Cypriots woke up today, once more, to the sound of sirens to remind everybody, lest we forget, of that fateful Saturday morning of July 20th, 1974. Today, Saturday, July 20th 2019 marks 45 years since Turkish troops invaded and occupied Cyprus’ northern part.
This East Mediterranean island remains to this day divided, by virtue of the massive presence of Turkey’s military and Ankara’s stronghold on the Turkish Cypriots. Repeated UN-led attempts to reunite the country under a federal roof have so far failed, due to uncompromising positions maintained by the Turkish side, which insists on retaining its right of intervention, its role as a guarantor power and a military presence on the island.
The Turkish invasion of Cyprus came only five days after the coup engineered by the Greek military junta, then ruling Greece, that toppled the democratically elected president of Cyprus, the late Archbishop Makarios III.
Air-raid sirens sounded at 0530 local time (0230 GMT) when the Turkish invasion was launched and Turkish troops landed on the island`s northern shores. Thousands of dead, hundreds of missing, 200,000 became refugees as they fled the advancing Turkish troops, and enclaved Greek Cypriots in Turkish occupied Cyprus.
This morning, a memorial service for army officers and soldiers killed during the invasion took place at Makedonitissa Tomb in Nicosia, in the presence of Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, standing in for President Nicos Anastasiades, Greek National Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos.
A formal church memorial service was held at Faneromeni Church in the old part of Nicosia, attended by Christodoulides and the political leadership.
In the evening an event will take place at the Presidential Palace to mark and condemn both the coup and the Turkish invasion. The Foreign Minister will be the keynote speaker.
Political parties and various associations and organised groups have issued statements, condemning the Turkish invasion and the continuing occupation and reiterating their determination to fight for a just and viable solution.
A brief on events leading up to the Turkish invasion
As a military dictatorship was established in Greece in 1967, relations between Cyprus and Greece became very strained. The junta was meddling with internal politics in Cyprus, much to the dismay of the late President Makarios. The situation culminated on 15 July 1974 when the Athens regime instigated a coup by Greek army officers in Cyprus, seeking to achieve `enosis` – or union with Greece. Makarios was overthrown and fled to Britain and then to New York.
As President Makarios was addressing the UN Security Council on 19th July, he urged the Council to intervene to restore democracy on the island.
Turkey used this and the military coup as a pretext to invade and impose its partitionist designs on Cyprus. On July 20, 1974 claiming to act under article 4 of the Treaty of Guarantee, the Turkish armed forces launched a full-scale invasion against Cyprus.
The Turkish invasion began at 05.30 on the 20th July, with heavily armed troops landing in Kyrenia on the northern coast. Around 40,000 Turkish soldiers took part, equipped with the state of the art military hardware.
A cease-fire was agreed on 23 July. In the absence of Archbishop Makarios, the then-President of the House of Representatives and Greek Cypriot negotiator Glafcos Clerides stepped in as acting president.
On 14th August, after failed talks in Geneva, Turkey launched its second offensive Attila II, occupying Morphou, Famagusta and Karpasia.
Makarios returned to Cyprus in December that year.
Turkish troops occupied one third of the sovereign territory of the Republic and forcibly expelled about 200.000 Greek Cypriots from their homes. Another 20.000 Greek Cypriots, who remained in the occupied areas, were also forced to eventually abandon their homes and seek refuge in the safety of the southern government controlled areas. Today, only 328 Greek Cypriots and 109 Maronites remain enclaved.
More than three thousand people were killed during the war and a total of 846 Greek Cypriots are still missing and 271 Turkish Cypriots missing since the intercommunal strife of 1963-1964.