Part of the invasion (Irish Times photo)

The Haunting Tragedy of the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus


By Philip Chrysopoulos

The day of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, July 20, 1974, was the day time stopped for Cyprus, a day of infamy when the course of the nation’s history changed forever.

For Cypriots, the ongoing crime of the Turkish occupation of their beloved country seems as fresh at each anniversary as it was then.

It was a day that no Cypriot and no Greek will indeed ever forget. The eerie sound of sirens broke the warm stillness of that July day in both countries, signaling the end of an era.

But only Cyprus felt the horror of the invading Turkish troops and the mayhem they unleashed on the unsuspecting people — mostly women, children and the elderly.

It was 5:30 in the morning when the war sirens signified the descent of hell upon the beautiful country of Cyprus.

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The Turkish invasion of Cyprus

It was only five days after the inexplicable coup d’état of the country by Greece’s dictatorial forces, which only served to give the Turks an excuse to invade and occupy the northern part of the island.

Approximately 40,000 Turkish troops raided the island under the code name “Operation Attila,” an apt name for the barbaric attack against innocent civilians, which clearly violated the Charter of the United Nations Security Council.

Cyprus’ cerulean summer skies turned black after Turkish warplanes bombarded the area  from Kyrenia to Nicosia, killing hundreds of civilians before their ground troops completed the massacre.

The pretext for the Turkish invasion was the protection of Turkish Cypriots, who made up about 18% of the island’s population, an argument which was as weak then as it is now.

The brutal invasion was dubbed by Turkey a “peaceful intervention,” aimed at restoring constitutional order in Cyprus, which had been disturbed by the coup against Makarios just five days earlier, on July 15.

The “Attila” invasion involved heavily armed troops landing shortly before dawn at Kyrenia (Girne) on the northern coast meeting resistance from Greek and Greek Cypriot forces.

By the time the UN Security Council was able to obtain a ceasefire on 22 July the Turkish forces were in command of a narrow path between Kyrenia and Nicosia, 3% of the territory of Cyprus, which they succeeded in widening, violating the ceasefire demanded in Resolution 353.

This was only the first part of the Cyprus tragedy, however. On August 14, 1974, the tragedy was compounded by the occupation of the beautiful seaside city of Famagusta and the Karpas Peninsula.

On that day Turkey launched its “Second Peace Operation”, which eventually resulted in the Turkish occupation of 37% of Cyprus.

Britain’s then foreign secretary (later prime minister) James Callaghan later disclosed that U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger “vetoed” at least one British military action to pre-empt the Turkish landing.

An estimated 5,000 people were killed during the invasion and 1,619 were reported missing, but many historians believe the true toll of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus could be much higher.

As many as 200,000 Cypriots were forcefully driven away from their homes and became refugees in their own homeland as Turkey split the island in two, occupying around 35% of the island.

This sudden disruption of the population created chaos and economic disaster.

The Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus brought economic collapse to the northern part of Cyprus, with the army taking over one third of the country.

Turkey urges its people to illegally settle occupied Cyprus

Turkey then encouraged people from its country, who had no relationship or connection to the island whatsoever, to settle there, offering land and money.

This illegal, systematic resettlement by Turkey of its own people on Cyprus forced many Cypriots to emigrate to Europe and elsewhere.

The settlers today outnumber the native Turkish Cypriots by a ratio of about two to one.

Independent observers have documented this issue for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 1992 and 2003 respectively.

In violation of international law and UN resolutions, Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot regime continue to systematically eradicate the Greek cultural heritage of the occupied areas of Cyprus.

Cities and villages have been given Turkish names, while archaeological sites, churches and cemeteries have been desecrated, destroyed or transformed for other types of use.

Today, more than 43,000 armed soldiers from Turkey remain in the occupied areas of the island.

(This commentary originally appeared in the Greek Reporter on July 21.)



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