Bloody Christmas (1963)

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Bloody Christmas (Turkish: Kanlı Noel) is the outbreak of the tension between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots on the night between 20–21 December 1963 and the subsequent period of island-wide violence.[1][2]



21 December: eruption[edit]

During the early hours of 21 December 1963, Greek Cypriot police operating within the old Venetian walls of Nicosia demanded to see the identification papers of some Turkish Cypriots who were returning home from an evening out. These Turkish Cypriots were being driven in a taxi by taxi driver Zeki Halil and were around Hermes Street en route to Taht-el Kale. When the police officers attempted to search the women in the car, Halil objected and a discussion ensued.[3] As word of the incident quickly spread a hostile crowd gathered.[4] Upon this, the police called for reinforcements from Paphos Gate; and Cemaliye Emirali, the ex-lover of Zeki Halil, who was similarly returning from a night out, saw the incident and got involved. One of the policemen that had been called as part of the reinforcements took out his gun and shot and killed Zeki Halil and Cemaliye Emirali.[3] By dawn two Turkish Cypriots were dead and eight others, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, were wounded. As the day progressed there were numerous reports of sporadic gunfire around the old town as a large crowd of Turkish Cypriots, many armed, roamed the streets. Initial appeals for calm issued by President Makarios and Vice-President Küçük were ignored and by afternoon the fighting had spread to other parts of the capital. By the next morning, authorities in Larnaca were also reporting violent incidents. However, as evening approached the situation on the island appeared to be calming down. It was a short lived respite. Fighting erupted again the following morning when Greek Cypriot families living in the strategically important Nicosia suburb of Omorphita, which was primarily Turkish Cypriot, came under heavy attack. Soon afterwards conflict broke out in Famagusta when Turkish Cypriot gendarmes attempted to storm their headquarters. Likewise, fighting was reported from Kyrenia.[5]

Later events[edit]

A number of Turkish Cypriot mosques, shrines and other places of worship were desecrated.[6]

Greek Cypriot irregulars attacked Turkish Cypriots in the mixed villages of Mathlati on 23 December and Ayios Vasilios on 24 December.[7][8] A mass grave was exhumed at Ayios Vasilios on 12 January 1964 in the presence of foreign reporters, Officers of British Army and officials from Red Cross. 21 Turkish Cypriots' bodies were found in this grave. It was presumed that they had been killed in or near Ayios Vasilios on 24 December 1963. It was verified by the observers that a number of the victims appeared to have been tortured, and to have been shot after their hands and feet were tied.[9][10]

H.S. Gibbons, a reporter in Cyprus at the time, reported the murder of 21 Turkish Cypriot patients from the Nicosia General Hospital on Christmas Eve. This is taken as a fact in the Turkish Cypriot narrative, but not in the Greek Cypriot narrative. An investigation of the incident by a "highly reliable" Greek Cypriot source found that three Turkish Cypriots died, of which one died of a heart attack and the other two were shot by a "lone psychopath".[11]

A joint call for calm was issued on 24 December by the governments of Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom.[12]

The Republic of Cyprus states that between 21 December 1963 and 10 August 1964, 191 Turkish Cypriots were killed and 173 went missing, presumed killed, while Greek Cypriots suffered 133 killed and 41 missing, presumed killed.[13] Overall, 364 Turkish Cypriots and 174 Greek Cypriots were killed in the 1963-64 conflict. 18,667-25,000[14] Turkish Cypriots from 103 different villages abandoned their homes.[15][16]



Greek Cypriot official discourse, still reflected in history textbooks, follows a denialist[17] approach to Bloody Christmas. According to this narrative, the Republic of Cyprus faced a "Turkish mutiny" (Tourkantarsia). As such, Greek Cypriots are presented as the victims of Turkish Cypriot aggression, whereas the majority of the victioms were Turkish Cypriot.[17] This was used by the Republic of Cyprus to legitimise human rights violations against Turkish Cypriots, the suspension of their political rights, and, until 2003, the exclusion of Turkish Cypriots from the framing of the missing people by the Republic of Cyprus.[18][17] In 2004, Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos said in an interview that no Turkish Cypriots were killed between 1963 and 1974. Reaction to this claim appeared in the Greek and Turkish Cypriot media,[19] with Greek Cypriot media calling Papadopoulos's claim a blatant lie.[20][21]

The use of the term "mutiny" to describe the events of 1963-64 has contributed to a Greek Cypriot master narrative that the Cyprus problem started in 1974. Under this, Greek Cypriot and Armenian Cypriot people displaced in 1963-64 are not classified as "refugees" but as "those struck by the Turks" (Tourkoplihtoi).[17][18][22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hadjipavlou, Maria (2016). The Walls between Conflict and Peace. BRILL. p. 207. ISBN 9004272852. 
  2. ^ "1963 is still a historical minefield". Cyprus Mail. Retrieved 28 March 2017. 
  3. ^ a b "Her şey buradan başladı [Everything started here]". Havadis. 21 December 2014. Retrieved 28 March 2017.  The paper summarises a book by Tzambazis, who investigated this precise event using police records and eyewitness accounts.
  4. ^ Eric Solsten, Country Studies, US Library of Congress, retrieved on 25 May 2012.
  5. ^ James Ker-Lindsay, Britain and the Cyprus Crisis: 1963–1964, p.24
  6. ^ "Split for infinity?". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 March 2017. 
  7. ^ Richard A. Patrick, Political Geography and the Cyprus Conflict, 1964–71
  8. ^ the Special News Bulletin, issues 4, 6 and 25.
  9. ^ Richard A. Patrick, Political Geography and the Cyprus Conflict, 1964–71
  10. ^ The incident at Ayios Vasilios is described in the Special News Bulletin, issues 6, 19, 20, 21, 25 and 38. Secondary sources include H.S. Gibbons, 1969, pp. 114–117, 137–140; and K.D. Purcell, 1969, p. 327. To my knowledge, the incident was not reported in the Greek-Cypriot press or the Cyprus Mail. It was covered by most foreign correspondents then in Cyprus.
  11. ^ Bryant, Rebecca; Papadakis, Yiannis, eds. (2012). Cyprus and the Politics of Memory: History, Community and Conflict. I.B.Tauris. p. 249. ISBN 1780761074. 
  12. ^ Goktepe, Cihat (2013). British Foreign Policy Towards Turkey, 1959-1965. Routledge. p. 130. ISBN 1135294143. 
  13. ^ Soulioti, Stella (1996). Fettered Independence. Minneapolis, United States: Minnesota Mediterranean and East European Monographs. pp. 275–81, 350. 
  14. ^ Hoffmeister, Frank (2006). Legal aspects of the Cyprus problem: Annan Plan and EU accession. EMartinus Nijhoff Publishers. pp. 17–20. ISBN 978-90-04-15223-6. 
  15. ^ Oberling, Pierre (1982). The road to Bellapais: The Turkish Cypriot exodus to northern Cyprus. p. 120. ISBN 0880330007. 
  16. ^ Çay, M. Abdulhalûk (1989). Kıbrıs'ta kanlı Noel, 1963. Türk Kültürünü Araştırma Enstitüsü. 
  17. ^ a b c d Demetriou, Olga (2014). "'Struck by the Turks': reflections on Armenian refugeehood in Cyprus". Patterns of Prejudice. 48 (2): 167–181. doi:10.1080/0031322X.2014.905369. 
  18. ^ a b Kovras, Iosif (2014). Truth Recovery and Transitional Justice: Deferring Human Rights Issues. Routledge. p. 51. ISBN 1136186859. 
  19. ^ Stavrinides, Zenon (Spring 2009). "The Use of Coping Strategies for Community Traumas" (PDF). The Cyprus Review. 21 (1): 175–186. 
  20. ^ Charalambous, Loucas (12 September 2004). "Does the President have memory problems?". Cyprus Mail. 
  21. ^ STAVRINIDES, ZENON (Spring 2009). "The Use of Coping Strategies for Community Traumas". The Cyprus Review. 21:1: 181. 
  22. ^ Papadakis, Yiannis (2005). Echoes from the Dead Zone: Across the Cyprus Divide. I.B.Tauris. p. 149. ISBN 185043428X.