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 between 20–21 December 1963 and the subsequent period of island-wide violence[1][2] amounting to civil war.[3] The violence led to the deaths of 364 Turkish Cypriots and 174 Greek Cypriots.[4] 25,000 Turkish Cypriots from 104 villages, amounting to a quarter of the Turkish Cypriot population, fled their villages and were displaced into enclaves.[5][6][7][8][9] Thousands of Turkish Cypriot houses left behind were ransacked or completely destroyed.[5][6] 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.[10][11][12]


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21 December: eruption

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.[13] As word of the incident quickly spread a hostile crowd gathered.[14] 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.[13] By dawn, two Turkish Cypriots had been killed and eight others, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, had been wounded.[15]

21 December to 23 December

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.[16] 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.[3] 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.[16]

On 23 December, a ceasefire was agreed upon by Makarios III and Turkish Cypriot leadership. However, fighting kept on 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 Nikos Sampson committed the massacre[16] of Omorphita: they attacked the suburb, killing Turkish Cypriots, including women and children, "apparently indiscriminately".[16] The Turkish Cypriot residents of the quarter were expelled from their homes.[17]

Later events

A number of Turkish Cypriot mosques, shrines and other places of worship were desecrated.[18]

Greek Cypriot irregulars attacked Turkish Cypriots in the mixed villages of Mathiatis on 23 December and Ayios Vasilios on 24 December.[19][20] The entire Turkish Cypriot population of Mathiatis, 208 people, fled to nearby Turkish Cypriot villages.[21]

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 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".[22]

A joint call for calm was issued on 24 December by the governments of Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom.[23]

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.[24] Overall, 364 Turkish Cypriots and 174 Greek Cypriots were killed in the 1963-64 conflict.[4] 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 eight mixed villages that were partially evacuated. The displacement amounted to a quarter of the Turkish Cypriot population. 1,200 Armenian Cypriots and 500 Greek Cypriots were also displaced.[6][7]

Most of the property abandoned by Turkish Cypriots was ransacked, damaged, burned or destroyed by Greek Cypriots. A 1964 UN 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.[6] 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 surrounding suburbs, and 38 totally and 122 partially destroyed houses and shops in the town of Paphos.[5]

Mass grave of Agios Vasilios

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.[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.[26][27]

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 evidence that was to emerge decades later indicated 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 radical Greek Cypriots.[28] 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.[29]


It is generally accepted on both sides of the island that it’s 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.[30] It is also often contributing 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.[31]

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.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34]

Greek Cypriot official view

The Greek Cypriot side plays down the significance or the extent of intercommunal violence in the early 1960's, employing a denialist approach. Olga Demetriou states that the Greek Cypriot official discourse follows an approach to the events of Bloody Christmas described as "parallels denialist strategies".[35] 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.[35] This narrative is widespread at GC educational system as Papadakis claims. According to Papadakis, GC schoolbooks present the TCs as aggressors instead of victims as they were during the 60's.[36] 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.[37][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,[38] with some Greek Cypriot media calling Papadopoulos's claim a blatant lie.[39][38]

The use of the term "Turkish mutiny" (Tourkantarsia) to describe the events of 1963–64 contributes to the Greek Cypriot master 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).[35][37][40]

See also


  1. ^ Hadjipavlou, Maria (2016). The Walls between Conflict and Peace. BRILL. p. 207. ISBN 978-9004272859.
  2. ^ "1963 is still a historical minefield". Cyprus Mail. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  3. ^ a b Richter, Heinz (2010). A Concise History of Modern Cyprus. Verlag Franz Philipp Rutzen. p. 120.
  4. ^ a b Oberling, Pierre (1982). The road to Bellapais: The Turkish Cypriot exodus to northern Cyprus. p. 120. ISBN 978-0880330008.
  5. ^ a b c "REPORT BY THE SECRETARY-GENERAL ON THE UNITED NATIONS OPERATION IN CYPRUS" (PDF). United Nations. 10 September 1964. Retrieved 17 December 2018. 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.
  6. ^ a b c d Bryant, Rebecca (2012). Displacement in Cyprus Consequences of Civil and Military Strife Report 2 Life Stories: Turkish Cypriot Community (PDF). Oslo: PRIO Cyprus Centre. pp. 5–15.
  7. ^ a b 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.
  8. ^ Risini, Isabella (2018). The Inter-State Application under the European Convention on Human Rights: Between Collective Enforcement of Human Rights and International Dispute Settlement. BRILL. p. 117. ISBN 9789004357266.
  9. ^ Smit, Anneke (2012). The Property Rights of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons: Beyond Restitution. Routledge. p. 51.
  10. ^ Pavlos N. Tzermias, Istoria tis Kypriakis Dimokratias (History of the Republic of Cyprus), Volume 2, pages 60-62, Libro Publications, Athens 2001
  11. ^ Michalis Papakonstantinou, I Taragmeni Exaetia (The Six Troubled Years) 1961-1967, Volume 1, page 89, Proskinio Publications, Athens 1997
  12. ^ 1963-64 and Charavgi
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Eric Solsten, Country Studies, US Library of Congress, retrieved on 25 May 2012.
  15. ^ James Ker-Lindsay, Britain and the Cyprus Crisis: 1963–1964, p. 24
  16. ^ a b c d Borowiec, Andrew (2000). Cyprus: A Troubled Island. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 56–57. ISBN 9780275965334.
  17. ^ Lieberman, Benjamin (2013). Terrible Fate: Ethnic Cleansing in the Making of Modern Europe. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 264. ISBN 9781442230385.
  18. ^ "Split for infinity?". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  19. ^ Richard A. Patrick, Political Geography and the Cyprus Conflict, 1964–71
  20. ^ the Special News Bulletin, issues 4, 6 and 25.
  21. ^ "Mathiatis". PRIO Cyprus Displacement Centre. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
  22. ^ Bryant, Rebecca; Papadakis, Yiannis, eds. (2012). Cyprus and the Politics of Memory: History, Community and Conflict. I.B.Tauris. p. 249. ISBN 978-1780761077.
  23. ^ Goktepe, Cihat (2013). British Foreign Policy Towards Turkey, 1959-1965. Routledge. p. 130. ISBN 978-1135294144.
  24. ^ Soulioti, Stella (1996). Fettered Independence. Minneapolis, United States: Minnesota Mediterranean and East European Monographs. pp. 275–81, 350.
  25. ^ a b O'Malley, Brendan; Craig, Ian. The Cyprus Conspiracy: America, Espionage and the Turkish Invasion. I.B. Tauris. p. 93.
  26. ^ Richard A. Patrick, Political Geography and the Cyprus Conflict, 1964–71
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ "AGIOS VASILEIOS". PRIO Displacement Centre. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  29. ^ "Final farewell to martyrs". BRT. 22 January 2018. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  30. ^ Ulvi KESER. "Bloody Christmas of 1963 in Cyprus in the Light of American Documents". Retrieved 31 October 2018.
  31. ^ ELIAS HAZOU. "1963 is still a historical minefield". Cyprus Mail. Retrieved 31 October 2018.
  32. ^ Olga Demetriou (Research Fellow, School of Humanities, Social Sciences, Languages and Law, Intercollege, Nicosia). "EU and the Cyprus Conflict: Perceptions of the border and Europe in the Cyprus conflict" (PDF). Retrieved 31 October 2018.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  33. ^ Christalla Yakinthou (15 August 2009). Political Settlements in Divided Societies: Consociationalism and Cyprus. ISBN 9780230223752.
  34. ^ Christalla Yakinthou (15 August 2009). Political Settlements in Divided Societies: Consociationalism and Cyprus. ISBN 9780230223752.
  35. ^ 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. 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.
  36. ^ Papadakis, Yiannis. "Narrative, Memory and History Education in Divided Cyprus: A Comparison of Schoolbooks on the “History of Cyprus”." History & Memory, vol. 20 no. 2, 2008, pp. 128-148. Project MUSE, pages = 131-132
  37. ^ a b Kovras, Iosif (2014). Truth Recovery and Transitional Justice: Deferring Human Rights Issues. Routledge. p. 51. ISBN 978-1136186851.
  38. ^ a b Stavrinides, Zenon (Spring 2009). "Dementia Cypria: On the Social Psychological Environment of the Intercommunal Negotiations". The Cyprus Review. 21 (1): 175–186.
  39. ^ Charalambous, Loucas (12 September 2004). "Does the President have memory problems?". Cyprus Mail.
  40. ^ Papadakis, Yiannis (2005). Echoes from the Dead Zone: Across the Cyprus Divide. I.B.Tauris. p. 149. ISBN 978-1850434283.