TENSIONS ran high after around 800 people travelling by road to take part in ceremonies to mark the 53rd anniversary of the Erenköy resistance were made to wait in rising temperatures by Greek Cypriot border guards on Tuesday.
Just days after biker protests in the South blocked checkpoints and saw foreign embassies warn their citizens to stay away from the frontier amid the growing unrest, South Cyprus authorities reportedly complained that there were “too many” Turkish Cypriots visiting the TRNC’s exclave on the north-west coast of the island, the scene of fierce fighting in 1964.
At one stage, those waiting on buses and coaches at the Yeşilırmak checkpoint alighted from the vehicles and began clapping and singing the Turkish national anthem in protest, after they were informed by UN peacekeepers that the Greek Cypriot officials wanted to impose a “limit” on the number of visitors.
The civilians were eventually allowed to continue their journey to Erenköy, now a Turkish military camp, where they were joined by politicians, government officials and military officers.
Some also made the journey by sea from Gemikonağı, and by helicopter.
In 1964, Greek and Greek Cypriot forces laid siege to the Erenköy bridgehead, which acted as a vital port for arms and supplies from Turkey for the rest of the island’s Turkish Cypriot inhabitants, who had been forced into enclaves across the island at the time.
Around 500 university students returned from their studies in Turkey and the UK to defend the village. A total of xx Turkish Cypriots were killed in the fighting, with Turkish bombing raids helping to repel the attack. Another three people died there in 1974.
Referring to Tuesday’s border incident, former Erenköy Association chairman Kutlay Keço told Cyprus Today: “There were 46 minibuses and 830 people who were heading for Erenköy. When . . . the UN peacekeeping forces told us that a request has been made [by the Greek Cypriots] to limit the number of buses and people, we were absolutely outraged.
“We were made to wait in boiling hot temperatures for over two hours . . . [with] no water [and] no toilets.
“We told the UN that either we all go together, or none of us. They then proposed to escort us 15 minibuses at a time, but with no guarantee the remaining buses would be allowed.”
Speaking at the Erenköy ceremony, an angry President Mustafa Akıncı said: “In these boiling temperatures, our people were treated in a manner they do not deserve.”
He said the remembrance event was held “only once a year” to pay tribute to the “great sacrifices [made] by our martyrs and our veterans”.
“They [the Greek Cypriots] also hold their own events. They should do so. However, they should refrain from debating with us for this once-a-year-event as to whether or not there will be 1,060 people, 900 people, 30 buses or 50 buses crossing [the border].
“Because if you do, what will this lead to? A reaction. Then they will react to our reaction . . . and it will grow. This is not what we want.
“Whether or not there is a solution on these lands, we have to create the conditions for peace and security, in a humane, civilised, sustainable relationship. However, this cannot be created with these sorts of actions.”
Mr Akıncı also said the TRNC could become a permanent “reality” following the collapse of talks last month to forge a new, united, federal state in Cyprus.
“Even if the TRNC is not recognised today, it is an entity – it is a reality. No-one can ignore the existence of this,” he said.
The president also spoke of the need for people to live “freely . . . without going under the supremacy of the other [community]”.
“This beautiful island is big enough for the two communities,” he added.
Following the singing of the Turkish national anthem and speeches, visitors were allowed to take a tour of the now derelict village, visit and pray for the fallen buried there, and visit the mosque that has been converted into a museum.
The ceremony also saw a “memorial shield” handed to the close relatives of those killed during the Erenköy campaign.
Tuesday’s border hold-up occurred after a weekend of disruption at several checkpoints on the island as hundreds of Greek Cypriot bikers marked the 21st anniversaries of the deaths of Tassos Issac and Solomos Solomou, killed during violent 1996 border clashes at Derinya.
Foreign ambassadors had issued warnings to their citizens to avoid the areas because of the risk of trouble.
Around 800 motorcyclists and pillion passengers carrying Greek and Greek Cypriot flags turned up for a “memorial service” at Derinya, near the UN buffer zone in the east, on Sunday.
Last Saturday, between 8.30am and 10am, dozens of bikers assembled in South Nicosia at Ledra Palace, leading to the temporary suspension of pedestrian access. Demonstrations were also held at Metehan, the capital’s main crossing point for vehicles.
Last Friday, about 60 protesters on 40 bikes rode from Paphos to the Yeşilırmak checkpoint, in the west of the island, where they held a demonstration before going on to the Bostancı car-only crossing for another protest.
'Is it legal to block crossing points?'
THE bikers' protest, which disrupted traffic through several checkpoints, prompted the bicommunal peace group Unite Cyprus Now to write to Greek Cypriot Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou, asking whether it was “legal” to shut down border crossings.
In a letter referring to last Saturday's action at Ledra Palace, also sent to the European Commission and other Greek Cypriot officials, the group said: “They [protesting bikers] blocked every access to the checkpoint, preventing people from crossing for more than two hours.”
The letter claimed that bikers told “everyone” who approached the checkpoint that the border “was closed” and that they “couldn’t cross”.
“When we asked the police officers whether the checkpoint had closed on instructions of the government authorities, they responded that the checkpoint had closed because of the event,” added the letter, which made reference to the Green Line Regulation – European Council regulation 866/2004 – quoting it as stating that “crossing of persons . . . is a right guaranteed for all Cypriot and EU citizens”.
'Shameful attempt to challenge South's authority'
POLITICIANS in the South condemned events surrounding the Erenköy commemoration.
The Movement for Social Democracy (Edek) criticised the Greek Cypriot government for "allowing" Turkish nationals to cross overland to Erenköy, while the far-right Elam branded the celebration a "shameful" Turkish attempt to challenge the authority of the “Republic of Cyprus”.
The Democratic Party, Diko, said in a statement "that the bombings by Turkey in 1964 showed the need not to allow [Ankara] to have any role or say in Cyprus".
The Greek Cypriot Citizens Alliance claimed "Turks were acting like tyrants and extremists”.
'Erenköy has a special place in Turkish Cypriot history'
THE “legendary” resistance in Erenköy holds a special place in Turkish Cypriot history, public figures have stressed.
Mehmet Kadı, acting Mayor of Yenierenköy, where residents of the original village were resettled in 1976, said people were “forever in debt” to their veteran fighters and the “our martyrs [who] died here [Erenköy] to protect the freedom of the Turkish Cypriots” 53 years ago.
“Erenköy is about preserving Turkish Cypriot people’s right to exist freely and to live as equals. On August 8, 1964, people from surrounding villages, students from abroad and freedom fighters converged here, to stop the enemy from entering this territory.”
Before 1974, Erenköy was the only Turkish Cypriot territory with access to the sea, and was used to ship in food, medical supplies and ammunition from Turkey, which was then distributed to other Turkish Cypriot villages.
“Turkish Cypriots exist today following the legendary resistence in Erenköy. It is our national pride,” said Mr Kadı.
Parliamentary Speaker Sibel Siber told Cyprus Today: “Erenköy was a turning point for us, a time when people showed true unity, when hundres of students from abroad abandoned their studies and their future dreams to put their lives at stake, to fight for the Turkish Cypriot existence.
“The people here were in a dire situation, in horrible conditions. Their only weapon was their faith and belief, their desire to coexist on these lands. But they never lost their hope.”
Prime Minister Hüseyin Özgürgün said Erenköy was about a “handful” of Turkish Cypriots who stood against Enosis – the campaign to unite Cyprus with Greece – and “attempts to disconnect Turkish Cypriots from motherland Turkey.
“The Erenköy resistence is the equivalent of [Turkey's] Dardanelles for Turkish Cypriots; a turning point in our history.
“It is where our heroic people stood up and showed the world their determination, that they would never bow to any pressure. They showed their love for their land, flag and freedom.”
April 4, 1964 – Greek Cypriots start attacking strategic Erenköy enclave in the north-west of Cyprus as intercommunal fighting between the two peoples of Cyprus spreads. About 500 Turkish Cypriot students from the UK and Turkey flock to the village under attack.
April 8, 1964 – UN Forces in Cyprus (Unficyp) manage to broker a ceasefire.
August 6, 1964 – The Greek Cypriot National Guard and Greek army units led by General George Grivas attack the area around Erenköy, forcing its defenders and civilian population to retreat to a narrow beachhead.
August 8, 1964 – Turkey intervenes by sending in fighter jets which bomb military Greek targets to stop the attack on Erenköy. President Archbishop Makarios threatens that if Turkey “invades” Cyprus, they will “find no Turkish Cypriot to save”. The village is heavily damaged by the artillery barrage and UN forces declare it a disaster area, bringing in much-needed supplies for civilians.
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