February 12, 1964 – Big Trouble In Little Cyprus
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Contrary to popular belief that the world changed in 1964, based on the happenings on The Ed Sullivan Show a few days earlier, it was the business-as-usual for the rest of the planet. Civil War was erupting on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus between Greeks and Turks who lived there, via Greece and Turkey who claimed “motherland” status. Britain was stuck somewhere in the middle between warring factions (since the UK was “protectorate” of the Mediterranean island until 1960), and dodging bullets in the process.
An armed conflict was triggered after December 21, 1963, a period remembered by Turkish Cypriots as Bloody Christmas, when a Greek Cypriot policemen that had been called to help deal with a taxi driver refusing officers already on the scene access to check the identification documents of his customers, took out his gun upon arrival and shot and killed the taxi driver and his partner. Eric Solsten summarized the events as follows: “a Greek Cypriot police patrol, ostensibly checking identification documents, stopped a Turkish Cypriot couple on the edge of the Turkish quarter. A hostile crowd gathered, shots were fired, and two Turkish Cypriots were killed.”
In the morning after the shooting, crowds gathered in protest in Northern Nicosia, likely encouraged by the TMT, without incident. On the evening of the 22nd, gunfire broke out, communication lines to the Turkish neighborhoods were cut, and the Greek Cypriot police occupied the nearby airport. On the 23rd, a ceasefire was negotiated, but did not hold. Fighting, including automatic weapons fire, between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and militias increased in Nicosia and Larnaca. A force of Greek Cypriot irregulars led by Nikos Sampson entered the Nicosia suburb of Omorphita and engaged in heavy firing on armed, as well as by some accounts unarmed, Turkish Cypriots. The Omorphita clash has been described by Turkish Cypriots as a massacre, while this view has generally not been acknowledged by Greek Cypriots.
Further ceasefires were arranged between the two sides, but also failed. By Christmas Eve, the 24th, Britain, Greece, and Turkey had joined talks, with all sides calling for a truce. On Christmas day, Turkish fighter jets overflew Nicosia in a show of support. Finally it was agreed to allow a force of 2,700 British soldiers to help enforce a ceasefire. In the next days, a “buffer zone” was created in Nicosia, and a British officer marked a line on a map with green ink, separating the two sides of the city, which was the beginning of the “Green Line”. Fighting continued across the island for the next several weeks.
In total 364 Turkish Cypriots and 174 Greek Cypriots were killed during the violence. 25,000 Turkish Cypriots from 103-109 villages fled and were displaced into enclaves and thousands of Turkish Cypriot houses were ransacked or completely destroyed.
Contemporary newspapers also reported on the forceful exodus of the Turkish Cypriots from their homes. According to The Times in 1964, threats, shootings and attempts of arson were committed against the Turkish Cypriots to force them out of their homes.
As violence escalated and a threatened invasion of Cyprus by Turkey was in the offing, the UN was called in to mediate the situation. And the US sent Under-Secretary of State George Ball to the island with a peace plan, in the hopes of avoiding a full-blown shooting war. All sides claimed pessimism.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minster Sir Alec Douglas Home was visiting Washington for talks with President Johnson on all the hotspots flaring up around the world (and there were lots). High on the list was Cyprus, in addition to Southeast Asia and a differing of opinions regarding Britain’s trade-status with Cuba, since the U.S. instigated an embargo on trade with the Caribbean island in 1962.
Since this newscast is from local Detroit station WXYZ, a goodly chunk of the news deals with the goings-on in Detroit politics. But it all added up to yet another busy and unsettling day on planet Earth for February 12th in 1964 (a Wednesday) as presented by WXYZ and their Morning Report.
And fifty-three years later . . . .