The Venetian walls of Nicosia, once used to keep out the Ottomans, now serve as an apt barrier between two divided communities – The Greek and Turkish speaking populations of Cyprus. The melting pot of racial ideology, foreign intervention and imperial ambition culminated in the partition of the island in 1974. This post is an abbreviated version of a larger body of work in which I explored the case for genocide on the Mediterranean island. For the sake of readability, I will spare academic references, only including them where entirely necessary.

To contextualise the contemporary problems on the island is to draw attention to the partition. Most notably, the recognition of one half and not the other. The southern, Greek speaking, land mass of Cyprus is recognised by much of the world as the only legitimate government on the island. For the Turkish speaking population of the north, and its government, this poses a more daunting reality than just illegitimacy. In its historical context, this de facto condemns the Turks as the guilty party in the 1974 Cyprus Crisis. The prevalent acceptance of this has reaffirmed Greek victimhood, not only muting any suggestion of genocide, but also robbing the Turkish Cypriots of their rights for over half a century – something Rauf Denktaş famously stated in his address to the UN Secretary Council in 1983:

“One part of a bi-communal government has, for twenty years, robbed the other part of all its rights and has not given them back and does not intend to give them back because they get all of these confirmations from you [the United Nations] that they are the legitimate government of Cyprus… They must not be allowed to get away with this highway robbery. They have done so for too long!”

This post will flip the commonly accepted narrative of inter-communal fighting on its head and reframe Turkey’s invasion in 1974 as a preventative intervention against genocide – perhaps the only successful implementation of the Convention since its creation in 1948. In order to present my case, I will frame the events, narratives and aftermath of the Cyprus Crisis as objectively as possible using Raphael Lemkin’s framework:

Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: a) Killing members of the group. c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide – 1948 – Article II

Small Island, Grandiose Ideas

This period was not untouched by the imperialistic ideals which often take hold of a native population during the decolonisation process. When the British finally conceded to the persistent harrying from Greek terrorist organisation, EOKA, Cyprus was given its independence and a new constitution was drawn up in 1960. The Constitution would give fair representation to both the Greek Cypriots of the island and the Turkish Cypriot minority. However, despite achieving independence, another, deep-seated, fervent idea had risen to the fore – Enosis. Enosis entailed the striving for unification between Cyprus and Greece. Thus, this period saw EOKA  begin its bloody campaign against the Turkish Cypriots. The grandiosity of such an ideology as Enosis almost guaranteed violence as a Greek owned Cyprus would necessitate the expulsion of the Turkish speaking community from the island. Equally, Turkey would never allow for such a strategic geographic location, as Cyprus, to fall into an historic enemy’s hands. Nevertheless, Enosis was dogmatically pursued from 1960, not just by terrorist groups, but also the democratically elected government of the island.

“Until this small Turkish community is expelled, the duty of the heroes of EOKA cannot be considered terminated.”

– Makarios, the President of Cyprus, in a speech from 1963.

With escalating violence on the island, Makarios would reject a NATO peacekeeping force in 1967 to which American Undersecretary of state, George Ball would respond:

“The Greek Cypriots do not want a peace-keeping force; they just want to be left alone to kill the Turks.”

It is a well documented fact that throughout the 1960s Greek national troops were discretely arriving on the island in preparation for Enosis. This action was in total violation of the 1960 constitution and, as a result, Athens was forced to recall 12,000 of its soldiers from the island, leaving 12,000 behind in 1968.[1] Six years later, in an act of complete disregard for the sovereignty of Cyprus, the Greek Junta would initiate a coup against Makarios, placing Nicos Sampson in power. Although his presidency lasted just weeks, Sampson later confessed in 1981:

“Had Turkey not intervened I would not only have proclaimed Enosis – I would have annihilated the Turks of Cyprus

I am aware that this is a very brief look at the rhetoric of the period and that there are many more examples I could draw upon to build my case, or weaken it. However, the grandiose intention for a utopian, Hellenic Cyprus, supported by the rhetoric of those in power remains indisputable. Under article III of the Convention a conspiracy to commit genocide and public incitement are both punishable crimes. Yet, no such case has been made in the mainstream narrative. Looking more closely at this period will only further germinate the argument for a state-perpetrated genocide.

Turkish Cypriot prisoners of war, C.1974

The Plan

Most damningly, the Cyprus case presents clearly written plans for genocide by the Greek Cypriot leadership – Something even the Holocaust lacks. Both the Akritas Plan (1963) and the Isphestos Plan (1974) were constructed to achieve Enosis and explicitly outlined preparations for removing the Turks from the island. In accordance with the Akritas Plan Turkish policeman were made redundant,[3] whilst at the same time a private Greek militia was secretly mobilised.[4] These preparations culminated in the ‘Bloody Christmas Massacre’ of 1963 causing over 300 Turkish Cypriot deaths.[5] Eye witnesses have since described it as “a night from Nazi Germany” as both Greek Cypriot police and armed civilians targeted Turkish Cypriot non-combatants.[6] As a result of the violence, mass graves have been uncovered in Konia, Baf, Ayios Vasilios and Oronliki. The genocidal violence was halted only by the threat of Turkey’s intervention.

To overcome the obstacle of Turkey, the Isphestos Plan was devised to swiftly attack and destroy Turkish Cypriot villages within hours. Instructions to attack silently and as quickly as possible were given, so as to complete the killing before Turkey could intervene.[7] An example of the plan in motion can be seen on July 14 when the village of Kandu was surrounded by Greek forces.[8] Interestingly the Isphestos Plan also considered how to “psychologically prepare” the Greek Cypriot population to carry out the murders.[9] In light of such damning evidence, the label of ‘intercommunal conflict’ does not seem an appropriate one for the perpetrated violence in this period. Regardless of other factors, It is difficult to ignore explicit plans to exterminate a minority community, yet those who should be enforcing the Convention have effectively avoided accepting such incriminating information.

The leader of EOKA, General Georgios Grivas with some of his men.

The Terrible Turk

Since the partitioning of the island in 1974, Turkey has held much of the blame. This blame has been reinforced by the international community who have forced Turkey to pay reparations for the, so-called, invasion. No such order has been placed on the Greeks or the Greek Cypriots. This, as Michael Stephan has argued, has allowed the Greeks to claim victimhood and uphold the denialist narrative of an inter-communal dispute which was ultimately escalated by Turkey alone. However, to conform to this narrative one must ignore the historical events brought to light in this post. This description of Turkey’s action as an invasion and not an intervention is highly politicised and serves only to empower the mainstream narrative. Arguably, the  Greek coup on the island in 1974 meant Turkey was legally obliged to intervene and restore the violated constitution.

“Each of the three guaranteeing Powers [Britain, Greece, Turkey] reserves the right to take action with the sole aim of re-establishing the state of affairs created by the present Treaty.”

Treaty of Guarantee – 1960 – Article IV

Perhaps the true invasion of the island can be traced back to 1968, where 24,000 Greeks had  illegally arrived on the island as part of a private militia. Yet, the historical convenience of ‘The Terrible Turk’ seems to be far more powerful than the objective truth. Arguably Western perceptions of the Greek are shaped by their ancient ancestors who were the pinnacle of civilisation and intellect. Whilst the historical roots of the Turkic peoples lie far away in the orient alongside depictions of Mongol hordes. In Aydin’s comprehensive work on Western literary representations of the Turk, it is apparent that stereotypical images are, on the whole, negative. In novels the Turk generally appears as a corrupt, smelly and backwards character.[10]

The Turkish forces have since been implicated with atrocities on the island, for which there is evidence for on both sides of the fighting. Nevertheless the eruption of war, and its horrors, in 1974 cannot overwrite history nor can it conceal the intentions and actions of the Greeks Cypriots who for decades worked towards Enosis with genocidal intent.

A Turkish Tank passing the Saray Hotel to applause in the Turkish quarter of Nicosia. A Photo of Mustafa Kemal ‘Ataturk’ can be seen in the background.


Whilst we can blame Machiavellian politics, Greek denialism and even nationalism for the forgotten genocide in Cyprus, perhaps we can equally blame Lemkin’s definition itself. The UN Convention was created in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and for this reason it is, arguably, equipped to deal only with the concentration camp. However, as many historians have pointed out, invisible genocides are happening all around us. They no longer bare the defining marks of systematic destruction. Modern genocides do not take place behind barbed wire, insidious guard towers and smoking crematorium chimneys. The gas chamber has been replaced by unsystematic violence under the guise of mutual combat.

Perhaps this is why, that since its creation, the UN has failed to uphold its own doctrine and intervene in any genocide. It appears to be easier to identify one only after massive devastation like in the Rwandan case. Perhaps because the Turkish community of the island did fight back and resist Enosis so valiantly and because they were not eradicated, their genocide claims are not as audible. Perhaps if Turkey had not intervened the world would now hold remembrance days and erect memorials for the lost Turkish Cypriots.

Today, the Cyprus problem as it has become known, referring to the partitioning of the island, continues to perplex and is fiercely debated among the island’s leaders. However, until both communities and the world come to terms with the reality of the events which transpired from 1960-74, no solution can be found for the Cyprus problem. The case presented by Cyprus is just one of many forgotten genocides. Unless the world takes notice of all cases, it will be unable to tackle any other instances of systematic murder for the foreseeable future.

“Willingly or not we come to terms with power, forgetting that we are all in the ghetto, the ghetto is walled in, that outside the ghetto reign the lords of death and that close by the train is waiting.”

-Primo Levi


[1] J. Scherer, Blocking The Sun: The Cyprus Conflict (University of Minnesota 1997) p.24

[2] Greek Newspaper – ‘Eleftherotipia’ (26 Feb. 1981)

[3] B. O’Malley & I. Craig, The Cyprus Conspiracy: America, Espionage and the Turkish Invasion (London: I.B Tauris 2002) p.88

[4] Scherer, Blocking The Sun: The Cyprus Conflict (University of Minnesota 1997) p.26

[5] Crawshaw, The Cyprus Revolt: An Account of the Struggle for Union with Greece (London: George Allen & Unwin) p.366-367

[6] H. Gibbons, The Genocide Files (Savannah Koch, 1997) p.72

[7] ‘Isphestos Plan’ – File No. 216/5/296 – 7 March 1974. Cited in H. Gibbons, The Genocide Files p.410 See also K. Haktanir, ‘Forgotten Plans of Ethnic Cleansing’ (Hurriyet, 7/16/2001) Accessed: [18/03/2015]

[8] This was just 4 days before Turkey’s intervention. H. Gibbons, The Genocide Files p.423

[9] K. Haktanir, ‘Forgotten Plans of Ethnic Cleansing’

[10] K. Aydin, Western Images of Turkey (The Eothen Press, 1999) p.24