Part V: The Turkish Invasion of Cyprus in 1974: The Cypriot Citizenry Victim to Larger, More Powerful Forces
What endears Mrs. Azgin to my project is her attitude about the conflict and invasion in Cyprus and her belief that many of Cyprus’s issues stem from political differences and that the average Cypriot is not to blame. In regards to the invasion, Mrs. Azgin states, “I understood that politicians, rulers, it depends to them. They give the order to fighting, If they want, they can stop. People are innocent. People live together. And now you see, there was a big…nefret [28:21] hate because of this war.”34 Nefret, in Turkish, means hate. She avoids blaming the G.C or T.C. side by generalizing all politicians concerned in the invasion. She understood that it was political ideologies that offered the context, the medium, for the invasion and previous conflicts to occur. Peasant farmers could not have caused a conflict like this; neither could have middle class business owners. Cyprus’s issues, like Mrs. Azgin states, are politically based.
What drew me most to her testimony is her belief in a Cypriot culture. She says in her interview that because of the war, Greek nationals pushed “Greek-ness”35 on Greeks and Turkish nationals pushed “Turkish-ness”36 on Turks. It tore her apart that Cypriots were forced from their homes, their families, their friends, and their culture all for the sake of war and a divided Cyprus. One of the questions I proposed earlier asked if there were any cultural ties exclusive to Cyprus that took precedence over cultural ties to Greece and Turkey. Mrs. Azgin steadfastly believes that there was and still is one today. She refers to G.C. and T.C. as Cypriots and believes that “our culture is not fighting.”37 By forcefully moving people from their homes and villages, she states that national forces changed the culture of Cyprus, a culture that was not entirely Greek nor was it entirely Turkish; it was an amalgamation of the two; it was exclusively Cypriot.
The final interview that this project will use and analyze comes from a G.C. man named Solonas Antartis, born in 1970 in Nicosia. His family was from Omorphita which is on the northern side of Nicosia, now a part of the Turkish Republic of Cyprus. Mr. Antartis is unlike any of the interviewees thus far because he witnessed, at only four years old, a bombing that occurred as he, his mother, grandmother, and brother attempted to escape Omorphita for Alona, a village in the heart of southern Cyprus; they had a family friend there who could offer them shelter. About what he saw he says, “One of the most intense memories I have from the war was when we were travelling towards the mountains and I saw airplanes bombing a location to the right of us. I remember the dips of the airplanes.”39 At his young age, he remembers how what he was witnessing was not quite real. It was almost as if it was a dream, he says. Although he does not remember much else from the event, it is important to mention that the fighting he witnessed was between G.C. and T.C. forces. It was T.C. fighter jets that conducted the bombing on a G.C. military base. The purpose of expounding upon what he saw is to bring to light the fact that the majority of the fighting occurred between military forces and national forces and not the average citizen.
As stated before Mr. Antartis experience during the invasion was rather different than the ones of the others used in the project. Most of this stems from his young age and from the fact that the adults around him attempted to shelter him from the any news of the fighting that occurred. About his time spent as a refugee he says, “they were nice memories of me playing in the fields with the goats.”40 His memory elicits a humorous picture of a young G.C. child playing with animals, but it is telling in that it means some lucky Cypriots were fortunate to escape many of the miseries that accompany such times.
He did, however, suffer for some time as one of his uncles, who participated in a battle, went missing. One of the most powerful and emotional parts of his interview is when he describes the chaos and collected sense of agony and suffering he experienced as he and his family attempted to find his uncle in a crowd of returning prisoners of war. About this he says “The primary feeling I had was one of immense stress…the families around us were basically paranoid and had gone insane.”41 He describes a chaotic endeavor to find his lost uncle in an atmosphere of pure pain and anxiety and suffering. The people went individually or together with other family members to find lost loved ones, but they collectively suffered through the angst of never seeing them again. They initially lost their homes. Now they had lost their loved ones. The Cyprus that they once knew was gone.
Mr. Antartis draws us into his world as a refugee living near makeshift camps for G.C. refugees. He and his family were also refugees, but his father was lucky to secure a temporary residence for them in a small house owned by another woman. He remembers about the refugee camps, “I remember characteristically that they were packed with shacks. They were makeshift refugee camps constructed with whatever one can imagine with: wood, metal plates, cardboard…”42 His experience of the invasion was mainly as stated; he was a young boy when it occurred and experienced it through the eyes of a child. Rather than thinking critically about what he saw, he responded to the emotions of those around him, namely fear and anxiety, but he did not lose out on the meaning of what he experienced, especially as he considers it in retrospect. Up to this point in his interview, he does not mention T.C. citizens, but he does delve into collective human suffering quite a bit. It is in the opinion of this project that Mr. Antartis is sympathetic to the suffering of Cypriots-both G.C. and T.C.-due to the fact that he suffered along with them.
Mr. Antartis ends his interview with an intense and opinionated monologue about his socialist views and how he blames the political structure of imperialist countries for the invasion of 1974. He seems to fault the Turkish military structure the most as being the instigator of the invasion. What he says about collective blame about the invasion is interesting because he blames the English and TMT for forcefully separating G.C. and T.C. from mixed villages and cities but says, “I cannot find collective blame on the G.C. side.”43 We know this to be untrue according to what happened to Mrs. Azgina’s brothers who were captured and taken to a stadium by G.C. forces. What is of relevance to this paper is when he states that, “The thing that the president does is obscene to dispense collective blame. Not even the criminals of World War II were collectively blamed. Those who were at fault were tried and sentenced and the line of administration did not contain the German people.”44 In other words, Mr. Antartis finds it sickening that modern politicians attempt to dispense collective blame amongst the Cypriot people-both G.C. and T.C. He does not believe that they should be blamed for what occurred. In that regard, his opinion is very similar to the opinions of the other interviewees in my project: the establishment in Cyprus is solely to blame for the conflicts that occurred in Cyprus after World War II and up to the invasion in 1974. The Cypriot people-both T.C. and G.C.-were nothing more than pawns in a larger scheme that involved outside influences and domestic national threats in the form of EOKA B and TMT.
Do you believe that a united Cyprus would provide a better life for both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot citizens?
From its inception as a country, Cyprus has always been a contested battleground between larger forces. From the Greeks, English, French, Byzantines, Romans, and Ottomans, the people of Cyprus have suffered collectively through many regimes and have witnessed the coming and going of those who have almost always had little regard for the Cypriot culture. Most of the events before the invasion and leading up to it can be attributed to the political bodies of foreign countries-Greece, England, the United States of America, and Turkey-who attempted to overcome each other’s agenda and to propagate their own. The people of Cyprus were simply pawns to be moved around in attempts to checkmate an opponent. Through the joint work of IKME and BILIBAN and through the work of the Cyprus Oral History & Living Memory Project, the voices of the average Cypriot, for the first time, ring louder than the books and agendas of those foreign forces. They helped to answer questions such as: were animosities expressed between Cypriots living in mixed villages? In some cases that may be true, especially in the larger cities, but we have listened to voices of Cypriots who would answer that question with an emphatic “no!” They helped to answer whether or not G.C. and T.C. felt as though there was an exclusive Cypriot culture before the invasion. Mrs. Azgin laments the loss of Cypriot culture to outside forces pushing “Greek-ness” and “Turkish-ness” upon Cypriot people. Lastly, they helped to answer the question: Was there any support for a Cypriot community where cultural ties to Greece and Turkey were not as important as the mixed culture that was created in mixed communities? The answer to that question is an emphatic “yes!” Through the experiences of the interviewees used in this project, from the experiences of my mother and her family, from my own experiences, and from the efforts of organizations like IKME and BILIBAN and the people who conducted the Cyprus Oral History & Living Memory Project, there is a real and palpable Cypriot culture, one that many Cypriots from both sides would like to return to.