Cyprus sirens to mark ‘dark days’ of coup, invasion

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Sirens will wail across Cyprus Thursday to mark the dark events of July 15, 1974, when Greek army officers engineered a coup to oust the government in Nicosia leading to the Turkish invasion five days later.

To mark the very moment tanks rolled into Nicosia to overthrow democratically elected President Archbishop Makarios III, sirens will sound at 0820.

Events condemning the coup and the subsequent Turkish invasion will occur in Cyprus and the diaspora.

President Nicos Anastasiades will attend a special service for the fallen and honour those who sacrificed their lives to defend democracy.

In 1967, a military junta seized power in Greece.

The relationship between that regime and President Makarios was tense from the outset and became increasingly strained.

Makarios was convinced the Athens junta was involved in undermining his authority and backing extremist underground organizations in Cyprus conspiring against him.

With the phrase “Alexander has entered the hospital,” the head of Greek military forces in Cyprus, Brigadier Michael Georgitsis, announced to the junta’s leadership in the morning of July 15, 1974, the start of the coup.

Makarios had just returned to the Presidential Palace in Nicosia from his weekend retreat at Troodos.

As the coup was unfolding in central Nicosia, the President met with a group of Greek children from Egypt.

As shooting intensified as the Presidential Palace came under attack by the National Guard, Makarios escaped from an unguarded passage in the west wing of the Palace.

While state radio declared his death, Makarios addressed the people from a local radio station in Paphos, saying, “You know this voice… I am Makarios, and I am alive…”

He encouraged Cypriots to resist the coup.

Makarios, the first President of the Republic, fled the country.

He boarded a British military aircraft and went to London via Malta, where on July 17, he met with British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Foreign Secretary James Callaghan.

The United States called for support for the independence of Cyprus and urged all states to do likewise.

At the same time, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger rejected a proposal to support the ousted Makarios.

The coup provided Turkey with a pretext to launch an invasion on July 20, landing on a Kyrenia beach head – only 75 kilometres from the Turkish mainland.

Cyprus remains divided 47 years later.

Sirens will sound across the skies for a second time on July 20 at 05.30 to signal when Turkish troops arrived on Cyprus in 1974.