turkish people of the village to the Greek Orthodox Church. This may have been the main contributor which cost him his life and helped set the stage for the never ending debate that continues to this day. The mentality and circumstances prevailing in 1924 may be different to today, but a brutal murder cannot be justified under any circumstances. If we truly believe in ourselves and have pride in our roots, then no amount of indoctrination or pressure from an individual priest can change our cultural & ethnic identity. The persons who perpetrated the murder (regardless of who and why) cannot, and should not be representative of the vast majority of our village who have proudly carried our historic and cultural heritage to the four corners of the world.
The hangings of Yusuf and Mustafa may have taken place 90 years ago but the debate is certain to continue into the future. It’s unlikely we shall ever know the truth about the tragic events of 24th September 1924. The only thing that is certain is that the ghosts of Papa Charalambous Michelides, Yusuf and Mustafa Bairam will I fear continue to haunt the people of Lurucina for all eternity.
Yusuf and Mustafa accused of murder click here
List of court witnesses click here
Part of Chief eye witness Osman Hasan Karaoli’s testimony click here
Part of Dudu Bairam’s testimony click here
Yusuf Bairam Pourounti’s statement to the court click here