Turkish bombs and riots in Cyprus: Handling the facts




William Mallinson / Copyright: Dr. W.D.E. Mallinson

Introduction

I had to fight for nearly three and a half years, with the support of the Information Commissioner, before the latter ordered the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to release vital documents, which showed how from 1974 Britain had tried to give up its bases in Cyprus, but was not allowed to by Kissinger [1]. They actually sent copies by hand to me in Athens. Despite various obstacles for the fact-hunting diplomatic historian (the bane of politicians and party-political designer academics), the FCO, whether by design or by default, does nevertheless sometimes conform to the rules on the release of documents to the National Archives: I have just come across some secret documents released some fifty six years after they were written. Although fifty six years is an absurdly long time to wait for public documents, this is far better than the Greek archives are able to do. Greece has many skeletons in its cupboard. Papers on the Cyprus problem are not even available, making a mockery of serious academic transparency.

Why the public has had to wait so long to read some fairly obvious things is anybody’s guess. The papers that I excavated merely show that Britain knew full well that the Turkish Cypriots planned riots in Nicosia in the summer of 1958, and that the latter planted a bomb against their own people in order to blame the Greek Cypriots. Before commenting on the whole distasteful farrago and its relevance and implications for today, let us reproduce some extracts.

The telegrams

On 9 September 1957, while the EOKA [2] campaign against the British was in full swing, a British Intelligence report stated:

1. A fairly reliable source has said that the Turkish house at OMORFITA where the explosion took place on 31st August 1957 has been used as a bomb making factory for some time. Twelve persons worked there in shifts and “thousands of bombs” have been made and distributed to various parts of the island.

(C.6)

2. On the night of the explosion there were several packing cases full of bombs in the house. When the bomb exploded the bulk of the completed bombs were removed by those who were uninjured and by neighbouring Turks.

(C.6)

3. There are several other houses in NICOSIA where Turks are manufacturing bombs.

(C.3)

4. Since the explosion, VOLKAN has instructed the members to find suitable places outside the towns and villages for the manufacture of bombs.

(C.3)

SPECIAL BRANCH REPORT

[Here, the weeders have blanked out a paragraph]

The information at para 1 above appears likely to be highly exaggerated in so far as number of bombs is concerned. Information at para 2 is somewhat unlikely in view of prompt arrival of expatriate personnel at the scene. [3]

On 4 June 1958, at 18.30, the governor wrote to the Secretary of State for the Colonies:

Turkish hooligans have been increasingly active over the past week or two and on Saturday last they organised demonstrations during which demonstrators tore down English signs. This, following on the TMT [4] murders of Left Wing Turks and the increase of TMT leaflets in the most violent terms, seems to show that the Turks are prepared for further violence and this may occur before the statement of policy is made in Parliament. [5]

The Governor was right: on 8 June, at 2.30 a.m., the following report was submitted to him:

SITUATION REPORT

There has been considerable rioting and arson tonight in Nicosia. It looked very much as though it was prearranged by Turks, particularly in view of the information we received a few days ago that they were planning just such a resort to riot and arson. Following is situation report at 2.00 a.m. Cyprus time.

2. At 22.00 hrs. bomb exploded on veranda of Turkish Press Counsellor. Very slight damage. Nothing more happened until midnight when Turkish youths began collecting in Kyrenia Gate area and in roads outside walls. They set fire to two cars and began stoning others. Youths observed carrying jerry cans. At about 0.100 [sic] hrs. fires started in Famagusta Gate area. Report, not yet confirmed, that six fires in all started one serious (timber yard) and all in Greek property. Police and Army fire brigades now at work on the fires and have them under control. Curfew imposed and is gradually taking effect. Mason-Dixon line manned with troops. Meanwhile Greeks had started ringing church bells and groups of Greek youths observed taking up positions in the town. Some fighting in Famagusta Gate area between groups of youths of both communities. Some casualties removed to hospital including two dead both Greek. Crowds being broken up and dispersed and for the time being situation appears to be under control. No report of Security Forces having to open fire.

3. Denktash and Turkish Consul-General were absent this evening at Larnaca addressing an unenthusiastic Turkish Youth Club meeting. Denktash returned after midnight and contacted by District Commissioner. He seemed genuinely upset and remarked “we (the Turks) have asked for it this time”. He gave the impression that he had no doubt that the trouble had been started deliberately by Turkish mischief-makers. This confirms our own impression that the bomb was probably planted by Turks themselves. Denktash addressed a crowd outside the Nicosia Divisional Police headquarters and persuaded them to disperse.

4. No incidents reported from other districts.

5. Present intention is to maintain curfew in Nicosia throughout tomorrow.

6. There have reports in local Turkish press of a mass meeting in Istanbul tomorrow. It seems possible that the trouble here may have been staged with that in view. [6]

At 4.45 a.m. on the same day, the Governor saw fit to send an emergency telegram, summarising the above, to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, copied not only to the embassies in Athens and Ankara, and the Consulate General in Istanbul, but to the embassy in Washington:

Arson and rioting by the Turks started at about midnight in Nicosia tonight. Turks started a number of fires in Greek premises in the town, one a serious one, but all have now been brought under control. Some clashes between Turks and Greeks. Greeks in Nicosia and some neighbouring villages range [sic] church bells and excited crowds of Greeks gathered. Known casualties two Greek-Cypriot dead ande a number wounded. Earlier in the evening a bomb had gone off at house of Turkish Press Counsellor doing no damage. There was no one [sic] inside at the time. Situation continues tense but under control. Curfew being enforced in Nicosia and troops have manned line between between Turkish and Greek quarters. No trouble in any other part of the island. [7]

Only a quarter of an hour later, at 5.00 a.m., he sent another emergency telegram referring to the previous one:

My unnumbered telegram immediately preceding.

Incidents in Nicosia

Our assessment on the reports so far available is that there is no doubt that the arson and rioting were carried out by Turks in accordance with prearranged plan. In my telegram no. 727 [not found, unless the Governor means no. 724, above] I reported information which had reached us that the Turks were preparing to make trouble over this weekend. It seems clear that what has happened is in pursuit of this intention.

2. All the evidence at present available regarding the bomb incident at the Turkish Press Counsellor’s house suggests that this was staged by Turks as a pretext for the subsequent arson and rioting. It is most unlikely that Greeks would deliberately precipitate trouble at this juncture by an attack on Turkish Government premises. The explosive in the bomb was of a kind which had been used in the past in bombs found in the possession of Turks but we have no record of this material being used by Greeks. The placing of the bomb was suggests that it was not intended to any real damage. There is also the fact that no-one was inside at the time. The Press Counsellor had gone with the Turkish Consul-General and Denktash to attend a Turkish Youth meeting in Larnaca and this must have been known to Turks in Nicosia.

3. In short, all the circumstances point to a deliberately staged attempt by Turks to precipitate trouble. It might have been timed as a curtain-raiser to the mass meetings planned for to-morrow (Sunday) in Turkey on the occasion of “Cyprus Day”. It was preceded by an inflammatory broadcast from Ankara Radio earlier in the evening. Unlike previous Turkish riots it has none of the appearance of a spontaneous reaction to some act of violence by the Greeks.

4. I fear this could be the beginning of communal strife of a more serious kind than any we have seen since it indicates that Turks are prepared to carry out attacks on Greek property in order to serve their political ends. On this occasion, however, it may be that having made their demonstration they will wait a while before making a new move. On the other hand the Greeks may resort to counter-violence.

5. I saw leaders of the Turkish community in Nicosia early this morning and spoke very frankly to them about the dangers of such deliberate provocation of communal disorder by the Turks and their duty to give their community a clear lead against this.

6.The curfew in the walled city of Nicosia will be kept on throughout tomorrow (Sunday). It will apply to both Greeks and Turks. Road blocks will also be used to prevent people flocking into Nicosia from the surrounding villages. [8]

A little over eight hours later, at 13.45 (he must have needed some sleep), the Governor telegrammed the Colonial Office, reporting on his meeting with Turkish leaders. He, or whoever typed his telegram (in cypher) must have been rather sleepy or lacking in cool, since it was dated 8 July 1958, rather than June:

Turkish Riots

In my telegram no. 744 I reported that I had seen Nicosia Turkish leaders this morning. The meeting took place at 5.30 am. at Government House immediately after I had returned from seeing the damage caused by fire in the old city of Nicosia.

2. The four Turkish leaders whom I summoned were Denktash, Osman Orek, (an influential lawyer who is Vice Chairman of Eveaf High Council and Chairman of the Nicosia branch of the Cyprus-is-Turkish Party), Mr. Umit Suleiman (another lawyer who is head od the Turkish School Committee in Nicosia) and Dr. Gozmen (an ex-municipal councilor).

3. I gold them that I had just come back from seeing the very serious damage carried by Turks in the city during the night. I said that I was sure that tis had been planned by the Turks I advance. I said that we knew ahead that arson was intended and we knew that there was a danger that it would be carried out over this weekend. When we received this information action was taken at different levels to prevent it. The Administrative Secretary had seen Denktash, I had seen the Turkish Consul General, and our Ambassador in Ankara had seen the Turkish Secretary General. These approaches had all been undertaken to persuade the Turks to prevent the violence intended. I said that it was perfectly clear that the dreadful events of the night had not been ij any way spontaneous but had been part of a deliberate plan and that those who had used inflammatory language must carry some of the responsibility (this was of course directed at Denktash). I said that it was unnecessary again to emphasize the terrible mistake of resorting to violence at this critical time and that I had called on the Turkish leaders in Nicosia to obtain their immediate and energetic co-operation in putting a stop to communal strife which would do infinite harm if it continued. I said that they had a clear negative and positive duty. They had a negative duty to refrain from incitement and a positive duty to restrain members of their community from any further violence.

4. The four Turkish leaders were obviously shaken by the events of the night. They did not attempt to deny to me that the bomb at the house of the Turkish Press Councillor [sic] had been put there by Turks (though they said that they could not admit this publicly). They said that excitement amongst unruly members of the Turkish community arose from the fact that no assurance could be given that the new declaration of policy would be acceptable to the Turks and that the Turkish community expected the new policy to be most unsatisfactory to them. They also said that those whom Denktash called the ‘Turkish teddyboys’ were out of control by the leaders. Denktash said that when the Administrative Secretary saw him on his return from Ankara on Friday last he made enquiries about the possibility of trouble over this weekend and understood that there was no intention that Turks would resort to violence at this time. He and the others said that they were unaware of any prior plan to carry out arson or any other form of violence last night. They agreed that the events of the night were deplorable and that everything could be done to prevent the trouble from continuing or spreading. I got the impression that they were really frightened by what had occurred and would do what they could to reduce tension. [9]

Now London acted: the same day (no time given), the Secretary of State (FO) telegrammed the ambassador in Ankara as follows:

Please seek an immediate interview with Turkish Prime Minister or Minister for Foreign Affairs and speak to him on following lines.

2. I have been gravely disturbed to hear of these incidents. I cannot believe that they would have taken place had the Turkish Government – as I have repeatedly requested them to do, most recently in y conversation with the Turkish Ambassador on June 3rd – used their influence with the Turkish Cypriot community to urge the latter to exercise restraint. I am particularly concerned to see that these disturbances were preceded by an inflammatory broadcast by the Ankara radio.

3. Incidents such as these, though they will not deter H.M.G. from their efforts to find a solution of the Cyprus problem, are bound to render this task more difficult. I must therefore in the spirit of the friendship between Turkey and the U.K. formally ask the Turkish Government to exercise all their influence both with the Turkish community in Cyprus and with the Turkish Press and radio to refrain from violence and inflammatory propaganda. I most earnestly trust the Turkish Government will be prepared to take steps in this sense without delay. [10]

As the Governor and his staff considered matters, tensions remained high. On 10 June, the Governor telegrammed the Secretary of State, and the ambassadors in Ankara and Athens:

Bomb Incident at Turkish Information Bureau

As you will have seen from my telegram no. 768, I think it wiser not to make any official statement at his stage of the conclusions we so far have reached, as a result of the investigations into this incident, as to where the responsibility lies. But I wish to retain discretion to do this if I consider this to be necessary. And I have made this clear to the Turkish Cypriot leaders. Each side has, of course, attributed the blame to the other, and Kutchuk, in his speech at the public rally in Istanbul on Sunday, went so far as to say –

“ I want to tell you about a bloody incident which took place last night. We have a newly opened Information Office in Nicosia. The murderous gang, the priests’ hordes, the criminals, hurled a bomb into the Information premises, causing damage. On learning of this, members of the Turkish community collected together and marched into the Greek quarter, killing two Greeks and wounding five.”

2. There have also been reports in the Turkish Press that a Greek youth was actually seen throwing the bomb. From official sources there is absolutely no confirmation of this story.

3. If we are compelled, as a result of continuing inflammatory allegations by the Turks on this subject, to make any official statement, the following are points which might be included: –

(1) On any assessment of the security and political considerations involved, it seems unlikely that Greek Cypriot terrorists would have attacked Turkish Government property at this time and in this way.

(2) The timing and manner of the placing of the bomb suggest that it was intended to cause the minimum amount of damage and, in particular, to avoid injury or loss of life.

(3) Expert examination of the explosive charge and fragments indicates that they were of a different kind from any known to have been used in the past but Greek Cypriot terrorists, but were of a kind known to have been used recently in bombs of Turkish Cypriot manufacture.

4. It is also on record that when Denktash arrived at the scene of the incident, soon after it occurred, he said to the District Commissioner and the Assistant Commissioner of Police who were present: “Well, we’ve asked for it”. They asked him if he knew what sort of bomb it was, and he agreed that it was a Turkish bomb. The District Commissioner says that the words Denktash used were: “Of course it is a Turkish bomb”. An expatriate Special Branch officer who was present says that Denktash used were: “We’ve asked for this. The Greeks would not dare to do it. We’ve gone too far this time. I can’t stop it”. After my meeting with the Turkish leaders yesterday, the Administrative Secretary took Denktash aside and reminded him, with reference to my remark that it would not be to their interest for Government to publish its conclusions about the incident, that he was on record as having made the remarks quoted above at the scene of the incident. Denktash did not attempt to deny this and, in fact, indicated that he personally had no doubt it was Turks who were responsible.

5. The information in the preceding paragraph must clearly be treated as strictly confidential unless and until we decide that Denktash must be put on the spot. I am reluctant to do this so long as there is any hope of his playing a useful role with the Turkish community. The disclosure at this time of his having accepted that the Turks were responsible for the incident might well place his life in danger.

6. I think, however, that there would be no objection to the Ambassador using, if he think fit, the other points set out in paragraph 3 above in conversation with Turkish ministers. In doing so, he would no doubt make the points that I was deliberately refraining from publishing anything in order not to make matters worse, that I might, however, be compelled to do so if inflammatory allegations continue about Greeks having set the bomb, and that would clearly not be to the advantage of the Turkish case for me to do so. [11]

Kioneli01-27April2014

Comments

Clearly, the night of 7 to 8 June 1958 was a sleepless one for the Governor and his staff, reflected in some small discrepancies in the above telegrams. First, the Governor sent a telegram (no.744) at 5 am, stating that he had met leaders of the Turkish community early that morning, obviously in the small hours before he sent the telegram. Yet telegram no. 751, sent at 1.45 pm, stated that he had met them at 5.30, and therefore apparently after he had sent a telegram stating that he had met them. More amusing about the telegram is that it was dated 8 July, rather than June. Such are the vagaries of moments of extreme crisis.

As regards the curfew mentioned in the Governor’s telegram 744, the fact that he said that it would apply both to Greeks and Turks is bizarre. He could hardly have applied a curfew on only one of the two main communities.

Most significant is the final telegram quoted, which makes it quite clear that the British were loth to embarrass Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots. Britain was of course not impartial in its attitude towards the two main communities on Cyprus. Even before EOKA’s military campaign against British forces, Britain was teaming up with Turkey to keep its colony as long as possible, by dividing the communities. In February 1955, the British ambassador to Ankara wrote to the Foreign Office:

First, Turkish representatives abroad, particularly in London and Washington, might be more active in their publicity about the Turkish attitude to Cyprus. In the United Kingdom, their efforts might be directed (in this order) to: a) Members of Parliament, b) the weekly press (they have already been helped by the journalists’ visit last year). The same appears to be true in the United States and other countries. Turkish propaganda should however be presented with tact. For example, the Turkish Press Attaché in London has no done good by distributing leaflets of the ‘Cyprus is Turkish’ Association. [12]

The following year an FO official wrote:

Our attitude to this question is that we wish to assist the Turks as much as possible with the publicity for their case, but must at the same time be careful not to appear to be shielding behind them and to be instigating the statements. [13]

Britain was in fact tutoring Turkey in how to promote its point of view, namely partition, but had to appear even-handed to the outside world, especially since British fair play was important, at least presentationally. Despite British attempts to calm things down and get Turkey to control the extremist Turkish Cypriots, the opposite proved to be the case, and the riots continued, with over one hundred killed, including eight Greek Cypriots out of a group of thirty five dumped by the British near a Turkish Cypriot village when discovered crouching in a riverbed armed with sticks and stones. [14] Many Greek Cypriots were forced out of their homes in Nicosia. The Governor, Hugh Foot, was to write later:

Zorlu, the Foreign Minister of Turkey, was the most ruthless of them and was, I think, the rudest man I ever met […] He had, I have no doubt, known of and perhaps given the orders for the Turkish riots and the attempt to burn Nicosia. [15]

Thoughts

Although the Governor, Hugh Foot, knew of Turkish responsibility for the riots, he does not mention this in his memoirs, presumably because he was not allowed to release secret and top secret information. This is a shame, since it gives a warped and incomplete picture.

It is natural to think of 1955 and the Istanbul ‘pogrom’ in the same context as the Nicosia riots of 1958. The destruction of Greek properties in September 1955 began as the London conference failed (as it was planned to fail) and, like the Nicosia rioting, it was immediately preceded by a bomb explosion at the Turkish Consulate in Thessaloniki, which also happened to be the house where Ataturk, the god of the Turks, had been born. Apart from Christopher Hitchen’s conviction that there was a definite pattern of organisation to the 1955 riots [16], the Turkish Foreign Minister – the rude Zorlu mentioned above – telephoned Istanbul from London to say that a ‘little activity would be useful’. [17]

It is fairly well known that truth is the first casualty of war, although it does often emerge years later. Whenever one dares to speculate, one is often branded a ‘conspiracy theorist’, as I would have been, had I speculated that the Turks planted a bomb against themselves, without the documentary evidence that I have now provided. One day, perhaps we shall be provided with incontrovertible evidence that it was indeed also Turks who planted a bomb at their own consulate-general in Thessaloniki, although enough books by serious academics already point the finger at the Turks. And while on the subject of agents provocateurs, it is highly unlikely that Greeks or Greek Cypriots murdered a British housewife in Famagusta October 1958. [18] It could have been an American, a Turk or even an Englishman. One hopes that one day incontrovertible evidence will appear.

To conclude

The moment that Britain began thinking of transferring its Middle East headquarters to Cyprus in early 1952, the die for dividing Cyprus was cast. [19] ‘All’s fair in love and war’, as some say, whether cynically or simply realistically. Britain and the US could not afford to countenance a truly independent Cyprus, given their fear of the Soviet Union. It is the same today, just as in the Ukraine, where agents provocateurs abound. One day, there, too, the truth will come out.

About the author

William Mallinson is a former Member of Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service who left to study for, and was awarded, his Ph.D. at the London School of Economics and Political Science’s Department of International History. He covered Dutch foreign policy, Dutch-German relations and German rearmament during the initial period of the building of European institutions and NATO, and the formative years of the Cold War. Following a period in business as European Public Affairs Manager at ITT’s European Headquarters in Brussels, and then Digital Equipment Corporation’s in Geneva, he turned his attention to the academic world. He is now Lecturer in British history, literature and culture at the Ionian University. Since 1994, when he was awarded a Greek Government scholarship, he has been perusing British Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence, Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet archives, under the general rubric of Anglo-Greek relations during the Cold War, including Cyprus. He has also published several articles in the press, and spoken at numerous conferences. He is an occasional lecturer at the Greek National Defence School, particularly on Britain and Russia/ USSR. His books are:

Public Lies and Private Truths, Cassell, London and New York, 1996, and Leader Books, Athens, 2000.

Portrait of an Ambassador, Attica Tradition Educational Foundation, Athens, 1998.

Cyprus: A Modern History, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2005, updated in 2009 as a paperback. Also published in Greek in 2005 by Papazissis, Athens.

From Neutrality to Commitment: Dutch Foreign Policy, NATO and European Integration, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2010.

Partition through Foreign Aggression, University of Minnesota, 2010.

Cyprus, Diplomatic History and the Clash of Theory in International Relations, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2010. Also published in Greek by Estia, 2010.

Britain and Cyprus: Key Themes and Documents since World War Two, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2011.

The Game for Rhodes, Amazon, 2013.

The Same Things Return with Different Colours, Aracne Editrice,, Rome, 2013.

He has numerous articles and reviews in academic refereed journals, of which some recent ones are:

‘Enosis, Socio-Cultural Imperialism and Strategy: Difficult Bedfellows’, Middle Eastern Studies, vol.41, no. 4, July 2005.

‘US Interests, British Acquiescence and the Invasion of Cyprus’, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, vol.9, no. 3, August 2007.

‘Britain, Cyprus, Turkey, the USA and Greece in 1977: Critical Submission or Submissive Criticism?’, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 44, no. 4, October 2009.

‘Spies, Jolly Hockeysticks and Imperialism in Cyprus’, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, vol. 13, issue 2, June 2011.

‘Foreign Policy Issues of a Part-Occupied EU State’, The Cyprus Review, vol.23, no.1, Spring 2011.

‘Reviewing the Continuing Cyprus Conundrum’, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, vol.14, issue 4, December 2012.

 

References:

1. Mallinson, William, Cyprus, Diplomatic History and the Clash of Theory in International Relations, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2010. The appendix contains correspondence between the author, the FCO and the Information Commissioner between February 2005 and June 2008.

2. National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters

3. FCO 141/3840, ‘PHANTOM Secret’ report by SECURITY INTELLIGENCE on “VOLKAN” ACTIVITIES, 9 September 1957.

4. Turkish Defence Organisation.

5. FCO 141/3848, Governor to Secretary of State, 4 June 1958, telegram no. 724.

6. Ibid., SITUATION REPORT, 8 June 1958, 02.30 hours.

7. Ibid., 8 June 1958, unnumbered telegram.

8. Ibid., 8 June 1958, telegram no. 744.

9. Ibid., Governor to Colonial Office, repeated to Ankara and Athens, 8 July [sic] 1958, telegram no. 751.

10. Ibid., Secretary of State (Foreign Office) to Ankara, 8 June 1958, telegram no. 1399.

11. Ibid., Governor to Secretary of State, 10 June 1958, telegram no. 774.

12. Bowker to Young, 15 February 1955, letter, PRO FO 371/117625, file RG 1081//120, in Mallinson, William, Cyprus, A Modern History, I.B. Taurus, London and New York, 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2012, p. 22.

13. Cox to Fisher, 13 July 1956, letter, FO 953/1694, file G11926/23, in ibid.

14. Ibid., Mallinson, p. 32.

15. Foot, Hugh, A Start in Freedom, Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., London, 1964, p. 150.

16. Hitchens, Christopher, Hostage to History, Verso, London, 1997, p. 45.

17. Op. cit., Mallinson, p. 27.

18. See Holland, Robert, Britain and the Revolt in Cyprus, 1954-1959, OUP, 1998, p. 287.

19. Ewbank to Governor, Cyprus, 7 March 1952, letter, 141/141141.


Latest of HellasJournal


%d bloggers like this: