Operation Atilla & the Atrocities Against the Turkish Cypriots

Many people are often unaware of the horrific atrocities committed against the Turkish Cypriot people during Turkey’s intervention in 1974. It has become common for many outsiders of the Cyprus issue to state “Turkey invaded” and that’s it, however, many are unaware of the reasons why Turkey had to intervene as well as the tragic events that occurred in some Turkish Cypriot villages. This article will breakdown the legal and necessary Cyprus Peace Operation as well as some of the awful actions that were carried out against the Turkish Cypriot community.

Turkish poster featuring Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktaş & Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit

The Cyprus Peace Operation

The Cyprus Peace Operation carried out by Turkey in July and August 1974 had two phases:

  1. Phase 1: 20th – 22nd July
  2. Phase 2: 14th – 16th August

Phase 1 was initiated as a direct response to Greece and EOKA-B’s illegal takeover of the Cyprus government whilst phase 2 was completed to ensure the safety and survival of all Cypriots on the island. The military coup carried out by the Greek junta, Nicos Sampson and the Cyprus National Guard had begun on the 15th July with their ultimate aim being the union of Cyprus and Greece (enosis). By the 20th July, the coupists had gained full control of the Nicosia airport, the Presidential palace, the telecommunications centre and all Greek Cypriot radio stations, as well as encircling all Turkish Cypriot enclaves across the island. Greek Cypriots who opposed EOKA-B were also held captive alongside Turkish Cypriots. When Turkey intervened on the 20th July, they did this legally by invoking their 1960 Guarantor Rights signed during the Zurich and London agreements. The Council of Europe even supported the legality of the first wave of the Turkish intervention due to Article 4 of the Guarantee Treaty of 1960. This treaty specifically states that Turkey, Greece, or the United Kingdom are allowed to “unilaterally intervene militarily in failure of a multilateral response to crisis in Cyprus”. Furthermore, The Court of Appeal in Athens further stated in 1979 that the first wave of the Turkish invasion was legal and that “The real culprits… are the Greek officers who engineered and staged a coup and prepared the conditions for the invasion”. 

Turkish troops landing in Cyprus

The United Nations called for a ceasefire on the 22nd July after Turkish troops had occupied 3% of Cyprus territory. This ended phase 1 of the operation. Turkish forces had gained control of a narrow path between Kyrenia and Nicosia (Girne and Lefkoşa). However, the rest of the island was still under the control of the Cyprus National Guard, Greek officials and fascist EOKA-B militants. 14,000 Turkish Cypriots were trapped in Famagusta and 10,000 were trapped in Limassol which was on the other side of the island. Despite the thousands of Turkish Cypriots trapped in their villages and within prison camps, Turkey decided to try and solve the Cyprus issue peacefully and diplomatically at the Geneva talks between 25th – 30th July and then again on the 14th August 1974. These talks solved nothing and as each day passed, the more endangered the Turkish Cypriots became.

Phase 2 was then initiated after the Greek Cypriot acting president, Glafcos Clerides, had asked for an additional 36-48 hours to consult with Athens over the Cyprus situation. 23 days had now passed since the ceasefire was issued and the peace talks still achieved nothing. Turkish Cypriots and innocent Greek Cypriots had now been trapped within enclaves, prison camps and villages for over 3 weeks. Time was of the essence and Turkey had decided enough was enough. On the 14th August, Turkey continued on with the second phase of their intervention in order to save the remaining Cypriots trapped across the island. Once the Turkish forces had reached the Green Line, the United Nations called for another ceasefire which ended the Turkish advancement.

Turkish forces liberating trapped Turkish Cypriots

In 1975, a population exchange was carried out where Turkish Cypriots from the south could enter the north, and Greek Cypriots from the north could enter the south. This exchange was completed by the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. Despite restoring peace to the island after Greece’s illegal military coup, the Turkish intervention had caused thousands of people to become displaced. Nearly 200,000 Greek Cypriots and over 50,000 Turkish Cypriots had to leave their homes as a result. This is why the majority of Greek Cypriots will forever view the Cyprus Peace Operation as an “invasion”, whilst the Turkish Cypriots who were saved from decades of racial oppression see the operation as an “intervention”. 

After the conflict died down, horrifying atrocities of the Cyprus war were soon revealed. In several villages across the island, innocent Turkish Cypriot men, women and children had been massacred by EOKA-B soldiers in response to phase 2 of Turkey’s intervention. These massacres took place Tochni (Taskent), Zygi (Terazi), Maratha (Murataga), Santalaris (Sandallar) & Aloda (Atlılar). 

Tochni (Taşkent) & Zygi (Terazi) Massacre

On the 14th August 1974, EOKA-B soldiers rounded up all the men and boys from the villages of Tochni and Zygi and kept them hostage in a primary school overnight. Once it was morning, all men were forced to board a bus. They were told they would be taken to a prison camp, just like the thousands of other Turkish Cypriot men across the island.

However, the bus instead took the 85 Turkish Cypriot men and boys to the village of Palodia where they were then lined up and gunned down by machine guns. Bulldozers were later used to create a makeshift mass grave and hide the bodies before Turkish or UNFICYP forces could discover them.

The youngest victim to be murdered was a 12-year-old boy. 

There was only one survivor out of the 85 Turkish Cypriot men taken from Tochni and Zygi – Suat Hussein Kafadar. Kafadar was badly wounded but had survived by playing dead and hiding under the bodies of his fellow villagers. He lost his 17-year-old brother as well as his father, uncle and cousin in the same massacre. Kafadar stated in an interview that the EOKA-B militants fired at them for 10 minutes straight. The Turkish Cypriot man spent a whole day and night by this execution sight, eventually escaping to the nearby British base of Episkopi. He was then able to reveal some of the EOKA-B perpetrators and still lives to tell the story today.

Kafadar also mentioned in an interview that a Greek military officer with 3 stars spoke with them during the night and reassured them that they would not get hurt – “My friend, don’t be afraid. Today you are prisoners, tomorrow we will be yours. In the army, nobody abuses captives” …the next day 84 of his fellow villagers were slaughtered.

Tochni/Taşkent Şehitliği

Muratağa, Sandallar & Atlılar Massacre

On the 15th August 1974, 89 Turkish Cypriot civilians were massacred from the villages of Muratağa and Sandallar. A further 37 Turkish Cypriot also were murdered from Atlılar. 126 Turkish Cypriot men, women and children were slaughtered in total. 

Mehmet Hasan Tavukcu – pictured by the mass grave of Muratağa. Tavukcu lost 7 relatives in this massacre – his wife, three children, sister-in-law, mother-in-law and father-in-law

The youngest to be killed was a 16-day old baby, and the oldest killed was a 95-year-old man. This tragic story is as follows…

On the 20th July 1974, EOKA-B soldiers arrested all the men in the three villages and took them to a prison camp in Limassol, leaving just the elderly, women and children behind. The EOKA-B men from the neighboring village of Peristeronopigi then came into the villages and setup a coffeehouse to keep guard over the remaining Turkish Cypriots.

When drunk, they would fire shots in the air to scare the Turkish Cypriot hostages. They then proceeded to rape the women and young girls of the villages. This became a regular occurrence between the 20th July – 14th August with the young boys even being raped as well.

When Turkey initiated the second phase of their intervention, the EOKA-B soldiers made sure there were no eyewitnesses remaining. 

On the 15th August, the EOKA-B men massacred the remaining Turkish Cypriots. From babies and toddlers, to 90-year-old men, the Greek Cypriot soldiers aim was to spare no-one. Luckily, 3 managed to escape from Atlılar as well as 6 from Muratağa. It is thanks to these survivors as well as the testimonials cited by Sevgül Uludağ, that we know of these horrific events.

On the 1st September 1974, a shepherd noticed a hand sticking out the ground close to the three villages which revealed the location of the mass grave. He then alerted the UN peacekeeping force. 

  • Associated Press (AP) described the corpses as “so battered and decomposed that they crumbled to pieces when soldiers lifted them from the garbage with shovels” 
  • Milliyet reported that parts of the bodies had been chopped off and sharp tools, as well as machine guns being used in the massacre
  • Greek Cypriot writer and researcher Tony Angastiniotis, at least one of the attackers used a mainland Greek accent, which suggested that he was a Greek officer

The massacre was also reported by international media, including The Guardian, The Times, The Sun, AP, France Soir, The Gazette and Expressen. 

The discovery of the Muratağa, Sandallar & Atlılar mass graves