The Outbreak of Communal Strife, 1958

The violence between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots had been sporadic and to some extent unsystematical until 1958. EOKA was targeting a few village leaders, and some leftists and policemen who were Turkish Cypriots were also murdered. But inter-communal violence as an intentional ploy did not really begin until June 1958. Below is British journalist Nancy Crawshaw=s rendition of it, from her book, The Cyprus Revolt.

On the night of 7 June shortly after 10 p.m. a bomb explosion outside the Turkish Press Office in Nicosia set off the worst outbreak of racial strife which the island had seen since British rule. The explosion served as a time signal and an excuse for Turkish rioters to invade the Greek sector of the old town. The Greeks sounded the alarm by pealing the church bells; in the violent clashes which took place, two Greeks were killed and much Greek property was ransacked or destroyed by fire. Shortly before midnight the troops were called out to assist the police to restore order and to man the 'Mason-Dixon' Line, the rough boundary separating the Greek and Turkish sectors. The Old City was placed under curfew but the fighting went on until 3 a.m. The original explosion did little material damage. And circumstantial evidence strongly pointed to the fact that the bomb was of Turkish origin. This, however, did not deter Turkey from making a formal protest to Britain the next day alleging that the Cyprus administration had failed to give the Turkish minority adequate protection.

The crisis reached a climax on 12 June when eight Greeks were massacred in a cornfield near the Turkish village of Geunyeli. Communal feeling had been running high in the neighbouring villages. The day before the massacre Police Sergeant Gill, who was responsible for the area, found Greek and Turkish villagers at Skylloura standing around armed with sticks and stones. The Turks were greatly alarmed, fearing an imminent attack by the Greeks. Close to the village, on the road to Philia, the sergeant found nearly two hundred Greeks crouching in the dried-up bed of a stream. The men, who mostly came from Philia, carried clubs, knives and pitchforks amongst other weapons. About fifty of them were able to escape before the arrival of a military patrol which enabled the police sergeant to arrest and disarm the remainder. The offenders were later released. Several hours later, in the small hours of the morning, Sergeant Gill returned to Skylloura where two Turks informed him that the Greeks were about to attack the Turkish community at Aghios Vasilios. As he approached the village he saw two buses turn round and make off in the direction of Mammari. The patrol which pursued them eventually rounded up five vehicles carrying a total of 250 Greeks. The men were disarmed and made to walk back to Mammari.

On the afternoon of 12 June Turks reported to Sergeant Gill at Yerolakkos Police Station that their community at Skylloura had been attacked by Greeks. Sergeant Gill found that the report was a false alarm but that Greek and Turkish villagers faced each other with sticks in hostile confrontation from their respective sectors. The Turkish mukhtar feared an attack from Philia or Kondemenos. Meanwhile a troop of the Royal Horse Guards had arrived with two armoured scout cars and taken over control of the village. And Sergeant Gill left to investigate the situation in the direction of Kondemenos. A short distance outside Skylloura Sergeant Gill found thirty-five armed Greeks entrenched in a dried-up river bed, and lined up in formation in a concealed position close to the Turkish quarter. The mood of the Greeks was aggressive and the sergeant did not accept their explanation that they were there solely to protect Greek workers returning home to Kondemenos. With the help of a passing RAF officer, he arrested them. The Royal Horse Guards escorted the prisoners to Yerolakkos Police Station where Gill intended to charge them under the Offensive Weapons (Prohibition) Law, 1955. While he was talking to Assistant Superintendent Trusler, who had come to Yerolakkos from Nicosia, a hostile crowd began to gather, and it was decided to take the prisoners to Nicosia Central Police Station.

In the meantime the Central Police Station had become the centre of commotion as the result of serious rioting by Turkish men and women nearby. On reaching the outskirts of Nicosia, the army officer in charge of the convoy with the prisoners received a message ordering him not to bring the prisoners into the town. The convoy returned to Geunyeli. The Greeks were eventually released at a place to the north of the Turkish village and, having been disarmed, ordered to walk across country to their own village of Kondemenos. A troop of the Royal Horse Guards escorted them for about 400 yards away from the main road and withdrew after the last Greek had disappeared over the horizon. The army then took steps to maintain security in the immediate vicinity of Geunyeli.

A few minutes after the Greeks were out of sight, army watchers saw smoke and flames coming from the crest of the hill. It was assumed at first that the Greeks had set fire to Turkish crops. And an angry crowd of Turks armed with primitive weapons began to swarm out of Geunyeli. Lieutenant Baring of the Royal Horse Guards overtook the crowd, having ordered the Grenadiers to follow him and set up a road block to hold back the Turks. Baring went ahead to investigate the fire. On the way he arrested two Turks, a motor cyclist and his passenger. He then came upon the mutilated body of a Greek. A group of men came towards him; some of them were wounded. The thirty-five Greeks had run into a Turkish ambush. Four were killed on the spot and four died later of their injuries. The remainder owed their survival to the arrival of Baring in the armoured car.

The massacre was quickly followed up by a flood of Greek allegations that the security forces had deliberately exposed the prisoners to Turkish attack. Considerable disquiet also prevailed in British circles. The Cyprus Mail, noted for its moderation in criticising the Government, demanded an explanation for the fact that the thirty-five Greeks had been dumped near a Turkish village. On 16 June the Governor appointed a Commission of inquiry and entrusted the task to the Chief Justice, Sir Paget Bourke, who decided in the public interest to hold the inquiry in private. His decision had been influenced by several considerations: the risk that public proceedings might accelerate the high degree of tension already prevailing in the island, with the possibility of further disturbances and loss of life; the probability that witnesses, in danger of reprisals, would be afraid to speak the truth, thereby defeating the object of the inquiry. The inquiry opened at the end of June and lasted eight days. The Governor expressed his intention to publish its findings in due course. During the hearing thirty-seven witnesses, representing the security forces, the Turks and the Greek survivors, gave evidence before the Commission.

The inquiry threw light on the events which had led to the abandonment of the Greek prisoners near Geunyeli. The primary concern of the police and army officers in Nicosia on the day of the massacre had been to stop the convoy with the prisoners from driving into the centre of the Turkish disturbances which were taking place outside the Central Police Station. Assistant Superintendent Trusler, the police officer in charge of Nicosia Rural Sub-Division, had given specific instructions that the convoy was to be stopped and the Greeks taken to Aghios Dhometios Police Station. But the message never reached the convoy. Instead Major Redgrave of the Royal Horse Guards, who was controlling the convoy by radio, understood that his orders were to send the Greeks back to the country and let them walk home.

According to army witnesses the prisoners were diverted to Geunyeli because the road to this village was the first turning into the country in relation to the position of the convoy at the time of the message; a diversion via Geunyeli was the right direction for their own homes to the north of Skylloura; once clear of Geunyeli, which was under military surveillance, no other sources of trouble were to be expected on their route; since the Royal Horse Guards had taken over the security of the rural area no incidents had occurred apart from a minor stone-throwing attack by Greeks; the Royal Horse Guards were on patrol in the district and all was quiet. The choice for the exact site for the release of the prisoners had been left to the discretion of the officers on the spot.

The Commissioner questioned the legality and the propriety of sending prisoners home on foot without an escort. Two senior police witnesses also regarded the practice as an irregularity. The army officers, however, clearly accepted it as a salutary measure in dealing with excitable trouble-makers and as a practical alternative on the occasions when the police were not able to take the offenders into custody. It had the effect of tiring them so that they gave no more trouble the same day. The officers giving evidence were agreed that it would have been unreasonable to send the Greeks back the way they had come; that it would have involved a loss of face for the security forces and would not have led to any improvement in the attitude of the offenders who would, if anything, have been liable to cause more trouble once they realised that nothing was to be done about them. The Greek survivors described how, in their haste to get home, they had run up the slope, leaving behind the field of crops which later went up in flames. As they descended the slope on the other side they saw two motor cyclists and a pillion rider coming along the village road from Geunyeli. The motor cyclists opened fire and two of the Greeks were wounded. When the Greeks tried to go back they suddenly found themselves surrounded by a large group of Turks armed with axes, pieces of wood and knives. The Greeks scattered in the attempt to escape. And those who tried to go back the way that they had come saw that the crops were alight.

Much of the evidence produced at the inquiry was conflicting, and in several respects the Commissioner's findings were inconclusive. They nevertheless threw some light on the events which had led to the release of the Greeks north of Geunyeli. The Commissioner was satisfied that the arrest of the Greek party outside Skylloura on 12 June was lawful and that they were there either to launch an attack on the Turkish quarter or else go to the assistance of their compatriots in the event of renewed communal clashes.

The Commissioner stressed the difficulties prevailing in the operations room at the Central Police Station at the time. Herein might lie some explanation as to why Superintendent Trusler's specific instructions were not conveyed to Sergeant Gill who was in charge of the prisoners. A blunder had occurred causing some confusion but he was unable to say to what extent if any it was due to the lack of liaison between the police and military. The report was critical of the fact that no message was sent to inform the operations room that the convoy was proceeding to Geunyeli. Had this been done, the Commissioner commented, the senior police officers concerned would have been informed and, in the light of their evidence, would have intervened to prevent the diversion.

The Commissioner completely rejected the submission that the security forces had shown a reckless indifference to the fate of the Greeks. He was fully satisfied that all concerned with their release had acted with the utmost good faith; that they had appreciated that some trouble might be expected in the vicinity of Geunyeli and had taken steps to secure the area. It was the view of the officers in charge on the ground that, once clear of Geunyeli, no other source of trouble lay on the route. In this assessment, however, the Turkish hamlet of Kanii appeared to have been overlooked. The Commissioner rejected allegations that Sergeant Gill had issued ominous threats to the Greeks at the start of their walk and that two Turkish members of the security forces on duty that day had engineered or assisted the ambush.

The report failed to establish with any degree of certainty the place from which the attackers came and to solve the mystery of the two motor cyclists. It was clear that the ambush was planned by Turks who had surmised from earlier events at Geunyeli that the Greeks were about to be sent across the fields. The Commissioner did not accept the evidence of survivors who testified that the Turks in the fields were joined by others who came by trucks and cars from Geunyeli. It was possible that the Greeks after their ordeal were confused in their recollection. The Grenadiers, for instance, had left the village in vehicles, described as trucks at the hearing. If the assailants came from Geunyeli this would have meant that either the vigil kept by the security forces was defective or that a route hidden to the security forces led to the site of the ambush. But the dirt track from Geunyeli was visible from the convoy's position. It was possible that the Turks went to their positions before Baring arrived and that they were reinforced from Kanii. The report paid a tribute to the 'magnificent work' carried out in the Nicosia District countryside and to the prompt action taken by Lieutenant Baring which had averted a worse tragedy.

Eight Turks were eventually tried for murder in connection with the Geunyeli incident. But all were acquitted for want of sufficient evidence. The Greek Cypriots, in their highly emotional state, were quick to suggest that even British justice which had long stood the test of conditions in Cyprus was now corrupt, despite the fact that Greek terrorists had time and again been acquitted for the same reasons.

In 1958 EOKA's ill-treatment campaign dwindled. The allegations of atrocities by the security forces had ceased to make much impact on international opinion; the campaign had, moreover, achieved its objective in securing the intervention of the Council of Europe; criticism had been aroused in circles where it could gravely embarrass the Conservative Government. The atrocity campaign was largely replaced during the communal fighting by allegations of British partiality towards the Turks' In the summer, PEKA ordered its members to cultivate hatred of the British, making favouritism towards the Turks an important facet of its propaganda. The campaign rapidly gained ground after the Geunyeli massacre. The Geunyeli Report, which vindicated the troops of the main charge, was not published for many months owing to an explosive situation during the summer.

The burden of keeping the two communities apart fell to the British troops. Despite the presence of 30,000 or more troops incidents could not be avoided. Installations such as the oxygen factory required many guards in order to persuade the Greeks to go on working there. Large areas had to be policed by mobile patrols and units permanently stationed in the worst trouble spots. Much of the time the troops were seriously overworked and carried out their duties in an atmosphere of constant criticism. British soldiers helped to extinguish hundreds of fires, usually started by the Turks, but were accused by the Greeks of deliberate negligence in the case of every house or church which was burnt down. When the security forces searched the suburb of Omorphita they found lethal weapons in the houses of both communities; yet the Greeks insisted that the Turks had been warned of the search in advance.

Partiality where it existed was dictated by political expediency and operational necessity. At policy level it could be traced to the importance which Britain and the US attached to Turkey as the last reliable bastion of Western defence in the Middle East. In the island, psychological and practical reasons entered into the question. Apart from periods of truce, the Greek Cypriots had for three years been shooting British soldiers in the back. The natural sympathies of the army as a whole were inevitably with the Turks, who were seen as loyal, courageous allies, sharing the same dangers in pursuit of the common enemy -- EOKA. The British forces had their hands full; in need of Turkish cooperation, they tried wherever possible to avoid conflict with the Turks. The January riots had been a disastrous exception. It was at times difficult to keep the balance. The Turkish police who formed a vital component of the security forces as a whole favoured their compatriots, just as the Greek police turned a blind eye to EOKA's activities.

The Greek complaints soon found their way to the House of Commons through members of the Labour Opposition who attacked the Government for failing to carry out the emergency regulations with impartiality. A few of the complaints were valid. A Turkish Cypriot suspected of terrorist activity was granted bail; and escaped to Turkey before trial; whereas Greek terrorists were always held in custody. Ankara Radio broadcast its inflammatory propaganda unhindered when Athens was jammed.

On 15 July Mr Profumo recalled that Athens Radio had not been banned until repeated protests had failed; EOKA not until five months after its first acts of violence. On the 29th Mr Lennox-Boyd stated that the granting of bail to the Turkish police sergeant was within the discretion of the judge, but admitted that his escape was 'highly unfortunate'.

From The Cyprus Revolt: An Account of the Struggle for Union with Greece, by Nancy Crawshaw (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1978), pp. 288-294.