Bloody Christmas (1963)

Bloody Christmas (Turkish: Kanlı Noel) is a term used mainly, but not exclusively, in Turkish Cypriot and Turkish historiography, referring to the outbreak of intercommunal violence between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots during the Cyprus crisis of 1963–64, on the night of 20–21 December 1963 and the subsequent period of island-wide violence[1] amounting to civil war.[2] The violence led to the deaths of 364 Turkish Cypriots and 174 Greek Cypriots.[3] Approximately 25,000 Turkish Cypriots from 104 villages, amounting to a quarter of the Turkish Cypriot population, fled their villages and were displaced into enclaves.[4] Thousands of Turkish Cypriot houses left behind were ransacked or completely destroyed.[5] Around 1,200 Armenian Cypriots and 500 Greek Cypriots were also displaced. The violence precipitated the end of Turkish Cypriot representation in the Republic of Cyprus.

The term Bloody Christmas is not used in official Greek Cypriot and Greek historiography, which contends that the outbreak of violence was a result of a Turkish Cypriot rebellion (Tourkantarsia) against the lawful government of the Republic of Cyprus.[6]


The Republic of Cyprus was established as a bi-communal unitary state in 1960. Neither of the two communities were happy with this situation as Greek Cypriots thought it was their right to unite Cyprus with Greece (enosis) while Turkish Cypriots were striving for partition (taksim). After two relatively peaceful years, in November 1963 tensions skyrocketed when President and Arch-bishop Makarios III proposed 13 constitutional changes which were met with fury by Turkish Cypriots.[7]


21 December: eruptionEdit

The incident that sparked the events of Bloody Christmas occurred 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 in a taxi from an evening out. When the police officers attempted to search the women in the car, the driver objected and an argument ensued. Soon a crowd gathered and shots were fired.[8][9] By dawn, two Turkish Cypriots had been killed and eight others, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, had been wounded.[10]

21 December to 23 DecemberEdit

After the shooting, crowds of Turkish Cypriots gathered in the northern part of Nicosia, often led by the Turkish Resistance Organisation (TMT). On 22 December, the funerals of the two Turkish Cypriots killed were held without incident.[11] However, shooting broke out on the evening of 22 December. Cars full of armed Greek Cypriots roamed through the streets of Nicosia and fired indiscriminately, and Turkish Cypriots fired at patrolling police cars. Turkish Cypriot snipers fired from minarets and the roof of the Saray Hotel on Sarayönü Square. Some shooting spread to the suburbs and to Larnaca.[2] The Greek Cypriot administration cut off telephone and telegraph lines to Turkish Cypriot quarters of the city of Nicosia and the police took control of the Nicosia International Airport.[11] Greek paramilitary groups led by Nikos Sampson and Vassos Lyssarides were activated.[2]

On 23 December, a ceasefire was agreed upon by Makarios III and Turkish Cypriot leadership. However, fighting continued and intensified in Nicosia and Larnaca. Machine guns were fired from mosques in Turkish-inhabited areas. Later on 23 December, Greek Cypriot irregulars headed by Sampson committed the massacre of Omorphita: they attacked the suburb, killing Turkish Cypriots, including women and children, "apparently indiscriminately".[12] The Turkish Cypriot residents of the quarter were expelled from their homes.[13]

Later eventsEdit

A number of Turkish Cypriot mosques, shrines and other places of worship were desecrated.[14]

Greek Cypriot irregulars attacked Turkish Cypriots in the mixed villages of Mathiatis on 23 December and Ayios Vasilios on 24 December.[15] The entire Turkish Cypriot population of Mathiatis, 208 people, fled to nearby Turkish Cypriot villages.[16]

Harry Scott 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 is disputed 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".[17]

A joint call for calm was issued on 24 December by the governments of Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom.[18]

As Cyprus was falling into havoc, Greece, Turkey and Britain, with Makarios's approval, created a Joint Truce Force under the command of General Peter Young, whose goal was to maintain, or rather re-establish, law, order and peace in Cyprus. By 31 December, 49 Turkish Cypriots and 20 Greek Cypriots were killed and 30 and 4, Turkish and Greek Cypriots respectively, were missing. Moreover, some Turkish Cypriots who had fled their homes to avoid the deadly Greek Cypriot paramilitary gangs and found shelter in Turkish only villages of the north side of Cyprus – one of the first steps towards partition.[19]

A conference held in London in January among the protagonists of the events, failed because of the maximalist positions of the leadership of Greek and Turkish Cypriots.[20]

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.[21] Overall, 364 Turkish Cypriots and 174 Greek Cypriots were killed in the 1963–64 conflict.[3] Around 25,000 Turkish Cypriots from 104 different villages abandoned their homes. These consisted of 72 mixed and 24 Turkish Cypriot villages that were completely evacuated and 8 mixed villages that were partially evacuated. The displacement amounted to a quarter of the Turkish Cypriot population. Approximately 1,200 Armenian Cypriots and 500 Greek Cypriots were also displaced.[22]

Most of the property abandoned by Turkish Cypriots was ransacked, damaged, burned or destroyed by Greek Cypriots. A 1964 United Nations report that used aerial photographs determined that at least 977 Turkish Cypriot homes had been destroyed and that 2,000 Turkish Cypriot homes had suffered severe damage and ransacking.[23] The report by the UN Secretary General on 10 September 1964 gives the number of destroyed houses as 527 and the number of looted houses as 2,000. This included 50 totally destroyed and 240 partially destroyed houses in Omorphita and the surrounding suburbs, and 38 totally and 122 partially destroyed houses and shops in the town of Paphos.[24]

Mass grave of Agios VasiliosEdit

A mass grave was exhumed at Ayios Vasilios on 12 January 1964 in the presence of foreign reporters, officers of the British Army and, officials from the International Red Cross. The bodies of 21 Turkish Cypriots were found in this grave.[25] 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.[15][26]

An investigating committee led by independent British investigators then linked the incident to an ostensible disappearance of Turkish Cypriot patients in the Nicosia General Hospital, but it was not determined until decades later that many of the bodies had been murdered elsewhere, stored in the hospital for a while and then buried in Ayios Vasilios.[25] However, several of the village's residents were also amongst those killed by Greek Cypriots.[27] The exhumed bodies were interred by the Turkish Cypriot authorities to the yard of the Mevlevi Tekke in Nicosia. The bodies were exhumed in the 2010s by the Missing Persons Committee, the eight villagers of Ayios Vasilios identified and buried individually.[28]


It is generally accepted on both sides of the island that the event is clearly not an occasion for celebration, less importantly by association with the issue of inter-communal violence and what that led to, and more so by its own string of tragic events.[29] It is also often considered to contribute to reflections that the island of Cyprus is still divided more than 50 years later, which is a constant reminder to both sides that there has hardly been any joint communal achievement since, and is therefore seen by many as a time for reflection and trying to find a solution for future generations.[30]

Turkish Cypriots annually, and officially, commemorate 1963 as ‘Kanlı Noel’ (Bloody Christmas) on 21 December, as a collective tragedy, for which Greek Cypriots have no official commemoration.[31] The anniversary is commemorated by Turkish Cypriots as the 'week of remembrance' and the 'martyrs' struggle of 1963–1974', and follows the TRNC's Independence Day, which is on 15 November and is marked by protests in the south.

There are those on both sides that view these commemorations or lack thereof as issues for contention during Cyprus peace talks. It is often the case that the few public gestures made by Turkish and Greek Cypriot officials that signal possible reunification are often contradicted by these elements which have the effect of reinforcing the conflict mentality.[32]

Greek Cypriot official viewEdit

Anthropologist Olga Demetriou has described the Greek Cypriot official discourse regarding the events of Bloody Christmas as one that "in a sense, parallels denialist strategies that, for example and albeit in cruder form, draw on the battle of Van in 1915 to present Armenians as aggressors against Turks and deny the genocide."[33] According to Demetriou, this is still reflected in the Greek Cypriot history textbooks today, and has the effect of presenting the Greek Cypriots as the victims of Turkish Cypriot aggression, although the majority of the victims were Turkish Cypriot. According to Yannis Papadakis, Greek Cypriot schoolbooks describe the 1960s as "a period of aggression by the 'Turks' (Turkey and Turkish Cypriots) against the 'Greeks'", though the Turkish Cypriots suffered heavier losses in the conflict.[34] This has been 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.[35] In 2004, Greek Cypriot President 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,[36] with some Greek Cypriot media calling Papadopoulos's claim a blatant lie.[37]

Demetriou further contends that the use of the term "Turkish mutiny" (Tourkantarsia) to describe the events of 1963–64 contributes to the Greek Cypriot narrative that the Cyprus problem started in 1974, under which the Greek Cypriot and Armenian Cypriot people displaced in 1963–64 are not classified as "refugees" but as "those struck by the Turks" (Tourkoplihtoi).[38]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Hadjipavlou 2016, p. 2017; Hazou 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Richter 2010, p. 120.
  3. ^ a b Oberling 1982, p. 120.
  4. ^ Bryant 2012, p. 5–15; Hoffmeister 2006, p. 17–20; Risini 2018, p. 117; Smit 2012, p. 51; United Nations 1964: "The trade of the Turkish community had considerably deciined during the period, due to the existing situation, and unemployment reached a very high level as approximately 25,000 Turkish Cypriots had beccme refugees"
  5. ^ Bryant 2012, p. 5–15; United Nations 1964.
  6. ^ Tzermias 2001, pp. 60–62.
  7. ^ Richter 2010, pp. 106–115.
  8. ^ Richter 2010, p. 94.
  9. ^ Havadis 2014.
  10. ^ Ker-Lindsay 2009, p. 24.
  11. ^ a b Borowiec 2000, pp. 56–57.
  12. ^ Borowiec 2000, pp. 56–57; Richter 2010, p. 121.
  13. ^ Lieberman 2013, p. 264.
  14. ^ The Guardian 1999.
  15. ^ a b Patrick 1976.
  16. ^ "Mathiatis". PRIO Cyprus Displacement Centre. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
  17. ^ Bryant & Papadakis 2012, p. 249.
  18. ^ Richter 2010, p. 120; Goktepe 2013, p. 130.
  19. ^ Richter 2010, pp. 121–122.
  20. ^ Richter 2010, p. 122.
  21. ^ Soulioti 1996, pp. 275–281, 350.
  22. ^ Bryant 2012, pp. 5–15; Hoffmeister 2006, pp. 17–20.
  23. ^ Bryant 2012, pp. 5–15.
  24. ^ United Nations 1964.
  25. ^ a b O'Malley & Craig 1999, p. 93.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ "AGIOS VASILEIOS". PRIO Displacement Centre. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  28. ^ Bayrak 2018.
  29. ^ Keser 2013.
  30. ^ Hazou 2013.
  31. ^ Demetriou 2006.
  32. ^ Yakinthou 2009.
  33. ^ Demetriou 2014:This, in a sense, parallels denialist strategies that, for example and albeit in cruder form, draw on the battle of Van in 1915 to present Armenians as aggressors against Turks and deny the genocide.
  34. ^ Papadakis 2008, pp. 133–134.
  35. ^ Kovras 2014, p. 51; Demetriou 2014.
  36. ^ Stavrinides 2009.
  37. ^ Charalambous 2004; Stavrinides 2009.
  38. ^ Demetriou 2014; Kovras 2014, p. 51; Papadakis 2005, p. 149.