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The Cyprus Coup that Provided Pretext for Turkey to Invade

Coup Cyprus
A tank is seen in the streets of Nicosia on July 15, 1974. Public Domain

On July 15, 1974, a military coup took place in Cyprus instigated by the junta in Athens, giving Turkey a pretext to invade five days later.

The plotters overthrew the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, and installed a “marionette” government under journalist Nikos Samson.

Their aim was to unify the island with Greece, the Union being a nationalist ideal for some Greeks and also some Cypriots.

Five days later, the Turkish army invaded Cyprus and their occupying forces remain on the northern part of the island to this day.

Relations between the Greek Junta, and especially the powerful Demetrios Ioannides who took over from Georgios Papadopoulos, and Archbishop Makarios were particularly tense. Ioannidis believed that Makarios was against the Union, was pro-Communist, and feared his independent spirit.

Athens plans for Cyprus coup

Ioannides had decided to get rid of Makarios, and from April 1974, he had formed a plan to overthrow him. Although Makarios was warned of Ioannides’ plans by Evangelos Averoff and other Greek politicians, he did not seem to pay much attention.

The reason for accelerating the plan was provided on July 1, 1974, when the Cyprus government decided to reduce the military service to fourteen months and restrict the Greek officers of the National Guard.

The following day, Makarios, in a letter to his Greek counterpart, General Phaedon Gizikis, accused the Greek government of involvement in a conspiracy against him, and claimed the recall of 650 Greek officers serving in the National Guard of Cyprus.

In Athens, it was decided that the coup against Makarios would take place on Monday, July 15, 1974. Cypriot General Grigorios Bonanos commissioned the leadership of the coup to Brigadier Michael Georgitsis, with deputy commander Colonel Constantine Kobokis. Both officers were serving in the National Guard.

Coup Cyprus
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger pictured with Makarios. Public Domain

On July 11, the cabinet met in Athens to discuss the Makarios letter, and it was decided that a meeting would be convened on Saturday, July 13th to assess the impact of the imminent reduction in military service in Cyprus. In the meeting, it was decided that Makarios would be overthrown.

Early on Monday morning on July 15, 1974, Makarios took off on the road to return to the Presidential Palace in Nicosia from his country house on Troodos, where he had spent the weekend.

The Makarios procession passed in front of the National Guard camp in Kokkinotrimithia, where tanks were already warming their engines for the upcoming coup. Makarios’ procession went unswervingly from that point without any of the members of his escort observing anything suspicious.

At 8:15 am, the first tanks began to emerge from their base, heading for the Presidential Palace. At the same time, a commando squadron was ordered to occupy all the high areas and public buildings. The long-awaited coup d’état was manifested with the slogan “Alexander has entered the hospital.”

At the time of the coup, Makarios was holding a reception for a group of Greek children from Egypt. One of the children heard the shots, but Makarios reassured them. When the shots multiplied and the commandos started taking over the Presidential Palace, Makarios, after protecting his young visitors first, escaped from the only unguarded passage in the western part of the Presidential Palace.

With the help of his three bodyguards, and dressed in civilian clothes, he fled to the Kykkos Monastery. There, he rested for a while and then took off on the road to Paphos.

By midday, the coup forces controlled virtually the whole of Nicosia despite the reaction of the EDEK militants of Vassos Lissarides and the Reserve Army, which consisted exclusively of Greek Cypriots.

They immediately began to look for the person who would take over the Presidency of the Republic of Cyprus. Three senior judges and Glafkos Clerides were appraised, but all of them refused.

Eventually, Georgitsis ended up with journalist and old EOKA fighter Nikos Samson, one of the most controversial figures in the history of Cyprus. When he was informed, Ioannides said with indignation: “There are 500,000 Greeks in Cyprus, and you chose him to be president?!”

Makarios: “The junta’s coup has failed”

While the Cyprus coup plotters believed that Makarios was dead, the Archbishop was alive and well and sent a message through a makeshift radio station in Paphos:

Greek Cypriot people! The voice you hear is familiar. You know who’s talking to you. I’m Makarios. I am the one you have elected to be your leader. I’m not dead. I am alive. And I am with you, a fellow fighter and flag-bearer in the struggle. The Junta’s coup has failed. I was the target and I, as long as I live, will not allow the Junta to Cyprus. The Junta decided to destroy Cyprus. To divide it. But it will not succeed. Cyprus has always resisted the Junta. Do not be afraid. Join everyone in the legitimate powers of the State. The Junta must not pass and will not pass. Now, let’s all join the fight!

By the morning of July 16th, all of Cyprus was under the control of the coup. The consequences of the coup were heavy. The number of deaths from the fratricidal conflict amounted to 450.

After he stayed at the UN peacekeeping force in Paphos, Makarios boarded a British military plane, and through Malta, he arrived in London, where he met with British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Secretary of State James Callahan.

Britain maintained a cautious attitude to the Cyprus coup and recommended “restraint.” The United States called for support for Cyprus’ independence and called on all states to do the same while Secretary of State Henry Kissinger rejected a proposal to support the renegade Makarios government.

In Athens, Foreign Minister Konstantinos Kypreos stated, inter alia, that “recent developments in Cyprus are a matter of an independent state and member of the United Nations.”

On the day of the Cyprus coup, Ankara put military forces on alert because it was said that the constitutional order on the island was overturned. The National Security Council met in Ankara to discuss the Cyprus situation.

The military assured Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit that they would be ready for intervention in Cyprus within five days. Indeed, on July 20, 1974, Turkish troops invaded the northern part of the island.

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