By Chris Elliott……..
Today is a day for remembering the heroes who with their backs to the sea, stood alone against overwhelming odds.
This place, Erenköy, is a small enclave outside the TRNC to which many hundreds of Turkish Cypriots and a few expatriates in a convoy of coaches. journey every year under the protection of the United Nations to meet with their government’s representatives who arrive by helicopters.
Margaret Sheard and I have had the privilege of visiting Erenköy a number of times to record our experiences and thoughts and today I am looking back and remembering the following experience when we were there and a separate meeting with Willi Lindh who, as a UN soldier, did his best and far more at Erenköy to protect the few from the Greek and Greek Cypriot hordes who wanted to drive the defenders into the sea if they could not eliminate them.
Erenköy, the truth is told!
By Chris Elliott
In these modern times we go to the internet to seek information about the past but often the information we find can be limited by our chosen language and although many books and articles may have been published about a subject, their content may not have been shared with that big library which is the internet.
A fine example of this is to try a Google search on “Erenköy Siege” and you will find Wikipedia shows a limited choice and in fact your attention is drawn to the fact that the village of Erenköy was called Kokkina.
So what of Erenköy, perhaps at the first search through Wikipedia we are told of the siege of Erenköy but is this the complete story and is it complete and correct?
If it were possible to read and understand the Turkish and Greek press we may find differences of opinion so let’s start with an overview of its reported history.
Having visited the village twice I was able to realise my dream of learning more about the dramatic defence of Erenköy (Kokkina) which was defended from April 1964 by initially Turkish Cypriots including 500 Turkish Cypriot students that had returned by sea in small fishing boats from Turkish Universities and were under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Riza Vuruşkan of the Turkish Army who had founded the TMT Turkish Resistance in Cyprus which was set up to counter the attacks on the Turkish Cypriot community by EOKA.
A small number of volunteers including those from Britain had managed to get through the Greek security lines but the total defenders remained very few and they 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, from the 6th August 1964 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 two Greek Cypriot patrol boats from the sea.
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 against military targets which deterred any more major offences by Greek or Greek Cypriot forces. Surely this is a story of man’s resolve to stand firm with pride and determination and it is rather like that of the Spartans who faced overwhelming forces in ancient times.
During 1966 the volunteer fighters were moved out of the village leaving the occupants behind under the protection of the UN contingent.
Following Operation Attila 2 of the Peace Intervention by the Turkish Armed Forces in 1974 the Turkish forces were not able to break through to this last enclave, so to this day the Erenköy uninhabited enclave remains under the protection of the TRNC armed forces with a UN contingent nearby creating a buffer zone.
Within the enclave at the village cemetery, there are 13 carefully tended graves of Turkish Cypriots who were killed at the siege at Erenköy. The village itself still carries heavy battle damage and to see the caves created as protection from the overwhelming artillery fire is frightening. There is a museum which was created from the refurbished mosque and this contains fine photographs showing the heroes who fought there and also the families who had nowhere to go and managed to survive the horrific assault by the Greek forces and the Greek National Guard.
Considering the small number of defenders, who mostly had very little military training and were armed with either homemade guns, shotguns or relics from another era, it was a miracle they held their ground against overwhelming odds.
Yes they were supported with a very limited supply of modern light weapons which came from Turkey and this did help them in their seemingly impossible task.
So on my second trip to the village I visited the cemetery where the fallen are buried and remained there with the local media crews to record and write of the experience when two helicopters flew in carrying the TRNC President, the Prime Minister and other dignitaries who came into the cemetery to pay their respects and give comfort and support to the relatives of those who had fallen in this struggle for survival.
In that short period of time of the ceremony and with the sound of bands, speeches and the saluting gunfire and the smell of the wafting gunsmoke you could see in the eyes of everyone there, the sadness and also the fierce pride to overcome adversity that is the hallmark of the Turkish Cypriots.
We read so much of the injustice of what was the Turkish Peace Intervention on 20th July 1974 which saved so many lives and brought peace to the Turkish Cypriots in North Cyprus guarded by Turkey and embargoed by the rest of the world. It is said by the Greek Cypriots that the Cyprus problem started in 1974 on the 20th July, this is far from the truth, there was fighting and unrest and attacks on the Turkish Cypriots by Greek Cypriots and Greeks in the name of Enosis as far back as the 1950’s and this is fact.
Let’s remember that President Makarios stood before the UN Assembly on the 19th July 1974 and stated his country had been invaded by Greece and was being aided by Greek Cypriot extremists and called for help. Click here.
Back to Erenköy and we read even now in the press of the barbaric air attack on Greek Cypriot villages but no mention of the offensive action being perpetrated. There is no mention of the Greek and Greek Cypriot aggressors surrounding this little village and attempting with Artillery and Naval forces to seek its destruction including its inhabitants and defenders. All this could be just words but I invite you to watch the following video which contains an interview with an independent eye witness to the siege of Erenköy.
You can only read and wonder what may have happened if the defence of Erenköy had been unsuccessful, could it have been another Srebrenica type disaster with the word genocide entering the history of Cyprus yet again… If all people can accept the truth of the history of Cyprus and come to terms with it, then maybe there can be hope of peace and harmony for the future of this island.