As Cypriots say even 44 years later, July 20, 1974 was the day time stopped for Cyprus; a day when the course of history changed and the ongoing crime of the Turkish occupation is as fresh at each anniversary as it was then.
It was a day that no Cypriot and no Greek will ever forget. The eerie sound of the sirens broke the warm stillness of July in both countries, signing the end of an era. But only Cyprus felt the horror of the invading Turkish troops and the mayhem they unleashed on the unsuspecting people, mostly women, children and the elderly.
It was 5.30 in the morning when the war sirens signified the coming of hell. It was only five days after the mindless coup d’état of Greece’s dictatorial forces, giving the Turks a good excuse to invade and occupy the northern part of the island.
About 40,000 Turkish troops raided the island under the code name “Operation Attila”, an apt name for the barbaric attack against innocent civilians, violating the Charter of the United Nations Security Council.
The blue summer sky of Cyprus turned black after Turkish warplanes bombarded the area from Kyrenia up to Nicosia, killing hundreds of civilians before the field troops completed the massacre.
The pretext was the protection of Turkish Cypriots, an argument as weak then as it is now. The brutal invasion was dubbed “peaceful intervention” aimed at restoring the constitutional order in Cyprus, which had been demolished by the coup against Makarios on July 15, 1974.
The Attila invasion was the first part of the Cyprus tragedy. On August 14, 1974, the tragedy ended with the occupation of Famagusta and the Karpas peninsula.
About 4,000 people were killed during the invasion and 1,619 were reported missing. About 200,000 were driven forcefully away from their homes and became refugees in their homeland. The sudden population movement created chaos and economic disaster.
The Turkish occupation brought economic collapse to the northern part of Cyprus, with the army taking over one third of the country. The systematic settlement by Turkey of the illegal settlers forced many Turkish Cypriots to emigrate to Europe and elsewhere.
The settlers today outnumber the native Turkish Cypriots in a ratio of about two to one. Independent observers have documented this issue for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 1992 and 2003 respectively.
In violation of international law and UN resolutions, Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot regime are systematically attempting to eradicate the Greek cultural heritage in the occupied areas. Cities and villages have been given Turkish names, while archaeological sites, churches and cemeteries have been desecrated, destroyed or transformed.
Today, more than 43,000 armed soldiers from Turkey remain in the occupied areas.