Trouble was brewing, even in the remote Troodos Mountains. In 1974 I witnessed the first signs of events that would see us bombed out of Cyprus and change it forever. Soon there would be rebellion, invasion, ethnic conflict, deaths and an occupying United Nations peace-keeping force that’s still on patrol 50 years later.

By Terry Walker0905202411 minute read
From My Life, in Words

The Troodos mountains in Cyprus had been the favourite hideaway of EOKA rebels fighting the British in the 1950s and the established battleground for regular rumbles involving intercommunal and local political differences since the island was divided between Greeks and Turks.

When staying at the Pinewood Valley Hotel just below the 3,000-metre summit of Mount Olympus, we had seen locals drive away in Jeeps looking all “military”. Off to settle a few old scores or just to hone up their militia skills for the next big ethnic set-to? I shoved a chair under the bedroom door handle for extra security – as seen in a recent Western movie.

I didn’t mention my fears to our host, Colonel Dick Richards, who had put his British army pension and savings into purchasing the Troodos hotel in which we were currently his guests. His investment would be in jeopardy if the balloon went up again in Cyprus. Tourism is the first economic victim of conflict.

With Geoff Walkden, a fellow partner in the London Mayfair-based Grafton PR and Marketing, our stay was extended for a few more days so we could advise the colonel on his plans to expand into an upmarket spa resort for wealthy Arabs. We had just concluded the successful launch of the first beach hotel in Paphos in the southwest of the island but we needed to update on the broader tourism market potential.

Mission Control for Intelligence

The most culturally, socially and politically important location in Cyprus was the Ledra Palace Hotel in the island capital of Nicosia. We had stayed and partied there regularly during the last year or so of the construction of the Pathos Beach Hotel. We drove from the Troodos Mountains to Nicosia to talk to the management and investors to get a feel of the political climate. The biggest shareholder was the Church of Cyprus, headed by Archbishop Makarios, who had been elected president a decade earlier when the country gained its independence from Britain. This reflected the hotel’s iconic place in the country’s troubled history.

Senior churchmen and their lawyers were happy to answer our questions but appeared downbeat over finding a solution for the inter-communal strife between the Greek and Turkish citizens. Hotel staff were known to earwig on the political meetings and events held there. Others had been involved in bomb incidents, including an assassination attempt on the life of the British Governor, so they were well-informed at all levels.

The Cyprus Bar at the Ledra Palace was Mission Control for Greeks, Brits, Arabs, Americans, Russians, Turks and assorted others with information to trade or subterfuge to share. Any intelligence we gained over Keo beers and complimentary pistachios was likely to be accurate and timely.

No power, phones or petrol

We couldn’t help noticing the underlying unrest on Sunshine Island. By now there were street demonstrations with impromptu slogans and banner waving. A strike of electricity workers had us sitting in the candlelight knocking back bottles of Othello. There were no phones or faxes. Soon we had no petrol. Filling-up involved hand pump workouts at each garage that still had fuel to sell, but no electricity to dispense it.

The signs were not encouraging for our proposed tourism marketing business in Cyprus. Some Greek Cypriots still wanted Enosis with Greece, the Turkish Cypriots were fearful for their futures if this happened. President Makarios was determined to retain the hard-won independent republic status. The Cypriot National Guard was stuffed with officer appointees of the new junta of colonels in charge in Greece and they wanted to add Cyprus to their Hellenic Empire.

The local militias might find themselves in action soon unless this growing mess is sorted. There were press reports on the activities of EOKA B, a revived version of the terrorist organisation that had given 30,000 British troops the runaround in the 1950s. They still wanted Cyprus to be part of Greece. There were increased ethnic disturbances as the Turkish Cypriot minority came under pressure.

Bad things were happening in Cyprus. Tourism is always the first to suffer as holidaymakers switch to rival shores in safer places. The future of tourism didn’t look too bright; investing millions of pounds in a posh Troodos spa would be a risk too far for Colonel Richards.

Makarius fled for his life

We returned to London and over the next few months kept in touch with the Paphos Beach Hotel and Colonel Dick Richards who had now put his hotel expansion on hold. It was the right decision. Cyprus wasn’t such a peaceful island any more as the situation deteriorated.

The balloon went up on Monday 15 July 1974 when rebellious Cyprus National Guardsmen shelled and machined-gunned the presidential palace in Nicosia in an attempt to remove Makarios from power. He managed to dodge the bullets as he fled for his life. The rebel forces tracked him to Paphos and were closing in as an RAF helicopter plucked him to safety. Archbishop Makarios was taken to nearby RAF Akrotiri and then flown by a military plane to London.

Five days later British owners of villas in Kyrenia and apartments in Famagusta saw Turkish army paratroopers dropping from transport planes. As the Turks hit the ground, ITN reporter Michael Nicholson welcomed them. Now every journalist wants a world scoop and ITN got lucky – the film crew vehicle had broken down in the right place at the right time. “Nick” rushed around shaking hands with the troops as they landed and welcoming them to Cyprus. His exclusive film was flown back to Britain for distribution to TV stations around the world.

The invaders moved south towards Nicosia and the UN-established Green Line between the ethnic populations. Towns and villages were attacked by the Turks and defended by the Greek Cypriots.

Hotel stranded in no man’s land

1,000s of Greek Cypriots, British and other ex-pats lost their homes as the Turks took over the north of the island. After a month of fighting and a subsequent ceasefire, a demarcation Green Line was established from coast to coast. It passed the front door of my beloved Ledra Palace Hotel, the scene of some of the worst fighting with hundreds of guests trapped inside. They were the last guests at the landmark heritage hotel that has never reopened. It remains stranded in no-man’s land, as does the international airport and many economically important enterprises.

In London, I watched on TV news as Turk planes bombed and strafed showrooms and factories along the Nicosia Airport Road. I am sure I saw the Dennis truck factory of my mate Andreas Kaisis take a direct hit. I hoped he was still at his villa in Paphos and had been delayed by invasion chaos in getting to the factory.

In a “Should have gone to Specsavers” scenario, the Turkish Air Force also bombed three of their destroyers outside Pathos Harbour mistaking them for Greek warships. They managed to miss the Turkish Castle and my favourite local watering hole, Le Blat, which both stand on the harbourside.

However, a late-night telephone call from Michalides, the general manager of the Pathos Beach Hotel, revealed that the Turk Air Force had bombed the hotel shattering the central atrium glass dome and damaging other sections of the structure. He’s been forced to shelter with his wife, family, and guests in the cellar.

Airport and resorts captured

Luckily, nobody was seriously injured and we conjured the immediate future of the hotel on which we had both worked so hard. All our work together to organise the fit-out of the place, recruitment and staff training and then produce brochures, stationery and advertising was now imperilled by trigger-happy invaders.

But in the fog of war, there are no certainties. No invaders reached Pathos or the Troodos Mountains. Thousands of Turkish Cypriots fled northwards with active encouragement from their Greek-speaking neighbours

The island’s top holiday resorts, Kyrenia and Famagusta had been captured by the Turkish invaders as had the international airport, manufacturing areas and northern districts of Nicosia. Tourism was suspended and was badly affected for many years. Our plans for more tourism PR and marketing consultancy and Colonel Richard’s spa expansion. were bombed out of Cyprus.

Cypriot Tourism peaked in 1973 with the arrival of 264,000 overseas visitors and hit its lowest point of 47,000 visitors the year after the Turkish invasion. Arrivals were a roller coaster for decades as regional conflicts such as the Gulf War scared off tourists. Still, the versatile Greek Cypriots gradually rebuilt and expanded their vital tourism industry. which currently benefits from 3.8 million tourists a year.

On 24 April 2024, the 50th anniversary of the Turkish invasion, the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides, unveiled a 1974 Prisoners of War monument just before the Ledra Pallas roadblock in Nicosia. This year, he said, with the completion of 50 years since the Turkish invasion, perhaps more than ever, the memories and thoughts of those who lived through the tragic events and brutality are more intense and more compelling. The President referred in his address to the prisoners of war, the missing persons, the wounded, the refugees and those who died during the Turkish invasion. He noted that the state should respect and recognize them. SOURCE KNews, Cyprus.

Tourist arrivals in Cyprus saw a notable uptick in February 2024 compared to the same period in the previous year, according to data released by the Cyprus Statistical Service. The total number of arrivals reached 125,034, marking a 5% increase from February 2023’s figure of 119,081. Tourist arrivals in February 2024: United Kingdom had 24.6% (30,774) of total arrivals. Poland had 13.3% (16,591), Israel at 10.6% (13,290) and Greece at 10.3% (12,835). SOURCE: CyStat.

The Ledra Palace Hotel has retained its key role in the heritage and future of Cyprus as the venue for ongoing bi-communal meetings to settle the country’s intercommunal problems. But, more than seventy years after the construction of the Ledra Palace Hotel, its future remains uncertain, as is the future of Cyprus and its wonderful people.

The Pinewood Valley Hotel remains a 3-star hotel, but Colonel Richards’ dream spa never happened as it was bombed out of Cyprus. It now operates as Churchill Pinewood Valley Hotel. Fifty years on, Pathos has grown into a major resort with scores of new hotels and tourism facilities. A new international airport serves the conference and holiday markets. The Pathos Beach Hotel shares its beachside location with rows of new hotels and restaurants. But there are ghosts from its inception as a holiday resort 50 years ago. Some say that occasionally in the darkened Le Blat bar there are ghostly figures at the midnight hour… One (Andreas Kaisis?) with a guitar singing sad songs of a lost era; another figure (author of this article?) gently stirring tall glasses of whiskey sours lined up on a dusty bar top… Words are spoken: “Efharisto poli, Andreas. Yi Mas,” with an English accent.

Before Turkey invaded the island, the borders of the Republic of Cyprus were internationally recognised. The document granting Cyprus’s independence was signed by three “guarantor” states: United Kingdom, Greece and Turkey. These three states declared that they would “recognise and guarantee the independence, territorial integrity and security” of Cyprus. The Turkish invasion, as declared by numerous UN resolutions since, was a clear violation of Turkey’s commitments.

The crimes committed in the north of Cyprus by Turkey include but are not limited to, the following: indiscriminate bombings, the killings of civilians including children and pregnant women, the forcible eviction and deportation of Greek Cypriots, the systematic looting, pillage and seizures of homes, churches and other properties, torture, rape and forced prostitution, assault and battery, illegal detention and forced labour, among others. These violations were directed at Greek, Maronite and Armenian Cypriots because of their ethnicity, language and religion.

The ethnic cleansing of the north of Cyprus by Turkey resulted in the displacement of more than 170,000 Greek Cypriots, about 40 per cent of the then Greek population of the island. Turkey’s occupation forces have not allowed them to return home. The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP) was established in 1981. It c; claims 1,508 Greek Cypriots are still officially reported as missing. Source:: Uzay BulutAl-Ahram Weekly.

PLUS more genuine family history to share…

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