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Part IV: The Turkish Invasion of Cyprus in 1974: The Cypriot Citizenry Victim to Larger, More Powerful Forces
What is interesting about Mr. Huseyin is that, although he spends time describing his life during the invasion and the immediate consequences of it-losing his mother and siblings-he spends more time discussing with the interviewer his opinions of G.C. and T.C. responsibilities during the invasion and G.C. and T.C. responsibilities to lead the cause for inter-communal talks for a united Cyprus. In regards to what might have caused the invasion in the first place and the breakdown of inter-communal cooperation between G.C. and T.C., Mr. Huseyin says, “But I also say that we Cypriots couldn’t find a way to protect ourselves, to protect our neighbors against any fanatical movements. Any irrelevant ideologies, TMT in Turkish side, EOKA B particularly in South, has influenced community lives. And unfortunately they reached their aim and divided the island.”26 This is an incredibly powerful statement from Mr. Huseyin, and it is the belief of this project that his opinion and sentiment about the issue, is the general opinion and sentiment of many G.C. and T.C. today, especially those who are alive and remember the invasion. Countless times I have heard my uncles and aunts, my mother and father, their parents and siblings place blame on the establishment in Cyprus for causing the invasion, rather than place the blame on G.C. and T.C. villagers. The fault, according to Mr. Huseyin and opinions I have heard from relatives, lies with organizations like TMT-a nationalist Turkish group-and EOKA B. Mr. Huseyin even makes the claim that Cyprus suffered in the manner in which it did because Cypriots did not have the weapons to fight the ideologies of extremist groups.
Mr. Huseyin concludes his interview by stating:
Well….you know how we set up an initiative, bicommunal initiative, missing people, those weekends of war in 1963, ’74. And we found out that our pain is common. And unless we share our pain, it will not relieve. So we are visiting places, we are visiting villages, schools, in an effort to make people understand history, that no one is innocent on this island. Or, that it is not possible to blame Greeks or Turkish Cypriots or Turkish side only. We are all our parents, older generation, responsible for what happened in those ways. You see, still it’s amazing that students you meet in schools do not believe you when you tell them, my family was massacred in Maratha by Greek Cypriots. They cannot believe it. Why? Because they have been taught that Greeks are pure, innocent nation that cannot do….and also Turkish Cypriot student son north side, [laughs] at that time after 30, 40 years, clashes in ’74, there are still people that cannot believe Greek Cypriots or Turkish Cypriots committed those crimes. So we still have a very long path, very long way to go.27
Although his English is far from perfect, his message is not lost. What Mr. Huseyin expresses is the notion that Cyprus, although divided as a consequence of the invasion, suffered and continues to suffer in unison. Both G.C. and T.C. alike suffered very similar fates. He believes that they must take the initiative to contact one another and speak with one another about their suffering in order to find a common ground. He believes that only through such means can Cypriots live in a real peace, a peace that does not have to see the Cyprus divided into two sides. He believes that changing the way the invasion is taught in schools is important because Cypriot Children from both sides are learning about it in a completely one-sided manner. This is why G.C. children find it hard to believe that T.C., like members of Mr. Huseyin’s family, were killed during the invasion. Naturally, they know all of the numbers concerning G.C. deaths, but they are rarely taught about those killed on the other side. Before I began this project, I was one of those people. I began this project with my own biases and beliefs that fell along the lines of T.C. were mainly to blame for the conflict and G.C. lost more people during the invasion than T.C. I was completely unaware of G.C. nationalist organization like EOKA B mass murdering innocent T.C. villagers. If there is one thing I hope to achieve by completing this project, it is to help educate both G.C. and T.C. about the conflict so that they can finally put an end to blaming each other and sit down together to work cooperatively like we used to.
A second interviewee that describes her experiences during the invasion is a woman named Fatma Azgin from Nicosia, the capital city of Cyprus. Born in 1947, Mrs. Azgin was old enough to remember the events that occurred during the invasion, and more importantly, she was old enough to feel a certain way about them and to think about them critically. She mentions early on in her interview of the conflicts that arose during the 1950s between EOKA B and Turkish nationalist forces in Nicosia. Nicosia, being the capital city, was, apparently, a powder-keg of emotions and nationalistic pride between G.C. and T.C. who were involved in politics. Therefore, she states that, “Most people think, like other countries, other towns, Nicosia divided after 1974, but Nicosia was divided before.”28 This is the first time we are given an account where a mixed city was divided by political strife. Regardless, she remembers when she and her family lived in a small village near Nicosia called Matiatis, a predominantly T.C. village where, according to Mrs. Azgin, “Matiatis majority was Turkish Cypriot so Greek Cypriots learn Turkish, it was vice versa.”29 This is drastically different than the other experiences we encountered from previous interviewees about living in mixed villages. In Matiatis, G.C., being the minority ethnic group, learned to speak Turkish. She says this in reference to a G.C. woman who was her neighbor and looked after her. They were good friends, and after the border dividing Cyprus was open, she was one of the first people she travelled to see.
Mrs. Azgin was, therefore, not a Turkish nationalist who favored the Turkish side over the Greek side. To this day, she believes that Cypriots were under the influence of outside forces that mislead them to believe that they were natural enemies with one another. Her attachment to G.C. can be observed throughout her unchanging narrative about them from the 1950s until the present. Two days before the invasion occurred, Mrs. Azgin remembers travelling to the Greek side of Nicosia where she met up with some of her G.C. acquaintances who said to her, “And they were saying don’t be afraid Fatma, but there was a very cold air outside, it was hot, something wrong. Kypros was helping me carry … I bought many cosmetics. I say, Kypros, if something is happening to me what should I do? He said I’ll save you. Don’t worry.”30 The man she was talking to named Kypros, although a G.C. himself, reassured his T.C. friend that if something were to happen to her, he would help her. As the invasion occurred two days later, Mrs. Azgin says:
Ah. So, of course there were some negotiations to start after it was a heavy fighting of course. We were in the…we had a basement in my mother’s house. And all the neighbors came, in the basement, we had kitchen – so we had water, we had everything. We had food. So all the neighbors came and we stayed there, you know. Especially 3 nights it was big fighting.31
This implies that both G.C. and T.C. hid in her families basement as the fighting above ground raged on. How can this be possible? This can only be possible if neither the G.C. nor the T.C. held nationalistic views. This, again, implies that fighting and violence were limited to those involved in nationalistic politics and nationalistic fighting forces.
As the invasion proceeded and the fighting escalated between the two sides, fighting forces began removing G.C. and T.C. from their villages. In some cases they were held as hostages and killed. In most cases, however, many of them were placed in camps where they were to be transferred to either the north or south of the island, depending on ethnicity-Greeks to the south and Turks to the north. About this process, Mrs. Azgin offers us two sides. While her brothers were in Limassol in southern Cyprus, Mrs. Azgin says, “The pity thing is that my 2 brothers were in Limassol. And they took them to a stadium all the men, children…”32 It is to be assumed that her brothers were taken captive by G.C. national forces. Luckily those taken captive, including her brothers, were secured by UN forces in Cyprus and transported to the north. Still safe in the Turkish side of Nicosia Mrs. Azgin witnessed the rounding up of G.C. to be transferred to the south. She remembers, “Of course I was seeing the Greek Cypriots, they collect them because …not refugee, they collected them because Greek Cypriots were…and they were taking them to a camp near the pharmacy and I was seeing people cross in a big bus. Open bus. It was so…terrible thing.”33 It was a “terrible thing” she states, not because she witnessed the forced removal of people from their homes but because she witnessed the forced removal of people she had befriended. They were more than just strangers to her, especially since she conducted business with them all throughout her life. They were friends, patrons, and neighbors.