On the Scene in Cyprus
MY HOME is in a small village on the north coast of Cyprus. Just a mile and a half away is the picturesque resort town of Kyrenia. On a clear day we can see the Turkish mainland across the Mediterranean Sea some forty miles away.
Although I am English, I have spent many years in Cyprus, having first come here in 1948. When Cypriots were fighting for their independence in the 1950’s, dangerous situations were faced. But nothing to compare to recent events.
Ringside Seat to Invasion
When I arose at 4:30 Saturday morning, July 20, I looked out toward the Turkish coast. Due to political developments since Monday, we anticipated war. But nothing seemed unusual. This soon changed.
At 5 a.m. an airplane flew in low. The earth shook as bombs dropped. We turned on the radio and a Turkish station told us that the invasion was on.
My companion and I had a ringside view. Turkish warships were bombarding the coastal area. Planes swept in, forcing us to the floor as the house shuddered from the bombs.
Fortunately, the main target of the invasion was not our bit of coastline but to the west of Kyrenia. However, the Greek Cypriot camp a little way up the road from our house did come in for attention. When planes strafed it we again dove to the floor. As we got up this time we saw columns of smoke rise from the camp.
The air was now filled with aircraft. We looked up and saw the first of many waves of helicopters bringing troops and equipment, to be dropped just behind the more than 3,000-foot-high Kyrenia mountain range, which forms a backdrop to Kyrenia and the neighboring villages. The capital, Nicosia, is only a few miles on the other side of the mountains. At least fifty helicopters were in the air at a time, and after they dropped their cargo they headed back to sea.
That night, as danger threatened, many of our neighbors congregated at our house, bringing their bedding with them. We comforted mothers who feared for their soldier sons. Electricity had been cut off, and we dared not light even a candle.
Together we witnessed one of the most intense battles of the invasion. Turks and Greeks fought for the road to the capital, which lay right before us in the mountain. Bullets glowed red as they streaked relentlessly from mountaintop to mountaintop on either side of the pass. The mountainside, dry from the summer heat, was soon set aflame. Eventually the mountains glowed like furnaces fanned by a midnight breeze.
Dawn saw helicopters bringing fresh waves of Turkish reinforcements. This was the day for our regular Bible study using as an aid the Watchtower magazine. Though the earth was shaking as ships at sea bombarded the area, we began our study. Amazingly, during our study the bombardment ceased, only to begin again after our final prayer.
As night approached, we wondered what it would bring. We soon knew. At 7 p.m. word reached our village that Kyrenia was now in Turkish hands and that troops were advancing in our direction. There was some panic as women and children cried in despair. Lorries began taking inhabitants to a safer area. My companion and I grabbed a blanket, a container of water and remains of a chicken left over from lunch, and made our way to a village on the side of the mountain.
It was quiet. All but a few armed inhabitants had fled. My companion had an uncle here, but surely he must have left too, we thought. What a surprise when their door opened, and his uncle, aunt, two daughters and son all welcomed us, and implored that we stay with them for the night! They were the only family in the village who had decided to return home after spending the previous night with thousands of others out in the open.
We decided to sleep on the flat roof, since the summer heat had made it so hot inside. With the heavens lit up from forest fires, we passed a restless night. There was sporadic gunfire, and a pall of dense smoke covered the area.
The following day seemed quiet compared to Saturday and Sunday. So we decided to try to return home to collect some clothes. As we approached our village, three cars approached from Kyrenia and headed for the beach, where British helicopters were picking up stranded tourists.
The driver of the first car informed us that Turkish tanks were already in our village. So we decided to return to the home of my friend’s uncle. But we changed our minds when a policeman we met told us that the Turkish soldiers in our village had not interfered with anyone. Arriving home, we found everything intact. In fact, we did not see a single Turkish soldier. However, it was not long before we did.
Why had they invaded? What political turmoil had prompted this tremendous tragedy?
Political unrest had been brewing in Cyprus, and things came to a head just a few days before. Cypriot President Makarios, who is also an archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church, for some time had feared that enemies were planning his overthrow. The violent coup erupted in Nicosia on Monday, July 15.
It was 7:30 a.m., a friend in Nicosia told me, when he heard shots. Then cannon and mortar shells began exploding in the area of the presidential palace. On the radio it was announced that the National Guard had intervened to free the Cypriot people.
At about 10 a.m. it was reported that President Makarios had been killed. Actually, he had escaped from the palace to his native home of Paphos on another part of the island. From there he broadcast, encouraging the people to fight back. Then he reportedly was carried by helicopter to a British base, and from there was taken to England.
The coup lasted two days and the National Guard took control of all the Greek area of Cyprus. Quickly hospitals filled with wounded. The death toll was high, exceeding 2,000 for the two days, according to one estimate.
Religion and the Coup
Last year Makarios had removed from office and unfrocked three bishops, the bishops of Paphos, Larnaca and Kyrenia, and appointed four other bishops in their stead. Now the three former bishops returned, one of them swearing in the new president, Nikos Sampson. Apparently these three bishops were behind the arrest and imprisonment of the Makarios-appointed bishops. In fact, Sampson said that one of the purposes of his government was to purge the church.
Religion was obviously deeply involved in the coup. Witnesses reported seeing anti-Makarios priests, weapons in hands, taking part in the killing, and even in directing the fighting. The Kykkos Monastery is riddled with the bullets of members of the National Guard who fought against pro-Makarios soldiers and priests there.
Precipitating the Invasion
The political coup set the stage for the invasion. How so?
Well, Cyprus is a small island with separate communities. It has a majority population of some 520,000 Greek Cypriots, and a minority of about 120,000 Turkish Cypriots, with frequent trouble between them. Now Rauf Denktas, leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, refused to recognize the presidency of Sampson. He openly called for Britain and Turkey to oppose him.
Turkey responded with an overwhelming invasion force in behalf of the Turkish minority on Cyprus. Quickly the Turks were in control, at least in our area around Kyrenia.
Encounters with Turkish Military
As I mentioned, we returned to our home outside Kyrenia on Monday and saw no Turkish soldiers. The following day, however, six of them came to the house. I was not so worried for myself, since I am English, but I was concerned for my companion who is a Greek Cypriot. With a gun pointing directly at me, I explained with gestures and a few Turkish words that this was an English home. They finally uttered the word “cigarette.” But I could not oblige them, and they left.
A week passed and we had little news of what was going on. We had no bread, but our neighbors had fled and there were plenty of eggs from their chickens, which we cared for. There were also tomatoes, cucumbers and melons in abundance. Although the water supply stopped, we still had a tank full.
We were finally informed that we could visit Kyrenia. Our particular concern was for fellow witnesses of Jehovah. Would any still be there? The town was dead. But to our delight we found a family of seven Witnesses at home. How glad we all were to see one another again! Tears rolled down our faces as we embraced. We spent the day together, and then returned home.
The following morning we went to see them again. After discussing the day’s Bible text, we sat out on the veranda because of the heat. Soon three Turkish soldiers approached us. I asked if they spoke English. One knew a little. I told him I was English. As I went for my passport, his gun followed me. Another took out his pistol. They asked who we all were and if we had seen any soldiers.
Then two Turkish Cypriots who knew the family passed in the street. The man’s wife called to them, asking them to explain to the Turkish soldiers who we were. After some very tense moments the soldiers left, telling us to stay inside.
At midday neighbors came running, appealing for me to try to do something to help them since I was English. Could I reach the hotel where the United Nations and Red Cross were protecting some 650 persons?
My companion and I agreed to try. We reached the hotel, which was ringed by U.N. forces, and I was escorted to the head of the U.N. force, who said that he would do what he could to help. However, he said it would not be safe for my Greek companion to leave the protection of the hotel.
Eventually we set off in a Red Cross car and van to pick up the people. We made it there, and hurriedly packed in twenty-six persons. We knew we had no time to spare. We made a dash for the hotel, and made it safely. How thankful we all were! I stayed at the hotel too, since it did not seem safe to return home alone.
While at the hotel we kept strong spiritually by discussing together the day’s Bible text taken from the Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Also, we had many opportunities to talk to the people at the hotel about our hope in God’s kingdom. (Matt. 6:9, 10; Dan. 2:44; Rev. 21:3, 4) Some were impressed, and would mention how Jehovah’s witnesses from Kyrenia were offering aid to persons undergoing the most difficult times in their lives.
Horrors of War
After several days at the hotel, thirty of us were offered safe conduct to Nicosia. Under heavy guard we left. Kyrenia’s happy tourist-filled streets were now dead. Destroyed property was all around us. And there was the stench of rotting food.
The battles for the road to Nicosia were clearly evident. Houses of rich residents were destroyed or, if standing, had been looted. The mountainside was a blackened ruin.
My companions on the bus ride had their own stories to tell. There was the English lady with her little boy. Her husband had been shot, and she had been forced to leave him and run for days in the mountains. She had believed he was dead, but recently learned that a U.N. patrol had picked him up and that he had been sent to England, where he was recovering. Many others were not so fortunate.
We eventually arrived at the boundary that separates the Turkish and Greek communities in Nicosia. We left the bus, and made the last 200 yards on foot to the hotel. I called friends at the branch office of Jehovah’s witnesses, and in minutes they picked me up.
A cease-fire had been in effect for over two weeks when, on August 14, full-scale fighting again erupted. The Turks started bombing Nicosia at about 4:45 that Wednesday morning. Their army pushed on toward Famagusta in one direction, and Lefko in another. By Friday they had achieved their goal, and declared a unilateral truce. The upper third or so of the island was in their hands.
More than a third of the island’s people had been turned into refugees. Entire villages were empty. There had been fourteen congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses in Cyprus, but the 266 Witnesses in the congregations in Kyrenia, Famagusta, Morphou and Trachona in Nicosia have lost everything, including their Kingdom Halls. It was necessary also to abandon the branch office. However, we are grateful, according to the information we have at present, that not one Witness has lost his life.
War, indeed, is horrible, as hundreds of thousands of Cypriots have learned in a personal way. What a blessing it will be when, in fulfillment of God’s promise, never again will man learn war. (Isa. 2:4)—Contributed.
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