Cypriot-Americans Remember the Turkish Invasion of 1974 – 39 Years Later

Constantine S. Sirigos
Special to The National Herald

FLUSHING, NY – Prayers for the departed and expressions of solidarity with the people of Cyprus dominated the morning and afternoon of July 21 at the Church of St. Nicholas in Flushing. Parishioners and guests from throughout the New York Metropolitan Area filled the sanctuary to overflowing for the Divine Liturgy and Memorial service officiated by Archbishop Demetrios. A poignant program of music, reminiscences and exhortations followed in the Sarantakos Hall.  Andreas Hadjioannou served as the luncheon MC.  During his remarks at the luncheon, notwithstanding the recent positive signs and developments that other speakers referred to, the Archbishop said tha the key to a brighter future is the patience that encourages the people and friends of Cyprus to continue their struggle for the liberation of their nation. He noted that Rome and her armies did not snuff out Hellenism, rather, it was the culture of the Hellenes which thrived and triumphed. Rome was succeeded by the Greek Orthodox culture of Byzantium, and even after 400 years of Ottoman oppression, the people of Greece rose and prospered again. Michel Spinellis, the newly appointed Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations, concurred, declaring “we will continue the struggle until Cyprus is reunited.” His Cypriot Colleague at the UN, Ambassador Nicholas Emiliou, reinforced his words by saying the best way to memorialize those who made the ultimate sacrifice is for their friends and relatives to continue the struggle for the liberation of Cyprus.  Koula Sophianou, Cyprus’ Consul General in New York, was the keynote speaker. She paid a moving tribute to the living and the dead: the 18 year old boys who were the first to die on the front lines during the brutal surprise attack, the older generations who moved in to continue the fight, and the wives, sisters and mothers, both those who were among the many unarmed victims of the attack, and those who survived, but fought for the future of Cyprus by enduring and raising their families. Sophianou offered great and heartfelt thanks to the Diaspora for their fight for justice for Cyprus through the years, beginning with the busloads of people that went to Washington, DC and demanded of President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger: “Turkish Troops of Cyprus.” She expressed confidence that “united as one soul,” Hellenes in Greece and Cyprus and throughout the world will soon be thrilled by bells ringing from every church in every part of Cyprus,” celebrating the liberation.


St. Nicholas’ newly appointed assistant priest, Fr. Aristidis Garinis, represented the Pastor, Fr. Paul Palesty, who was on vacation. The luncheon began with an invocation by Archbishop Demetrios, who thanked the individuals and groups whose donations made it possible.  Among the benefactors was musician Tasos Papaioannou, who donated his talents for the touching musical portion titled “Songs of Triumph and Struggle.” He was joined in singing and recitation by Eleni Andreou, and they were accompanied by pianist Glafkos Kontemeniotes. Costas Tsentas, the president of the Federation, thanked Archbishop Demetrios for his efforts, noting he never missed an opportunity to bring up the Cyprus issue to American officials. Philip Christopher, the  President of PSEKA, and Pancyprian Association expressed his appreciation for the presence of the leaders of many organizations, and of Rhode Island State Senator Leo Raptakis. New York City Council candidates Gus Prentzas and Costas Constantinides were also present. CFA President Costas Tsentas’ comments to TNH reflected the hearts and minds of the guests when he said “we are at St. Nicholas today to honor those who lost their lives in 1974. We will remember them forever”.



He hopes, as do all present, that next year in addition to a memorial service for the heroes and martyrs, they will also celebrate the liberation of the occupied territory and re-unification of the island nation with a doxology service. Tsentas and Christopher sense an important shift among American State Department officials toward a stronger desire for a just and viable and lasting Cyprus resolution. “They used those words, and they acknowledge that part of the island is under occupation,” Tsentas added. What will happen remains to be seen, he said, “but it is a good sign.” Christopher said he was “pleasantly surprised” to experience such a message at a meeting last week with Eric Rubin, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. He said Rubin welcomed recent Greek Cypriot initiatives and said it was the first time he heard s an official acknowledge that the key to a solution is not in talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, but in Ankara. They both also believe the discovery of huge natural gas deposits has increased both the sense of urgency and opportunity. He noted the usually intransigent Turkey is going along with calls for new talks because they sense that the economic crisis has placed Cyprus in a position of weakness, but “that’s not going to change our positions because they have always been right and just,” Tsentas said The deepening ties between Greece, Cyprus and also a crucial positive factor.



Tsentas stressed the important role the Greek- and Cypriot-American communities can play, both by expressing solidarity and providing financial support, and by communicating with its representatives. He was heartened by the attendance at the luncheon, where three extra tables had to be set up, and urged the community nationwide to support H.Res.187, the bi-partisan resolution introduced this spring by Gus Bilirakis and Carolyn Maloney. It reaffirms the United States’ commitment to the reunification of Cyprus and condemns attempts to impose an unjust settlement now that the Greek Cypriots are in an economic crisis. Tsentas said it is critical at this time for the community to get its representatives to support the resolution and Christopher stated emphatically that after 39 years, this is not the time to be disappointed or to give up. One of the highlights of the luncheon was the screening of the documentary researchedand written by Petros Petrides titled “Mnimes Axethoriastes – Eternal Memories,” about the tragedy that the women who survived the 1974 invasion continue to live every day.


16 Av 5773                                                                                                                                           July 23, 2013

        39 Years after Turkish Invasion Cyprus Accommodation Is Within Reach 


                With the anxiety-inducing fitting of a new hearing aid for Mom Nina, and my own visit with friend, Lodge member, and incomparable periodontist Dr. Marc C. Levine over, I can concentrate on the meaning of a memorial, honoring those who resisted and fell defending Cyprus when waves of Turkish troops descended on July 20, 1974, occupying 39%, eventually creating the Turkish-Cypriot Republic recognized by a single nation … Turkey!


                 Through a gracious invitation tendered by The Cyprus Federation of America’s personable and dynamic general secretary Despina Axiotakis, joined by the International Coordinating Committee  Justice for Cyprus (ΠΣΕΚΑ), and the Cyprus Consulate of New York, I joined a capacity crowd, first for a protracted liturgy at Flushing’s St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, that was followed with nearly 100 attendees to an invitation-only luncheon.


The impressions of this Jewish guest on the religious aspects must include the special vestments, including a golden bejeweled miter worn by H.E. Archbishop Demetrios, and his homily evoking the day’s meaning of sacrifice and remembrance; the non-stop recitations of the psalmists, sometimes bilingually, citing the Gospel of Matthew, and mentioning the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the patrilineal descendants of the prototypical Abrahamist monotheism which pulsates in my bosom; the absence of prayer books for the faithful, passively observing the service, so filled with symbols, incense, and recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in Greek and English; sometimes encountering a devout woman, intoning the priest’s identical text. There was the placing of a wreath in memory of the fallen, and the flags of Cyprus and Greece; conspicuously missing was the American banner, a protocol requirement, and placed to the left as audience face the pulpit, according to the rules issued and complied by the American Legion. (Similarly, and always, while in the United States, the American anthem precedes the guest, foreign counterpart, a detail daily violates!)


With temperatures moderating, the absence of air conditioning in the ballroom was not keenly felt. Besides, the exchanges among old and new-found friends, and the tasty fish entrée, along with brief speeches, and musical selections kept us all focused on the theme of the day to remember and honor. In short order, there was a before-the-meal prayer by the Archbishop, and a welcoming greeting from the representative of the parish council. Kostas Tsentas, president of the Cyprus Federation, moved toward reminding us that the 39 years of Turkish occupation of a substantial part of the island has resulted in dire living conditions for the majority Greek-Cypriots, expressing gratitude to “mother” Greece for its unstinting support for reunification, a thought accentuated by the Cypriot Permanent Representative to the United Nations Nikos Emiliou.


PSEKA president Philip Christopher provided a hopeful political dimension, belatedly weaving and sounding the praise of a reality that was also present to materialize; to wit, the obvious common strands in a more positive relationship among Cyprus, Greece, and Israel, especially developing over the drilling on recently-discovered natural gas deposits, and a strategic partnership. More, there is continuous appreciation of the lasting benefits whose obvious display will help tear down the walls of suspicion between the Greek Orthodox communities and Israel, and Jews in general. For such affirmative events I have humbly and energetically toiled for years, and share in the general satisfaction experienced by people of good will everywhere!


The program’s highlight was the keynote that was provided by Cyprus Consul-General Koula Sophianou, whose tenure has been marked with uncommon grace, effectiveness, and deep understanding of issues, endearing her to all who meet her. She and I have a rapport which permits easy and frequent, informal, expressions of opinion which is the quintessential meaning of a relationship of trust, allowing me to proudly declare her a very special friend!


Consul-General Sophianou spoke of the pathos of having generations live with fear, deprivation, separation, desecration; indeed, this insightful diplomat has spent all her years never having experienced life free to traverse the length and breadth of that beautiful isle of Aphrodite. It was a pleasure to see Greek Consul Evangelos Kyriakopoulos, in one of his last round of public appearances, as he is ending his tenure to return to Athens for rest, recreation, and eventual reassignment. My contact with this envoy were always marked with willingness to offer high quality service, smiling as I recall my co-religionist David’s, a Drama native, wonderment how expeditious was the process of claiming his right to a Greek passport.


 There followed the projection of a 16-minute documentary, produced by Petros Petridis. Putting human faces to the Cyprus tragedy, several women spoke of loss, a family member, a son, or a recently-acquired husband, and this plaintive story. An entire family, having come to the United States and prospering, decided to return to live among their compatriots, shortly before the Turkish invasion. In the event, they lost everything, and, in mid-life, they come back America to begin anew the rebuilding of destroyed lives.


A musical selection, composed by Polys Kyriakou, our local jewel of Astoria, touched the strings of our hearts as Tasos Papaioannou and Eleni Andreou, with piano accompaniment by Glavkos Kontemeniotis, offered songs of the seaport Kyrenia, perhaps for the last year under occupation. The closing remarks by Archbishop Demetrios stressed our commitment to see a reunited Cyprus, if it takes many more years; after, all, Greece rose in the 19th century, nearly four centuries after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and Byzantium in 1453. It is not a unique assessment of history to suggest that errors were made at critical points in Cyprus march to independence in 1960, and, alas, in its government under the leadership of the Ethnarch Archbishop Makarios, myopically pursuing an anti-American policy, and joining the non-aligned bloc in the Cold War, the moral challenge of the post-war generations: lacking Turkish-Cypriot input in the struggle for autonomy; acting with an air of superiority in administering power, creating high anxiety in the Moslem minority; blithely promoting ENOSIS, union with Greece, which was intentionally provocative not only to Turkish-Cypriots, but their mainland patrons.


Thus, 39 years on, there is a more worldly leadership in Cyprus, a member of the European Union, solidly connected to the West, and even able to teach its senior compatriots in mainland Greece how to be pro-Israel, and even touch the third rail of religious politics, as Archbishop Chrysostomos and Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger signed an agreement whereby the island’s Orthodox Church expunges the dogma of collective Jewish guilt for the crucifixion. There is much that we, Jews, Greeks, and Cypriots, share in common, demonstrating that we can shatter the taboo of mindless anti-Zionism, as we together marched in this year’s Celebrate Israel Parade! With understanding, tolerance, and compassion we can increase inter-communal trust-enhancing crossings in Cyprus, and eventually create a binational, or federated new Cyprus that will be the envy of other war-ravaged lands. It is a dream within our reach, if we can only will it, and now, avoiding the lapse of tens, hundreds, or even a thousand years.


Sincerely, and with fraternal affection,


Prof. Asher J. Matathias