Battle of Tillyria
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The island of Cyprus is located in the eastern Mediterranean, south of Turkey and west of Syria. In 1964, at the time of the battle, the island was governed by two Sovereign state entities—the Republic of Cyprus and the British Sovereign Base Areas. The areas under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Cyprus included a number of large and fortified enclaves, inhabited by the island's Turkish Cypriot minority, which had receded into defensive positions around Turkish controlled villages following a major outbreak of civil unrest in 1963.
The Tillyria region of Cyprus was largely enclosed within the Morphou Administrative District in the north-west of the island, forming a large portion of the southern coastline of Morphou Bay. Located on this coastline at Kokkina was a heavily fortified Turkish enclave with between 750 and 1000 inhabitants.
In November 1963, President of the Republic of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios III, proposed 13 constitutional amendments to the Constitution of the country's Government. These amendments were primarily aimed by the Makarios Administration at reorganising and regulating the distribution of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot manpower and voting power in the Government, civil services, military and police forces. These proposed amendments would also have affected the distribution of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot persons serving the judicial, executive and municipal service arms of the Government, in favour of a 70% to 30% split, weighted to the Greek Cypriot population majority (77%) over the Turkish Cypriot minority (18%).
While the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot sides of the Government were already largely polarised in favour of the interests of their respective "mother-states" (i.e. Greece and Turkey), the Turkish Cypriot representatives within the Government flattly rejected Makarios' 13 proposed constitutional amendments, on the basis that it deprived the Turkish Cypriots of equal representation. The Greek Cypriots, likewise, refused to modify the amendments.
The Turkish Cypriots promptly withdrew their representation from the Government of the Republic of Cyprus in late November. Civil unrest quickly followed across the island as political tensions began to manifest in social interaction.
Demographic and geopolitical context
A series of atrocities and intercommunal terrorist acts struck the island from late December 1963, as violence began to flare between Turkish and Greek Cypriot extremists. This violence perpetuated quickly, and was reinforced by pre-existing nationalist sentiments on both sides, including a Turkish desire for "Taksim" (or division of the island into Turkish and Greek portions), and a Greek desire for "Enosis" (or union of the entire island with Greece). The main proponents of this violence were purportedly self-referred to as the Turkish Resistance Organisation (TMT), and the Greek Cypriot EOKA B, though it is not clear how much of the violence can actually be attributed to directives issued by these groups.
In mid-1964, the Greek Cypriot Government became aware that the Turkish Cypriots, who by now had almost universally receded into enclaves nationwide, were becoming increasingly well equipped with small arms, squad automatic weapons and mortars that would not have otherwise been made available to them through legal ports of entry. The Turkish Cypriot held deep-water dock at Kokkina, in Tillyria region, was immediately suspected as the focus of a Turkish shipping point for the supply of arms to the Turkish Cypriots from mainland Turkey. This belief was further reinforced by published intelligence estimates of the Turkish Cypriot force present at Kokkina, which was thought to be of approximately battalion-strength, with heavy weapons.
The Greek Cypriot reaction was a scramble for arms. In 1965, a surveillance radar station was installed at Mt Kormakitis in Kyrenia district in order to observe illegal shipping movements between Turkey and Kokkina, and a total of six fast naval attack craft were procured from the Soviet Union in order to triple the strength of the Cyprus Navy. As an additional measure, two heavy Greek Cypriot patrol gunboats were stationed near Morphou in order to launch a naval strike, should the need arise.
While Greece remained largely silent on the issue of the Kokkina shipping point, the Greek Government gave the Greek Cypriots assurances that it would support an armed intervention at Kokkina, should the situation become untenable. The Commander of the Greek Cypriot National Guard, Col. Georgios Grivas, returned to Cyprus from Athens in late July 1964, after receiving an audience with members of the Greek Government. Shortly thereafter, the Greek Cypriots began to mobilise for an armed intervention at Kokkina, despite Turkish threats to counter-intervene by force should exactly that happen.
In the days leading up to the invasion, the Cypriot National Guard began to mobilise infantry, artillery and armored forces for an assault on Kokkina. On 6 August 1964, the Cypriot National Guard commenced its attack. For two days, Cypriot National Guard forces laid down support fire with six 25-pounder guns and approximately twelve mortars, coordinated with 20mm and 40mm cannon fire from the Cyprus Navy patrol boats Phaethon and Arion. Under this barrage, infantry progressed slowly into the enclave with cover from overlapping machine gun fire, but found that the Turkish Cypriots had organised their own machine guns and mortars into an effective formation. The battle quickly degraded into a low-intensity exchange of sniping and support fire, as both sides dug into the difficult terrain.
On 8 August 1964, after waiting for nearly two days, Turkey intervened, once it had become clear that the Greek Cypriots would not withdraw from Kokkina, but simply commit more and more siege forces until the Turkish Cypriots ran out of supplies.
On the morning of 8 August, the Cypriot patrol boats Phaethon and Arion were attacked by Turkish Air Force jets as they sailed close to Xeros Harbour, Morphou Bay. The boats commenced evasive manoeuvers and put up anti-aircraft fire. The Phaethon was quickly strafed with 75mm rockets and burst into flames, killing seven crew members and wounding several others. Its engine still running, the surviving crew managed to guide it aground and then abandoned ship.
As the Arion continued to evade the attack, a second formation of Turkish F-100 Super Sabre jets came in low to attack it. A Turkish jet piloted by Captain Cengiz Topel was shot down by a Cypriot Bofors 40mm L60 anti-aircraft gun emplacement which was situated close to the harbour. Topel ejected almost immediately, and parachuted inland, but was captured and swiftly lynched by a group of Cypriot National Guard troops. The Arion was hit by strafing fire several times, but managed to escape to Paphos. It did not play any further part in the conflict.
Between the 8–9 August 1964, the Turkish Air Force was given free rein to attack multiple targets within the Tillyria coastal warzone, including a number of Greek Cypriot villages. Cypriot civilian casualties were reported as a result of heavy air attacks against several populated locations, including Kato Pyrgos. Turkish planes also attacked sites occupied by the Cypriot National Guard, killing a number of military personnel and destroying a Marmon Herrington Mk-IVF armoured car.
The immediate geographical result of the conflict in the Tillyria region was that the Kokkina enclave was effectively reduced to approximately 50-60% of its original size. However, the Greek Cypriot National Guard had failed to storm the inner defenses of the enclave, thus leaving the Turkish beachhead essentially intact.
Fighting in the region ceased on 10 August 1964, but Kokkina's value to the Turkish military dwindled, as the Greek Cypriots had effectively isolated it from the coastal road and encircled it with enough forces to guarantee its destruction by the time of the 1965 expansion of the National Guard.
On 20 July 1974, Turkey launched an invasion of the island, using a Greek Junta sponsored coup d'état against President Makarios as a pretext. The second Turkish offensive, codenamed Attila 2, took place between 14 and 18 August 1974, and extended as far west as the Kokkina enclave. Elements of the Turkish 28th Division, including the 61st Infantry Regiment, attempted to seize Kokkina in order to unite the enclave with the rest of the Turkish occupation zone, but the manoeuver faltered in the difficult terrain, and Greek Cypriot National Guard forces were able to halt the Turkish advance at Kato Pyrgos after intense fighting.
Currently, Kokkina (Turkish: Erenköy) is an exclave of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey. Greek Cypriot sanctions mean that the exclave can only be accessed from the TRNC-controlled area by sea, as the coastal road is now blockaded and mined.
- Pierre Oberling, The road to Bellapais: the Turkish Cypriot Exodus to Northern Cyprus, Social Science Monographs, 1982, p. 120.