We lived outside of Famagusta on the road down to Varosha, it wasn’t a big house, but it was home. Our whole family shared the house, our parents, my grandfather, my great aunt and my brother and I.
My father and mother ran a little general store in the early days of their marriage and they made a good living from it. They saved the profits from it and from the sale of the land my grandparents owned and used it to buy a small hotel just back from the beach at Varosha. With the growth in tourism from northern Europe and the UK, we were very busy and eventually my grandfather took over running the store whilst my father and mother and two cousins ran the hotel with the help of some Turkish Cypriot friends from the town. I was thirteen years old and my brother was ten and the future looked good for us. The troubles were over from the days prior to independence but still there were calls for us to be joined with Greece. My family supported AKEL who, as nationalists, campaigned for a Cyprus as an independent nation. This felt right to us as Cyprus has been for so long under the rule of foreign masters. Of course we discussed politics and the tensions that were being created by Makarios and Grivas but we got on well with our Turkish Cypriot friends who were, after all, Cypriots like us.
The first sign of trouble came on the radio one day. My grandfather always had the radio on to keep him company in the shop and we were working out on the terrace when he hobbled in waving his stick and gabbling on incomprehensibly. When we had calmed him down he told us that Ioannides had replaced Papadopoulos in Athens in yet another coup. This wasn’t unusual in Greece but this time the arrival of Ioannides could spell trouble for the island. Greece had long wanted enosis with Cyprus and for many years the island wanted the same but, of late, a more nationalist voice had arisen in the country and even Makarios seemed to prefer an independent Cyprus rather than be part of Greece. Within days Ioannides called for enosis once more and praised the work of EOKA B in helping to bring this about. My grandfather said he feared the worst as Ioannides was a ruthless character who would stop at nothing to achieve his goals. He even compared him to Hitler or Stalin.
It was 1973 and apart from the ramblings of Ioannides over the radio, the occasional problems caused by EOKA and sometimes riots that would flare up over minor squabbles between Greeks and Turks, there seemed to be little to disturb life on the island. Our Turkish Cypriot friends were becoming more worried though and had made plans to move their relatives from outside of the city walls into their home in Famagusta. They were beginning to believe their leaders view that for their safety Cyprus needed to be partitioned. They also hinted that they may not be able to work for us much longer if the situation worsened.
In January of the next year George Grivas died. Many didn’t know what to think. He had helped to bring about the independence of the island from the British but his actions had caused the deaths of many civilians under dubious circumstances. I lost respect for him once he had returned post-independence to try to bring about enosis by violent means. I was sure he was involved in the attempts on the life of our archbishop and to me that was unforgivable.
Throughout the spring and summer there seemed to be an uneasiness about the island. Greece continued to make overtures to the Cypriot people to bring about enosis but with Makarios opposing it and Grivas gone we thought it would eventually subside.
Then on July 15th our lives changed forever. Our own National Guard undertook a military coup, sponsored by Greece and overthrew the government of Makarios. We thought that he had been murdered as part of the plot but we found out a few days later that he had escaped to a British base and been flown to safety in London. To think that the British, who had been considered as our enemies for so long, eventually were instrumental in saving the life of the president who had opposed them. In his place the new authority installed Nicos Sampson as president. We now feared the worst, not only for our friends but also for ourselves. It was well known that Sampson was a thug and a criminal and we became very concerned at his plans for the Turkish Cypriots. We also knew that as a guarantor country, Turkey would have every right to come to the aid of the Turkish Cypriots if trouble began for them. And so it was to be. Within days we heard that the Turkish army had landed at Kyrenia and were building a bridgehead ready for further incursions into the island. We knew that all the calls of the UN and the peacekeeping force would mean nothing and in some ways the Turks were justified in taking matters into their own hands. They had looked on as Cyprus became the desirable plaything of Greece, ready to grab it back should Greece succeed and now, after a coup that no one wanted, we were faced with oblivion. No one knew what would happen in the next few days or where Turkey would stop.
As expected, our friends disappeared, we heard from them by telephone that they were alright and, although pleased that Turkey had stepped in quickly to protect them, they were concerned that we may not be safe if Turkey took over the whole island.
Talks were held to arrange a ceasefire and to repair the situation but on the island and across the world the chaos of those few days led to disaster for the Cyprus.
The Greek government became unstable and we heard that soldiers and arms meant to protect us had been withdrawn to Greece. In only a matter of days the Greek junta fell and Sampson, realising his supporters were no longer in a position of power, resigned. In America, the president resigned because of Watergate and so with seeming confusion all over the globe Turkey took its chance and extended their invasion.
We had no idea what Turkey’s intentions were or where they would stop. We waited for the British, the Americans or the UN to come to help us but, unsure of their role, they fled like the Cypriots.
On the morning after the big invasion started we got up early, not that we’d got much sleep. It was already very hot. The previous evening we had talked about what we should do. My father and grandfather wanted to go out and fight the Turks off but my mother persuaded them it would be futile. We talked about fleeing and what we could take with us. We had little cash or any small items of value and it was impossible to take everything we owned with us. We would have to go and leave all we had worked for behind in the hope that the situation would improve and that we’d be able to return to our home.
My father called on our cousins only to find that they had gone with some other townspeople to fight. My aunt was beside herself with worry and refused to leave her home until she had her sons back safely. All the persuasive powers of my father couldn’t make her leave. She’d lived in the house since she was married and although her husband had been murdered by the TMT she refused to leave.
On his return we could see my father was torn between what he should do. He felt helpless in the face of the invasion force but also needed to protect his sister in law. All through the morning the noise of battle seemed to be rapidly getting closer. We later found out that the Turkish army was virtually unopposed on its march south and that any resistance was dealt with swiftly.
Finally, sensing that the moment had arrived, we took a last look around our home, my mother was in tears and so was my father. We had only a small bag each of clothes and a few keepsakes and left our house just as we heard Turkish voices shouting in the distance. We headed away from the noise as fast as we could down towards Paralimni and Agia Napa, trucks and cars formed a long convoy out of Varosha and towards Derynia.
We were noticed by friends who offered us a lift on the back of their truck and sat amongst their belongings we all sobbed. In Agia Napa we saw hundreds, if not thousands, of people not knowing what to do. The police were trying to restore order amidst the chaos but with little success. The friends who had given us a ride said that they were going to continue on to Dhekelia to see if the British Army would help them.
Again, when we arrived at Dhekelia, there was a huge crowd trying to get into the base. The British feared that they would be overrun if everyone was let in at once so they were checking each lorry, car and pedestrian carefully. Inside, we felt safe but it seemed like we were in a prison camp. There were British soldiers guarding us like we were the criminals and we sat, in whatever shade we could find, resigned to our fate.
We stayed there for weeks being looked after by the British. No amount of international persuasion would get Turkey to withdraw and our homes, like the rest of the north of the island, were cut off from us and the world as though it never existed.
We heard rumours of events in the Turkish occupied area, women and girls being raped, then murdered, our own men being tortured then shot and buried in mass graves. All I know is that since that day we have not seen or heard from my aunt or her children again. The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus is our only hope of finding out what happened to them and whether we will have bodies we can bury and mourn.
After a few weeks we were moved to a refugee camp. We were very thankful to the British for the help they gave us while we stayed at Dhekelia but we knew we couldn’t stay there forever. Eventually we were offered the chance to take over a former Turkish Cypriot family’s supermarket in Agia Napa and an apartment above it as refugees. With no alternative this was the only option and so my father took it. As we walked into the building there was the smell of rotting vegetables and fruit and mouldy bread and rancid meat, fish and cheese. All the freezers had defrosted as the place had been closed down and the power cut to it as soon as the Turkish family left. Although we now were safe and had the means to support ourselves it felt to my father like we had travelled back in time to when he first started his own supermarket. We were fortunate that the tourism industry wasn’t hit by the troubles and the government did all they could to promote tourism as a way of overcoming the economic upheaval in the south. The supermarket flourished and in the early eighties we were offered the chance to buy a bar and restaurant. We managed to buy it with a preferential loan and again it became very successful. Our family has since taken over two more bars and clubs and we are again comfortably off. It has taken many years of hard work, tears and heartbreak.
I would give my right hand not to have left Varosha and for the world to be as it was in July 1974 before the invasion. To be positive, the years have strengthened us as a family and I believe it has strengthened Cyprus too. With the relaxation of the border crossings we’ve been back to see our old store and even talked to the Turkish people running it. I found it very hard but my father explained that it wasn’t their fault, both us and them were victims of politics, greed, envy and hate. We found out from them that they have a son missing from the time of the invasion and that they too long for news. They were forced to move from Larnaca and would love to return to their home one day. They even said that they miss their Greek Cypriot friends. Each week we hear that the talks are close to success but then they fall away again. We pray for a solution that’s fair for everyone and for a time when instead of Greek and Turk, we are just Cypriots once more.