The War of July 1974: Narrative from a Greek-Cypriot Village

The Turkish intervention following the Greek coup of July 1974 remains the most dramatic and important event in the recent history of Cyprus. In the machinations of Ecevit, the Greek junta, Kissinger, Callaghan, et al, it is easy to lose sight of the effects on ordinary people.

Naturally, the events of July and August in particular are greatly traumatic to Greek Cypriots. Below is one account of a village on the northern coastal plain, Argaki. Predominantly Greek, it was chronicled by the renowned anthropologist, Peter Loizos. A Briton by birth, whose father originally came from that village, Loizos teaches at the London School of Economics. This is an excerpt from his second book on the village, The Heart Grown Bitter.


WAR

July-August 1974

The first phase of the Turkish invasion lasted from 20 to 30 July. The Greeks, dazed and disorganised by the coup, nevertheless managed to confine the Turkish forces to a fairly small space, and when the cease-fire came, had some cause for pride. In mid August there were negotiations, in Geneva, at which Turkey proposed major changes in the constitutional relations between the island's two communities, a much greater geographical separation of Turks from Greeks, and a weaker central government than had been agreed in 1960. The Greeks made counter-proposals, but the Turks' reply, in effect, was, 'Take it or leave it.' The Greeks asked for forty-eight hours to reconsider the Turkish proposals, but this was refused. The conference broke up at 3:00 a.m. on 14 August, and at 4:30 a.m. Turkey restarted military operations, the 'second round', as it came to be called.

This 'second round' was a rout for the Greek Cypriots. They had no aircraft, and no significant armour with which to repulse Turkish tank advances, supported by bombing and strafing planes. In three days the Turks had captured 38% of the island, including Argaki, which lay within a mile or two of their most forward position.

During the first round of fighting, the Argaki people were mostly spectators, listening to the rather garbled and suspect bulletins from their radios. They had decided during the week of the coup that the radio was no longer to be trusted. A number of young villagers were cither doing their national service, or were members of the reserve, and they were called up immediately the invasion started, so village involvement in the course of the war was intense. Then the refugees from the Kyrenia zone started to reach the villages, and Argaki people heard eyewitness accounts of the shooting of unarmed civilians and of rape. Some of the Argaki EOKA B contingent went off to attack the Turkish village of Ghaziveran, an account of which is given by one of them later in this chapter.

The period from 20 July to 20 August was marked by confusion; the villagers of Argaki, and the Cypriots in general, experienced the seizure of power by a small, irrational, and unpopular group, who nearly killed President Makarios, both a popular elected leader and the head of the Church. Then the British, believed by many Cypriots to be 'enemies' of Makarios, saved his life with a magic helicopter, and he departed, first to Britain and then to the USA. For a few days it looked as if that country, in the person of Dr Kissinger, would recognise Sampson's puppet regime, but, soon after the Turkish invasion, Sampson stepped down and was replaced by Clerides, who in Makarios' absence was the legitimate acting President of Cyprus. At this time, too, the military junta in Greece collapsed, and former Prime Minister Karamanlis came to power. Then, the Geneva conference was followed by a huge expansion of Turkish conquest, while both super-powers stood quietly by. Perhaps, people said, there really was a plan cooked up in Athens, Ankara, and Washington for a 'NATO solution', which, if known, could explain all these weird happenings. How else could the world be turned upside down so swiftly and disastrously? It had to be 'the Plan=.

'It wasn't in the Plan', 'It was all foreseen in the Plan', became common phrases on many lips. 'The Plan' could explain why the Kyrenia artillery batteries had failed to stop the Turkish assault craft; why Greek soldiers, always said in school to be worth five to ten Turks, could be so easily defeated; why Turkey had thanked the USA for her 'understanding' and why the USA had failed to stop the invasion. Perhaps the USSR was also in the Plan, for after years of huffing and puffing she had done nothing concrete to stop Turkey either, which left the Greek Cypriot communists especially bewildered.

After the war people said bitterly, 'We were fighting the Turkish army in Kyrenia, while in Limassol people were still going to the beach for a dip.' Certainly the invasion did not affect everyone in the same way, or at the same time. But people far removed from the firing were still very frightened. In Argaki, a young girl called Androulla Batsallou, who had just left secondary school, had got into the habit of keeping a diary, a quite unusual thing for village people to do. She wrote it in the rather stiff, formal style which her teachers had told her was 'good Greek=. The two themes which emerge are her terror and how, during lulls, her life resumed its normal pattern.

20 July: Day: Saturday, First day of war.

Attack by the Turks against the Greeks. A day of fear and terror. This day, Saturday, I got up to hear my mother say to me >My All-Holy Virgin, listen to those bombs.' Then I got up immediately and ran to the radio. My knees became weak when I heard it say that the Turks had turned upon the Greeks without any warning. From moment to moment the war was growing in intensity, and the bombs and smoke struck the hearts of all of us. The radio continually called on the army to tear the heartless enemy to pieces. In a little while there was an announcement in the village that all the infants should be baptised) and so all who had unbaptised ones rushed to do this. Seeing all this I didn't want anything to eat, and I stayed all day on the sofa, listening to the radio. In the evening I lay down on my bed together with my mother and we listened all night to the radio announcements.

Second day of war: 21 July. Day: Sunday.

Today, Sunday, we listened terrified to the noises of the war. We got up in the morning and when I was dressed I went with Rita to church. Everyone was unhappy and weeping and praying. After the Divine Liturgy I kissed the ikon and went home. Every now and then I heard the aeroplanes going high overhead and my heart raced. At half-past nine they started flying so low that I thought I would lose my wits from fear. When I went to shut the door I saw a plane flying very low, and it turned suddenly and out came very black smoke. I ran and hid under the bed with my sister. All the time I thought we were going to be bombed. My heart was going to burst when I heard the village being bombed. Not knowing what I was doing I took down the All-Holy Mother's ikon and clasped it to my breast as I lay beneath the bed. When this was over we got out and went to see a friend in her unfinished house, because it had two storeys and so we were less fearful. As soon as I got there I felt a bit braver because we talked and forgot it all a little. In the afternoon, some friends joined us there, and so I stayed the night there. We made up beds and laid down on the ground. Because the house was unfinished and there were pebbles on the ground, I ached all over my body. In another room were quite a lot of soldiers staying, not locals. They were guarding us, and because of this I was not as scared as before. At dawn we heard a lot of artillery and I trembled with fear.

22 July: Third day of war. Monday.

Monday, today, I heard a lot of artillery and was very scared. I got up at 5:30 and had no appetite for food, none of us did. We kept hearing planes going over and so we went and hid in the bathroom. When they had gone we came out again, and so on. I sat and talked with the soldiers who were on guard and at 4:00 the radio announced that the National Guard had given orders to stop fighting the war, and so we became a little less afraid. A little earlier they had announced that there had been an artillery barrage in Famagusta and that twenty tourists had been killed at a hotel, as well as a child whose family was unknown. A local woman had left her child with her husband in Famagusta and as soon as she heard this she started wailing because she thought it must be her child. Later the radio announced that the Greeks were victorious, having brought down nineteen Turkish planes and taken lots of Turkish villages. We were glad to hear that and since the danger was over went back to our homes. The first thing I did was to have a bath and lie down. But when evening came there was more artillery fire and I was scared. I went and lay down at my neighbour Panayotta=s and we kept the radio on all night. But there were no announcements, only songs.

'I sat and talked with the soldiers who were on guard.' They were not locals. Normally, she probably would not have found herself in a situation where she was sitting and talking with young unmarried men who were neither relatives nor neighbours. Her grandmother at the same age would have left the room if a strange man had entered it.

23 July: Fourth day of war. Tuesday.

Today, Tuesday I woke up at Panayotta's, since that was where I had slept the night before, and went home. I started the housework and when I had finished it I had a bath and sat and did my lace work. After lunch at noon I lay down for a bit on my bed and in the afternoon I got up and went for a little while to Heleni. I sat and worked my lace, with the soldiers for company, and we talked about the war. In the evening we fixed them some food and after the meal I went home. Heleni and I were in the company of Doros, a soldier from Famagusta, and at 8:15 we left the house taking blankets for the soldiers to lie down on. At 9:15 we saw the news on television and then went to sleep.

24 July: Fifth day of the war. Wednesday.

Today, Wednesday, when I woke up I did my housework and after bathing and dressing I went and invited the soldiers to come and cat. Then I went back home and got the food ready, with my sister helping. At 12:30 my mother went and brought them over and we looked after them really nicely. After the meal we sat and talked and then they went off. Off to the coffee shop. But I saw one of then going off by himself, so I called to him to come and join us. He came and sat wit] us, with me and Heleni and her family, and we chatted. Later we played halma [board game, like draughts]. Later on my mother set things up for him so he could have a bath. And then we played halma again. And while we were together, we got on well, he and I. When it was almost evening a neighbour came with ,20 which she owed us. Later in the evening after the meal we sat and chatted and when we'd had enough we went to sleep.

26 July: Seventh day of the war. Friday.

Friday, today I was woken up at 3:00 in the morning by artillery firing. I was terrified and started trembling. I trembled so much that my teeth chattered. At last I rested for a little while then got up with no appetite and started my housework. When it was finished I lay down on my bed and stayed there till 3:00 p.m. This was the only day so far when I couldn't cat a thing. I got up, dressed and did some lace work. But a friend came so I set the lace aside and we chatted. Then we went for a stroll and while we were outside Doros came by with another fellow and they said they had been up at Masari village. Later we went out for a bit and then I went back to my own place for a while. A neighbour called me over to her house but no sooner had I gone when I saw Doros with some other fellow going to my house. So I went home. We sat and chatted for a bit, playing halma, and later they left. And after the television news I went to sleep.

28 July: Ninth day of the war. Sunday. Sunday, today I got up and started my housework trying not to make a noise because Doros and another soldier were asleep. I wanted to go to church but because there were soldiers to be looked after I didn't go. When they woke up I gave them their breakfast and they went off. Then I mopped the house and lay down on my bed. After a bit my cousin came with her kids, and they wanted to stay with me, but she went off. At noon we ate ravioli, then I lay down and slept. When I woke up I heard that the Hare's son had died of his war wounds, and I was very sad.

The daily movements described in Androulla's diary, and her caring for the soldiers, were suddenly interrupted. For her the war had been a series of frightening sounds, radio bulletins, and the occasional aeroplane flying low over the village. But the death of a village boy, whom she had known all her young life, brought the war home in a new way. Her diary had recorded her being frightened on every page, but not 'sad' until now.

The diary is a little misleading, because Androulla's responses were inevitably personal, and rather restricted, confined by the life and narrow experiences of a young girl in the village. There are so many other things which might have found their way into her pages: had she a brother at the front, for example, the diary would have been full of her anxieties on his behalf. One villager told me how his son had been at the Kyrenia front, and the boy's mother would not or could not eat, from worry. The father, however, wanted a meal, and this led to cross words, almost to blows, between him and his wife. >I took it one way and she took it another', he told me.

'I heard that the Hare's son had died of his war wounds.' By the time Androulla heard this, everyone in the village must have known that the young man was in hospital. His father, nicknamed 'the Hare', was a shy man, who served on one of the village's two co-operative shops. He was well liked, with no enemies. Word went round the village: 'Have you heard? The Hare's boy has been wounded. Andronikos. Badly. Three bullets through his chest.' In the last chapter, we heard from the young

prison officer, Christos Kaourmas, about how he was caught up in the coup against his will. He here tells us something about the Hare's son, Andronikos, which the Hare himself probably did not know, or at least, would not believe:

The Hare's son got hit on the Saturday [20July 1974], and I heard about it the next day, and got there in an hour, to the hospital. His fellow-villagers and friends simply had to go straightaway, as soon as we heard. He was still alive then and was able to speak: he had his wits all right. He was afraid he might die, but naturally he didn't say anything to us at the time like, 'I'm dying.' Later on I heard from other villagers who went later in the week, from Tuesday through to Friday (he died on that Sunday); he was saying to them, 'Look, lads, I know I'm dying.' And he was very bitter about one thing. He'd got hold of the idea that it was our lads who had shot him from behind, of course without meaning to. You sec, they were told to advance to attack a Turkish strongpoint and they would be given covering fire, and it was while they were doing this that he got three bullets from our own side; they went in the back and out of his chest, the doctors said. He himself realised this, for he said, 'If I was going because of the Turks I wouldn't be that bothered, but it's from our own side that I'm going.' He said it to his friends, and he said it to his family, too. There is another explanation of this which I had too, but I can't be sure if it is true or not: Andronikos was in fact with another lad, who was in one of the socialist armed groups, and during the coup this lad had killed an EOKA B fellow. The friends of the EOKA man were there that Saturday morning [the first day of the Turkish invasion] and one said to the other, 'Hey, there's the one who shot our mate. Let him have it.' But Andronikos got it, instead o/the man by his side it was meant for. He told me the name of the man it was meant for, afterwards, because he knew that it was two EOKA blokes who were meant to be giving them cover. 1 But as I said, I don't know if he was right about all this, or not. Anyway, Andronikos told his friends that he'd caught it from our own side, and sick as he was, knocked about, it put him into a psychological state, it undermined his morale so he had no will to live. But this detail about how he died, well, people around here aren't saying much about it, so that his relatives won't be upset. Because they didn't believe him when he told them he'd caught it from our boys. His father says, 'my son was killed by the Turks', and he gets a little comfort from the idea that at least his son went and fought the Turks and that they killed him in war. The father doesn't know that there is some reason for thinking it was from our side. He would be even more cast down if he understood. At least he has that one comfort, of thinking his son died in the war. Imagine how the man will feel if he knows the other story.

The Hare has a brother, Vassos, a tailor, whose son Spiros was badly wounded in the fighting, and was expected to die. The Hare and Vassos were both poor men, unaggressive, and quietly left-wing in their views. It was one of the more savage ironies of the coup and the war that their two families, while in no way responsible for the events which overwhelmed them, were to suffer so much, to give so much blood, while most EOKA sympathisers escaped unharmed. Vassos here explains how he came to hear that his son had been wounded, and the aftermath:

The Hare's boy took eight days to die. My boy was shot on the Wednesday [24 July] but it was Friday [26 July] before he got to the hospital. The Hare was at the hospital to see his son, and found his nephew, my boy, there too, and he came and told me on the Saturday morning [27 July]. I went to Nicosia and saw him. He was at death's door, and there seemed no chance of his surviving: there were six rubber tubes in him. On the Monday [29July] I sent my wife. I said to her, it isn't too bad, and I left her there, and she stayed continually for a month at his bedside until they took him abroad. Right now he is in Athens for treatment. They are cutting bits of his bones and taking skin from one place and putting it back somewhere else.

The boy gave his mother three pound notes, all blood-stained, he had on him when they shot him. As soon as he came to his senses in the hospital he said to his mum, take this to my dad to look after, and if I get well I'll keep this money as a souvenir. But when we fled from the Turks, it got left behind in Argaki. We left at two in the morning, and I forgot the money in a cupboard, where I had the Cashmir I was tailoring and ten pairs of pants cut, ready for sewing. That money stayed in an old diary I used to write the measurements in.

Why did he want to hang on to the money, you ask? As a comfort. As a souvenir. When he grows old and reaches fifty or maybe seventy he'll say to his kids, sec this money? I had it on me when we were fighting the Turks. You see, he should have died, but he survived . . .

The doctors had given him up. They said if his soul had been in some other part of his body it would have left him. My boy said to me, the Turks themselves, the ones who came up and shot me, if they saw me now they wouldn't believe it was me. And he himself hadn't believed he'd live. He'd been shot on the Wednesday and our boys found him on the Friday. When he saw our soldiers, later on, he put his hands up, thinking if they were Turks, they'd shoot him and put him out of his misery. His blood froze solid from the cold, and he'd lost so much of it they had to give him twenty-six bottles.

Spires' father was also able to give me another version of what happened to his son, the 'official' version written by Spiros himself, as a report to his commanding officer:

Private Melachrinou, Spiros, Argaki, Morphou.

Infantry Driver, 65B 26/7/74.

I was driver for the Commander of Kythrea sector. On Wednesday, 24/7/74, he told me to take him to Koutsoventis to see one of our platoons and I took him. We reached Koutsoventis at 7:00 p.m. We found the platoon, and lieutenant-colonel Bottas, Giorgios, gave orders to the front line and told them their battle positions. On the far side of Koutsoventis is Sykhari village, which was under Turkish occupation. We finished our task and got ready to return to Kythrea, when they told us that a patrol of 15 men was to proceed to Sykhari, in retreat. The commander then ordered me to take him to see the patrol. I took him and we found the patrol on a hill. I was chatting with the soldiers from this platoon when someone shouted out that three buses were coming down from Sykhari to Koutsoventis. We took up battle positions and got ready to open fire on the buses but the commander stopped us saying that they were our own side.

We didn't open up and the buses came forward. That was our fatal, pre-ordained mistake. Had we opened fire on them when we had our weapons trained on them and they were without cover, not one of them would have got out. We sent two soldier to see who they were, and they killed them before our eyes. We opened fire at 9:00 a.m. and the Turks, between 150 and 200 in number, started to encircle us.

We gave battle for five hours. Many Turks were killed because they don't know how to fight.

About 2:00 p.m. . . . [document illegible] a second lieutenant in the reserves, Petrou, who was in charge of the patrol, gave the order to withdraw. We numbered off and we were five men alive, with Petrou wounded. We now decided to retreat since we had not the slightest hope of being relieved. We retreated and the Turks kept up their attack continuously with concentrated artillery fire. Then one more of our comrades was killed, and only four of us were left.

At 2:15 I received my first Turkish bullet, in the throat. The bullet was a dumdum, and it burst as soon as it hit me, with the result that my throat was torn and my lips and jaws were hanging loosely. I dropped my gun and held my throat with both hands. One of my jaws was completely smashed. One of my comrades, as soon as he saw me like this threw down his gun and started weeping. I made a sign to him to tell him to go and leave me. I sat down and waited to die. Ten minutes went by, and with great surprise I realised that I could move and that I was breathing through my open throat. I moved on and caught up with Petrou and the others, two of whom were now wounded. But while I was catching them up I received another five bullets from the Turks, two in my feet and three in my hands. All four of us threw ourselves down under a tree and waited. We heard voices and saw the Turks approaching. I now lay down on my back so that my open throat would show, and pretended to be dead. Two Turks came up to us and one killed Petrou and then went off. The other came up to me, and with his pistol shot me in the area of the heart. This was the seventh bullet that I received from the Turks. When the Turks had gone, the three of us who had survived went on, and one of them found a water-bottle. They had a drink, and gave me a turn. I took the bottle, drew the water into my mouth, and then I saw from the corner of my eye the water pouring out of my throat onto the ground . . . I took off my vest and threw it away because it had become so red with blood. Meanwhile night had fallen, so we went to sleep there among the thorns and rocks. That night I came close to freezing. Thursday at dawn we started off again but without really knowing where we were going. We dragged ourselves up the mountains all day till dusk. We went to sleep just like the night before. Friday came. About noon, because I couldn't speak, I wrote on a piece of paper to tell my friends that we should get out to get help. They didn't agree, saying there were Turks around. I knew very well that if I stayed there I would die because I had lost so much blood, and I decided to get out. I reached a dirt-road, and I was exhausted. I went on about two hundred metres, and saw some soldiers up on a hill. I didn't know if they were Turks or our own boys but I went on fearlessly. They saw me and called out. I didn't understand what they said, so I put my hands up. They came up to me and told me they were from the 361st Infantry. I showed them my identity card and they took me up the hill. They took me on a donkey to a village, and from there in a car to Nicosia, at 4:00 p.m. on Friday.

[signed] Mclachrinou, Spiros.

The wounded Spiros and the dead Andronikos were first cousins and thus were closely connected, in village kinship terms. But there is another connection between their two situations. The dead boy's comrades, a group of young men who had grown up together with a strong sense of a bond between them as well as of a gap between them and their parents' generation, wished to hide from the Hare and his family the possibility that his son had not been killed by the enemy. The wounded Spiros gave bloodstained bank-notes to his mother for safe keeping. The connection between these events is that for Greeks of all ages it is a compelling idea to give one's life or life's blood in battle for one's native land {dhia tin patridha): pro patria mori, as the Roman poet Horace asserted. The idea of self-sacrifice for one's nation in war has elsewhere a power which it may be hard to imagine for readers who have matured in the thirty-five-year- long peace of Northern Europe.

So far the events of this chapter belong to the category of 'normal warfare', if such a thing exists. But what now follows is a little different, and part of a kind of warfare--- politely called 'irregular'---which most of us would prefer not to contemplate. In English writing about the several centuries of conflict between Greeks and Turks, the term 'irregulars' has a slightly sinister resonance, because it has come to be associated with the indiscriminate killing of civilians. But this is something not unknown in regular armies, so the distinction is hardly clear cut.

In the last chapter, the EOKA B militant called Kajis described how during the six days of the coup he and his fellows dominated Argaki. Here he describes how when the six days of the coup were followed on Saturday 20 July by the Turkish invasion, he went off to join the attack on the Turkish village of Ghaziveran, about twelve miles from Argaki and nowhere near the Kyrenia invasion area:

Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. Akis Karanis woke me up saying, >Wake up, Makarios has sent the Turks to us.' I was still asleep, half-drunk, no, really drunk, and awfully tired. I'd been four or five days without sleep, I don't know, I hardly knew what was going on. I said to my koumparos Akis, 'What=s up?= >Makarios has sent us the Turks and they're attacking in Kyrenia.= I got up, grabbed the guns, got out, took a Landrover and got moving. The fighting-groups were getting together here and there, and a battle was starting at Ghaziveran, so that's where we went.

We took up defensive positions in the first houses. A Vickers gun broke down and we sent it back to be fixed. When we got it back, we let fly . . . takka toukkou takka toukkou. . .

Meanwhile Ghaziveran was silent. The captain wanted us to set fire to some houses, so we did. We chucked petrol on them, and set light to four or five of the first houses. Their muktar called out from inside, >All right. We surrender.' The shooting stopped and they surrendered. As soon as they did so, our battalion commander Photis, a friend of mine, went into the phone-box to relay that the Ghaziveran people had given in. When he'd got through, he came out of the box and someone in a house gave him a bullet here, in the forehead. He never said 'mother'. Then someone else got hit. Bullet through the head. Who's bought it? An Argaki boy.

When he got shot I just went berserk, like a rabid dog. I burst into a house. There were six or seven people inside and a child. I swung the machine-gun and mowed them down. All seven. Afterwards I noticed the child. What harm had it done, you ask? It was Turkish. They'd shot my fellow-villager, they'd shot my captain, so I'd shot them. I had a row with an officer from Nicosia, one of our people, and we nearly killed each other, about why I'd shot them. I said to him, 'Why did I shoot them? I'll tell you. Because it's war. Now, it has to be done in cold blood, you understand? You have to keep your nerve.' Anyway, we took Ghaziveran, they surrendered, we put their young men into a prison-camp near the secondary school. Dawn came and the planes started. Takka toukkou, they bombed Ghaziveran, hit the school and killed a Turkish woman, one or two got killed or wounded, and some others. Our people didn't get wounded. The Turks got wounded from bombs from their own side. How come the Turks bombed Ghaziveran? If they knew our army had gone in, all right, but how come they bombed the school with their women in it? And, as a matter of fact, their soldiers were all there too.

Kajis did not stop there, but went off to the Kyrenia front to fight the Turkish army. His account was full of descriptions of the noises of different weapons being fired and shells exploding, and of narrow escapes. Later, in the second phase of the war, he was in Limassol, in recent years an EOKA town, and now more than ever so, since the men of the coup sought a possible stronghold, in case they should suffer reprisals. It was in Limassol that he heard that Argaki had been taken by the Turkish army, and his response, so he told me, was to go and shoot an elderly Turkish woman. 'And I'd have got one of their hojas [a Turkish Muslim cleric] too, if a UN bugger hadn't stopped me.' Let no one say the UN peace forces can do no good in a war, for there are always numbers of men like Kajis---wandering about, killing promiscuously. I would prefer to believe that the killings were merely Kajis' fantasies (which in itself would be bad enough), but that would be at odds with everything Kajis ever said in the past, and with the fact that both his friends and his enemies warned me early on that he was a killer.

Kajis and his actions were exceptional, but even one Kajis in every village could clearly do a great deal of damage to Greek-Turkish relations; several such men on each side of a mixed village could create enough suffering to destroy any residual trust which might exist in thousands of people around them. Fortunately, there were others who behaved in a very different way. I was given the following account by an Argaki boy, my nephew Hambos Michaelides, who told me of his friendship with a Turkish Cypriot, a relationship which survived both the war and the deeds of men like Kajis. In 1974 Hambos was doing his military service and was posted to the 'Green Line' in Nicosia. This area was so named in 1964 when a British mediator used a green crayon to mark on a map the road which divided the Greek and Turkish cease-fire positions.

Before the war, on the Green Line we talked a lot with the Turks, very often, and we were friends with them, there was no bad blood between us. We knew each other's names and everything, and we chatted all day when we were on sentry duty. The Turkish positions were about twenty metres away from ours. Before the war we were allowed to go as far as the road itself, the Green Line; we were on one side of the road, they were on the other. That was as close as we were allowed to go. To break the monotony we found nothing better to do than to talk to each other. The Turks knew Greek, because they were Cypriot Turks. So we used to talk with them and knew them all by name.

Before the war I'd known all the Turkish soldiers opposite me by name, and where they were all from. I was very great friends with one Turk from Polis Chrysochous village, whose name was Tourchien. We used to walk out together, down into Nicosia for a couple of hours. Just that. He told me all about his family, his dad, what he planned to do later on, all that sort of thing.

The soldiers on both sides were brought meals from time to time, and Hambos started offering Tourchien a little of whatever the Greek Cypriot soldiers had just received. At first Tourchien had been reluctant to be seen accepting food, but had taken to meeting Hambos in an alleyway, out of sight. After the coup d'etat, the district, Kaimakli, became a centre of socialist resistance, and since the National Guard dared not venture into the area, Hambos and his comrades did not receive their normal meals. With only a tin of marmalade between five young men, as the hours went by they started to get rather hungry. Hambos then gave Tourchien money to buy quantities of halloumi-cheese, watermelons and bread for the hungry Greeks, from the Turkish sector. Thus three days passed. Hambos continued:

When the first round of the war finished, Tourchien came looking for me, by my watchtower. He came and called out to the soldiers to see how I was. They told him I'd been slightly wounded and that they'd taken me back to the company's base. Later when I went to another watchtower in the second round, he came along one night at three, and called out. He called my name, and I got up, even though it was three a.m., and answered him, and we asked after each other. "I'm all right', he said. He said he'd be there the next day, and we'd talk again, when it was daytime. He really wanted to know how I was. Later, after the war, there were shortages in the Turkish zone, and they'd give us money to buy things for them. Cigarettes usually. They weren't allowed to buy fags at first, and they tried to give us fags from Turkey in exchange, which they themselves couldn't get used to. Then they wanted brandy, which they couldn't get on their side. We always put the prices up a bit, to make a bit for ourselves as business on the side. Milk for the children, anything that wasn't in good supply over there.

Hambos was twenty in 1974. When the first major killings between Greeks and Turks started, in 1958, he was four. He can have had little real contact with Turkish Cypriots, except for a few elderly people in Argaki. At school he was exposed by Greek nationalist teachers, and by many of the newspapers, to a daily stress on the alleged hostility, unreliability, and antagonism of Turkish Cypriots, a poor prognosis for trust or friendship. Twenty years of such conditions should have produced an entire generation of youngsters who would not be able to live with those of the other community, even if there was a settlement, but Hambos' father, a self-educated man with leftish ideas, had never accepted the Greek nationalist view that the Turks were to blame for everything, and this had influenced his son.

When people live through a dramatic event, they end up with stories they want to tell about it which seem intensely meaningful to them, but which may strike outsiders as bizarre, or even pointless. Perhaps this is why younger generations are so easily bored by the war stories of their elders. An Argaki villager called Yannis Xenofondos was in the reserves, married, a father, and past thirty when he was called to active service. He told me that while he had been under fire, his one thought had been to stop his motor-cycle getting strafed. He kept moving it, but the planes kept coming back. To me, other details were far more interesting---such as how he and his comrades saw their defeat as having been produced by a high-level >betrayal= (a theme which also occurred in the 1922 Asia Minor rout of the Greek army by the Turks, when Greek generals were tried and executed for 'treason'):

There we were, thirsty and hungry. Since the betrayal had been so completely thorough, we couldn't find food or water. There wasn't a Greek army officer anywhere to tell you what to do or what not to do.

Yannis was a strong socialist, completely out of sympathy with the Greek army officers who were nearly all supporters of the Greek military dictatorship, to which he was opposed. The disorganisation in the army must have been extreme, and morale poor, since men were being commanded by officers who had just overthrown their popular, elected government, drawn them into a one-sided war with Turkey, and were still trying to enforce 'military discipline=. This hostility certainly came out in Yannis= account:

There were ten of us. At midday we got about an hour's rest from the planes. About 1:30 they started on us again, and we stayed pinned down till dark . . . All night the machine guns drove us mad. Then this colonel started: we had a colonel who was half crazy, he really didn't know what was going on, but his head was full of ideas about military conduct. A real idiot. >Colonel, sir, colonel sir, let's get out of it', we said. 'No one is leaving', he said, drawing his pistol, >No one= . . . Not long after that, he took off by himself !

After many more adventures, Yannis and his comrades joined up with other retreating, disorganised, hungry, thirsty men, withdrawing until they were clear of the Turkish advance. But after a night's sleep in safety at Kykko Monastery, he found himself in trouble again. The colonel who had disappeared during the rout, now re-appeared

In the morning, the colonel says, >Back to the camp.' 'Hey, brother', we said to him, 'lt*s hardly time for that, with the Turks and all . ..' 'We're going to camp', he says, and goodness knows what else. 'If anyone runs off, I'll shoot him, I'll do this and that . . .= We said to him, 'Why did you get out when you could have been fighting? Last night why didn't you stay with us? Why didn't you stay and tell us how to fight a war, we who haven't any idea of how to do it?' Like me, I went as a soldier in '63, and did one year. Of that year, two months were training, and now I pass for a soldier. What use is a man of 30 who had two months' training in '63?

Nevertheless, Yannis was, however unwillingly and, in his own eyes, amateurishly, a soldier. He nearly got killed, he nearly got captured, and he was wounded when he burned his hands moving ammunition boxes away from a napalm fire. But other men, sometimes civilians, got drawn into the war in less predictable ways. During a lull, Andreas Hassapis, a cook who lived in Argaki, went to find his son, a soldier on the Green Line in Nicosia, to give him some cigarettes and pocket money. He had the misfortune to take a wrong turning, near no-man's land.

I went down to Bairaktaris and went to the trade union medical clinic, next to where the Turks arc, that is, and just opposite our guard-posts. It was a truce that Thursday, 25 July, note, and while I was looking (or my boy, the Turks were observing me. I didn't find any of our people to ask what was going on. Well, in any case, as soon as the Turks saw me the~ said, >Where arc you going?' I was about to turn right around and go back to the clinic, but they would have thrown me to the ground. I put my hands up straightaway. They grabbed hold of me, and took me away. We went to the guardhouse and they said to me, 'What are you looking for?= I say to them, >I=ve got a kid who=s a painter here and I=ve come to see him.' Well, one of them says to me, 'In '63 they killed my seventeen-year-old, so why should we let you go? You're 45, you're not that old.' I say to him, 'What wrong have I done, koumpare, I've got five kids, what wrong have I done you? I came here for other reasons. I wasn't carrying a gun, I'd got my cigarettes only, and a bit of cash I'd brought for the lad/ Well, that's what we were saying when a Turkish Cypriot officer came along, and said to me in Greek, 'Where are you from?' and I say, 'From Argaki, why should I lie to you?' He says, 'I have a colleague who was a fellow student of mine, from Argaki, he's a certain Andrikos who works in the Land Registry Office. He had a surname', he says. I say to him, 'Pipis'. That is, he was trying to catch me out to see if I really was from Argaki. 'Now I'm sure, and I really believe you are from Argaki', he says to me. 'No one will do anything to you', he says to me. 'Get in the car and I'll take you to the United Nations', he says.

Hassapis was unlucky to walk without knowing it into Turkish hands, but was fortunate not to have been shot on the spot by the man who had lost a son in 1963. When he was questioned about where he was from, he was lucky again, because it was chance that his interrogator knew someone from Argaki, someone who could serve as a test of his bona fides. The value of knowing whom one had caught was two-fold. First, the Turkish army would undoubtedly want to know if Greece had started committing troops to the Cypriot war, since, if they did do so, a counter-attack on Turkey through Thrace or elsewhere would be probable. Secondly, the Turkish Cypriots would have feared that their fellows still in Greek-held areas might be held as hostages, and a man from Argaki, where there was a small Turkish population, might be especially valuable in exchange for Argaki Turks.

The patchwork nature of the dispersal of the two ethnic groups throughout the island made many combatants think in terms of hostages, and counter-hostages. Hassapis was interrogated on the Turkish side of the Green Line, in Nicosia; opposite, on the Greek side, was Hambos, the young Argaki conscript who, a few pages back, described his friendship with a Turkish soldier. Some Turks shouted across to him, asking if he knew a sergeant called Hassapis? 'Why?' he countered. They produced the older Hassapis. 'We've got his father', they explained. Hambos was now very anxious, in case the son, the younger Hassapis, should find out that his father was a prisoner, and be driven to 'do something foolish' during the truce, such as open fire on the Turks. Fearing for his friend's sanity, he told his commanding officer what had happened; the latter then contacted various members of the Hassapis family, and made sure that the son was swiftly transferred away from the Green Line before anyone could tell him of his father's fate. Hassapis senior again takes up the story:

They put us inside a car. But instead of taking us to the UN at Mitseri, we went to the Saray Hotel. If we'd gone elsewhere, to the military prison, we would have got beaten up. At the Saray they again interrogated me --- 'What were you looking for?= --- and when they started they took our watches, our money, anything we had. The sergeant said to me, >Don't worry about either your watches or your money', he said, 'as soon as you leave you'll be given it all back'. We were there four days. Four days . . . The Sunday at 5:30 a Turkish warder said to me, 'You're going to be released in a quarter of an hour.' I said to him, 'I hope so.' But it seemed that later came another order from Ankara that the prisoners should go abroad to Adana in Turkey, and some of the men who were already in a truck on their way to being released were stopped, and put back. At 8 [o'clock] I saw that they were hurrying them along three at a time from the prison they were in; they were tying their hands behind their backs like this, and covering their eyes, and I say to the old man from Yerolakkos I'd palled up with, 'It=s Turkey we're headed for.' He says to me, 'You're crazy!' I say to him, 'Straight to Turkey, that's where we're going.' They put us all in a bus and off we went to Kyrenia. Turkey it was!

Hassapis was not the only Argaki man to be taken prisoner to Turkey, there were several others, and later we shall hear from one of them about the experience. Following each of the two periods of fighting, there was a time when many villagers were desperate for news of their soldier sons. After the second round, the soldiers in turn were equally anxious for news of their parents and other relatives, for they knew that the front had come close to Argaki, and later they learned that the village had fallen to the Turks. The most crucial thing which any fellow-villager could do for any other was to give news of the condition and whereabouts of kinsfolk. Yannis, the soldier we last heard from in dispute with his commanding officer about going back to camp, lost his argument, and had to wait some days for news:

September the 4th they let me go. Where's my family? My father-in-law? I didn't know which way to turn to find them. I knew the village had been taken, because we knew where the Turks had advanced. I knew my brother-in-law Andrikos had taken them off in his car. Then I found a fellow-villager, Christakis Pelavas. 'Look,' he said, 'your father-in-law is in Kato Amiandos village, but I don't know if your wife and kids are there too. You go up there and he'll tell you where they are.' I found a car, I was ashamed to get in it because of my clothes, khaki army trousers, all stained and torn, shoes in shreds, almost barefoot, shirt all ripped. We drove along through the forest; it had burned, scorched trees everywhere. A black ruin, black everywhere. Hungry. Thirsty. Finally we got to Amiandos. I found my father-in-law. He said, 'Maroulla is in Livadthia, with my koumparos and the kids are all right.' So I went to Livadthia and found them. I borrowed some clothes, had a bath and stepped out to the coffee shop.

The person who was perhaps hit harder by the war more than anyone else was the village priest, Papa Loizos. On 20 July, when the Turkish invasion started, he was coming out of the church when a villager asked him to baptise his child. The priest then decided to baptise all the newborn children, some twenty in all, since he feared that if they died unbaptised they would not share in eternal life. So he arranged the ceremony, carefully separating the boy babies from the girls, so that should they survive there would be no bar to subsequent marriages between them - for Orthodoxy teaches that baptism creates blood relations, and had these babies been baptised 'at the same font' they would have been as brothers and sisters.

The priest stayed in the village until the war came very close:

After the first round of the invasion I did my best to keep our people calm, and tried not to think about the mountains we could see burning before our eyes. I went on with my work, both the work of my fields and the work of my faith. Until 15 August I performed the liturgies; but by the morning of that day most of the village had gone, so I thought it good that I too leave, along with my father-in-law, the only other person to have stayed.

I could not go to get my parents (who were in another village, closer to the front) because of the aeroplanes, the aeroplanes which were overhead, which would have killed me. When the Turks came on 16 August they entered our village. My mother was cut off, in her house, with an old woman called Mattra.. On the 18th the Turks arrived at my mother's house and she thought it good to close her door so as to stop them coining in. The Turks started shooting from outside and my mother fell dead. My father at this moment was watching from another room, from the sospito (as we say in Cypriot dialect), the inner room. Well, finally, when the Turks had gone, my father said to old Mattra, >I=m going to Argaki to bring my son so we can bury her.= He went to Argaki, as I learned from my fellow-villagers who were then cut off and who today are free. He went to Argaki but I do not know what happened to him, if he turned back or where he went, or if they shot him on the way. He just disappeared. I have taken steps to find him through the Red Cross, not once only but eight and ten times, but there has been no answer. You understand, I simply do not know what happened to him. If he remained unburied or if the Turks buried him, I do not know.

When my father left the old woman Mattra, he said to her, >Wait for me -I'll be back soon.= She stayed there for the rest of the day, but when the old man didn't come back she left and went to her own house, where she stayed inside for three days. Three days she stayed indoors. As we heard later, she had neither food to eat nor water to drink. My brother-in-law heard this from the old woman herself. She had a bucket of water she'd been washing clothes in, which had not yet been thrown away, and she drank that water. After three days the Turks came and raped her. That old woman is ninety years old. It is shameful to say this, but that is what happened; she herself told my brother-in-law. Of course I didn't see this happen myself. But you know they raped women from our village. They raped [an old woman] from our village, as I heard. It grieves me to tell you these things.

So with that in mind I am glad that they shot my mother when they did, so that such a thing did not happen to her. I think God should pour boiling water on them. But I know I should not say such things.

I see my parents as Christian martyrs. They died the death of martyrs for their religion and for their native land.


From Peter Loizos, The Heart Grown Bitter (Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 79-98.

 

copyright Cambridge University Press and reprinted with the permission of Cambridge University Press.