Cyprus Emergency
Part of the Cyprus problem
and Decolonisation

A street riot in Nicosia during the Battle at Nicosia Hospital in 1956
Date1 April 1955 – 19 March 1959
(3 years, 11 months, 2 weeks and 4 days)

London-Zurich Agreement


 United Kingdom

Turkish Resistance Organisation
Supported by:
Turkey Turkey
Supported by:
Greece Greece[note 1]
Commanders and leaders
John Harding
Hugh Foot
Turkey Rauf Denktaş
Georgios Grivas
Grigoris Afxentiou 
Tassos Papadopoulos
Markos Drakos 
Renos Kyriakides
British Empire c.25,000[3]–40,000[4] 300 fighters[4]
1,000 active underground[5]
Casualties and losses
371 dead (according to Roll of Honour's database) and 21 British Policemen
601 injured[6]
102–112 killed (including 9 executed)
Unknown injured[7]

The Cyprus Emergency[note 2] was an ethnic conflict fought in British Cyprus between April 1955 and March 1959.[8]

The National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA), a Greek Cypriot right-wing nationalist guerrilla organisation, began an armed campaign in support of the end of British colonial rule and the unification of Cyprus and Greece (Enosis) in 1955. Opposition to Enosis from Turkish Cypriots led to the formation of the Turkish Resistance Organisation (TMT) in support of the partition of Cyprus. The Cyprus Emergency ended in 1959 with the signature of the London-Zürich Agreements, establishing the Republic of Cyprus as an independent state.[9]


The island of Cyprus can trace its Hellenic roots back to the 12th century BC with the immigration of Mycenaean Greeks to the island.[10][11][12] Many civilisations passed through the island leaving remnants behind, including that of the Franks, Venetians, Assyrians etc.[13][14]

Cyprus was a territory of the Ottoman Empire from the late 16th century until it became a protectorate of the United Kingdom under nominal Ottoman suzerainty at the Cyprus Convention of 4 June 1878 after the Russo-Turkish War. In 1915, Cyprus was formally annexed into the British Empire after the Ottomans had entered World War I on the side of the Central Powers against the British, and it was initially governed by a military administration until 1925, when it was proclaimed the Crown Colony of Cyprus. From the 1910s to the 1950s, Greek Cypriots became increasingly dissatisfied with British rule and supportive of Enosis, the concept of political unification between Cyprus and Greece. Several unsuccessful offers made to Greece by the British to cede Cyprus in exchange for military concessions, as well as the noticeable lack of British investment on the island, caused a growing Cypriot nationalist movement.

In October 1931, Greek Cypriots rebelled against British rule and destroyed government property, however the demonstrations were suppressed and Britain took dictatorial measures against the Cypriot people; these became known as the "Palmerocracy", owing to the name of the Governor of Cyprus, Richmond Palmer.[15][16] These measures were in place until the start of World War II.[17]

In 1950, a referendum was held by the Church of Cyprus on the subject of union with Greece, with a 89% turnout rate and 95.7% of those in favour of union with Greece; the British government, however, refused to negotiate.[18][19][20]

In 1954, Britain announced its intention to transfer its Suez military headquarters (the office of the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East) to Cyprus.[21]



On 1 April 1955, the EOKA started its insurgency with the 1 April Attacks. After a series of other incidents, the Governor General Sir John Harding declared a state of emergency on 26 November 1955.[22] Following the example of Malaya, Harding tried to co-ordinate the activities of the civil, military and police authorities, with the specific aim of collecting and processing intelligence. The British encountered great difficulty obtaining effective intelligence on EOKA, as it was supported by the majority of the Greek Cypriot population. As a result, the British were forced to rely on some 4,000 Turkish-Cypriot policemen, who were ostracised by the Greek-Cypriot communities and could provide little information about them.[23] Inevitably, the use of Turkish Cypriot policemen against the Greek Cypriot community exacerbated relations between the two communities.[24] In 1955 however, EOKA had sent letters to the Turkish-Cypriot community in Nicosia stating that their conflict was against the British and not them.[25]

EOKA focused its activity to urban areas totalling 104 house bombings, 53 riots, 136 acts of Sabotage, 403 ambushes, 35 attacks on police, 38 attacks on soldiers and 43 raids on police stations. EOKAS's aim to keep the British army away from the Troodos mountains where its main fighters were hiding.[26] Some of the attacks went awry most notably, the bombing of a restaurant by EOKA on 16 June led to the death of William P. Boteler, a CIA officer working under diplomatic cover.[27] Grivas immediately issued a statement denying a deliberate attempt to target American citizens.[28]

In October, with the security situation deteriorating, Harding opened talks on the island's future. By this stage, Makarios had become closely identified with the insurgency, and talks broke up without any agreement in early 1956.[29] Makarios was viewed with suspicion by the British authorities, and was later exiled to the Seychelles.[30][31] News of his arrest triggered a week-long general strike followed by a sharp increase in EOKA activity: 246 attacks through 31 March, including a failed assassination attempt against Harding when a bomb placed under his bed failed to detonate.[32]


By mid-1956, there were 17,000 British servicemen in Cyprus and Harding was concerned to counter EOKA's mountain units in the Troodos. Nevertheless a number of operations were launched:[33][34]

Between 21 April and 7 May 1956, the British armed forces mounted an operation codenamed "Kennett", conducted in the Kyrenia range by 1,500 troops who cordoned and searched a dozen villages in a 50 square mile area and arrested eighteen suspects.[35]

From 17 May to 7 June, Britain launched operation "Pepper Pot", an operation that was carried out by the 16 Independent parachute brigade. However, an informant within the Special Branch alerted Grivas of the operation, and as such EOKA was better prepared for the British forces which led to the operation having little effect.[36][37]

From 7 June to 23 June 1956, Britain launched operation "Lucky Alphonse" in an effort to cripple EOKA and capture George Grivas as a means to bring power to the negotiating table.[38] More than 5,000 British soldiers took part, including units from the Royal Marines, the Parachute Regiment, the Gordon Highlanders and the Royal Norfolk Regiment.[39] Although there were some minor successes, 7 British soldiers were killed in action, with another 21 burned to death by accident during a fire in the Paphos Forest, the operation furthermore failing to capture George Grivas.[40]

From 2 to 21 July, 16 Independent parachute brigade cordoned thirty villages in the Troodos; assisted by tracker dogs and informers, they arrested three members of three village groups in an operation called "Spread Eagle".[41]

From 22 to 25 July 1956, the British captured seventeen guerrillas and wounded several others trying to breach the cordons during operation "Golden Eagle".[42]

Some of the other operations were considered a success; some fifty guerrillas and a good haul of weapons were captured. Grivas managed to escape and was forced into hiding, leaving behind his diary which yielded important intelligence information. The leading EOKA assassin, Nikos Sampson, had also been captured.[43] Grivas eventually moved to Limassol where he established his new headquarters.[44]

Suez crisis and ceasefire

Soldiers of 1st Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own), with an Mk I Ferret Scout Car in the Troodos mountains, 1957

The Suez crisis gave EOKA some respite in the autumn of 1956 and some reorganization was achieved in particular the town groups. As a result, British forces did not follow up on the success of the summer operations, much to the frustration of Harding. EOKA stepped up its campaign in what became as 'Black November' for the British with a total of 416 attacks killing 39, including 21 British units. Facing growing criticism in the United Kingdom about his methods employed and their ineffectiveness, Sir John Harding resigned as Governor on 22 October 1957 and was replaced by Sir Hugh Foot in December.[45]

The end of the Suez crisis, although it had resulted in the departure of many of the military from the island, had not reduced the number of active internal security operations as much as EOKA had expected, with the British able to hold their own and reassert control.[46] After Suez campaign had finished, the British military strength was increased to 20,000 and Foote managed to direct a new offensive.[46]

British troops were redeployed and the town groups were being hunted. By the Spring of 1957, the British operations took their toll on EOKA; the security forces arrested around thirty members of the Nicosia town groups and the area commander. In addition, the mountain groups would never be as effective as they had been. Altogether fifteen were killed in combat and another sixty were captured, with the likelihood they would be hanged. Grivas ordered his area commanders to cease active operations. By April, the majority of EOKA's leaders had been killed or captured and their gangs were soon broken up. With the insurgency seemingly defeated, Grivas announced a ceasefire on 17 March.[43]

In November of 1957, EOKA engaged in one of its most significant operations against the British, when an EOKA member employed at RAF Akrotiri smuggled and placed bombs in the engine compartments of two English Electric Canberras, both of which were destroyed along with two other Canberras and a De Havilland Venom that were destroyed by the subsequent fire that consumed the hanger (Sabotage at RAF Akrotiri).[47][48][49]

Intercommunal violence

Further information: Cypriot intercommunal violence

The ceasefire lasted a whole year; during this time EOKA began to rearm and reorganize and stepped up its activities in different ways. A second phase of the emergency now began as EOKA began to target urban areas where they organized rioting by students. They also used hit squads to target police officers and military personnel. These attacks continued throughout 1957 and into 1958. Grivas was also concerned with increasing communist activity against AKEL, ordering a number of actions against them, which threatened to start a civil war within the Greek Cypriot community.[43] The British delicately fueled this hostility, and in August 1957 a second wave of intra-Greek violence broke out.[50]

The Turkish Resistance Organisation (TMT, Türk Mukavemet Teşkilatı) was formed with the support of the Turkish government in order to flare up tensions between the two communities and to achieve their goal of 'Taksim'.[51] TMT used violence against members of its own community (especially on the left) that were not willing to stay in line with their cause.[52][53] The British tolerated TMT and had leveraged the Turkish Cypriot community and the Turkish government as a means of blocking the demand for Enosis. The British knowing this was getting out of control still managed to exploit the situation.[54]

Intercommunal and intracommunal violence escalated in the summer of 1958 with numerous fatalities. There were approximately 55 assassinations by Turks on Greeks, and 59 assassinations by Greeks on Turks between 7 June and 7 August.[55] A substantial number of Turkish Cypriots were displaced due to the violence.

End of the emergency

By the spring of 1958, the British began focusing on the escalating violence on the island. The British thus set up the MacMillan Plan, which stated that the United Kingdom, Greece, and Turkey would jointly administer Cyprus. The plan was rejected by the Greeks, as they saw it as an open door leading to the partition of the island.[56] By September, Makarios had also abandoned his initial demand for Enosis, favouring independence instead of partition, as a combination of British action, Turkish intervention, and political pressure from Konstantinos Karamanlis.[57] The renunciation of the union with Greece was the decisive signal Britain had waited for. British diplomacy kicked into action for an honourable withdrawal.[58] During the last months of 1958, all parties had reasons to favour a compromise. The Greek Cypriot side was afraid that partition was becoming more and more imminent, Greece was anxious that the ongoing situation could lead to a war with Turkey, Turkey had to manage the ongoing crises at its eastern borders, and the British did not want to see NATO destabilizing because of a Greek-Turkish war, in addition to being unable to fully suppress EOKA.

On 5 December, the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey acknowledged the situation and a series of meetings were arranged that resulted in London-Zürich Agreements. This was a compromise solution in which Cyprus would become an independent and sovereign country. Both Makarios and Grivas accepted the agreements with a heavy heart, but the Turkish-Cypriot leadership was enthusiastic about the compromise. On 9 March 1959, Grivas issued declared a ceasefire too though opposing the agreements.[59] There was to be an immediate cease-fire, and an amnesty for political crimes committed during the Emergency.[60]


Following the London and Zürich Agreements, Cyprus became an independent republic and as far as liberation being concerned, the EOKA campaign was successful.[61][62] Britain was allowed to retain control of some 254km2 (98 square miles) which consisted of two Sovereign Base Areas at Akrotiri and Dhekelia also known as British Forces Cyprus including some other facilities on the island which do not form part of the SBAs.[63][64]

See also: Bloody Christmas (1963) and Battle of Tillyria

Despite having agreed to independence, Turkey soon regarded Cyprus with grave suspicion, feeling that they had been betrayed by the British. For the new constitution to work in practice, some degree of co-operation between the two communities would be essential, with many viewing as unworkable. This view proved correct, and after years of unrest, violence, and disagreement, a buffer zone was established in the last days of 1963 directed by Major-General Peter Young, commander of the British Joint Force (later known as the Truce Force and a predecessor of the present UN force). It was fully established on 4 March 1964, then extended on 9 August after the Battle of Tillyria, and extended again in 1974, after the ceasefire of 16 August 1974, following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. This became known as the United Nations Buffer Zone in Cyprus, and is commonly referred to as the 'Green Line'.[65]

Torture and extrajudicial killings

At least 14 Cypriots (including a minor) arrested on suspicion of being EOKA members, were tortured then killed by UK forces during detention. Witnesses – both surviving detainees and UK veterans – recall various kinds of torture and inhumane treatment of detainees.[66]

The British government agreed in January 2019 to pay £1 million to a total of 33 Cypriots who had been allegedly tortured by British forces during the uprising. They included a woman, aged 16 at the time, who said that she had been detained and repeatedly raped by soldiers, and a man who had lost a kidney as a result of his interrogation. The payout followed the declassification of government documents in 2012, but Foreign Minister Alan Duncan stated that "the settlement does not constitute any admission of liability" although "the government has settled the case in order to draw a line under this litigation and to avoid the further escalation of costs".[67]

See also


  1. ^ Greece politically supported Greek Cypriots at the United Nations, but there was no active involvement from Greece on the island.
  2. ^ Also known as the Cyprus Liberation Struggle 1955–1959 (Greek: Απελευθερωτικός Αγώνας της Κύπρου 1955–1959), the Greek Cypriot War of Independence (Greek: Ελληνοκυπριακός Πόλεμος της Ανεξαρτησίας) or the Cypriot War of Independence (Greek: Κυπριακός Πόλεμος της Ανεξαρτησίας) among Greeks and Greek Cypriots, and the 1955–1959 Cyprus events (Turkish: 1955–1959 Kıbrıs olayları) among Turkish and Turkish Cypriots.


  1. ^ French 2015, p. 302.
  2. ^ Schofield, Clive H. (31 January 2002). Global Boundaries: World Boundaries Volume 1. Routledge. ISBN 9781134880355.
  3. ^ "Cyprus Emergency Deaths 1955–1960".
  4. ^ a b Fall, Bernard B. (1998) [1965]. "The Theory and Practice of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency". Naval War College Review. 51 (1): 55–56. ISSN 0028-1484. JSTOR 44638001 – via JSTOR. Remember that the British fought in Cyprus, and seemingly had everything in their favor. It is an island half the size of New Jersey. The Royal Navy, which can be trusted to do its job, sealed off the island from the outside. There were 40,000 British troops on Cyprus under Field Marshal Sir John Harding, and his opponent, Colonel [George] Grivas, had 300 Greeks in the EOKA [National Organization of Cypriot Struggle]. The ratio between regular troops and guerrillas was 110-to-1 in favor of the British! After five years the British preferred to come to terms with the rebels.
  5. ^ Kraemer 1971, p. 146.
  6. ^ French 2015, p. 307.
  7. ^ French 2015, pp. 66, 307.
  8. ^ Lim, Preston Jordan (2018). The Evolution of British Counter-Insurgency during the Cyprus Revolt, 1955–1959. Springer. p. 12. ISBN 978-3-319-91620-0. The term "Cyprus Emergency" more precisely refers to events occurring between 26 November 1955, when Governor John Harding declared an official state of emergency, and Grivas' departure in March 1959.
  9. ^ "Historical development". Retrieved 21 January 2024.
  10. ^ "Historical background – MFA". Retrieved 7 February 2024.
  11. ^ Keiko, Arai (1973). "Cyprus and Mycenaean civilization". Bulletin of the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan. 16 (2): 189–190.
  12. ^ Jennings, Robert (6 May 2010). "The Hellenization of Cyprus in the Late Cypriot III and Beyond: Detecting Migrations in the Archaeological Record". Scholars Archive, University at Albany. University at Albany, State University of New York.
  13. ^ Coureas, Nicholas (2015). How Frankish was the Frankish ruling class in Cyprus?. Nicosia: Cyprus Research Centre. pp. 61–78.
  14. ^ "Cyprus: 1100 years of history and civilisation" (PDF). Many other cultures followed since then, including Phoenicians, Assyrians, Franks, Venetians ... all leaving behind visible traces of their passage.
  15. ^ Αθανασίου, Βαλάντη. "Η Παλμεροκρατία".
  16. ^ Loizides, Georgios P., Intellectuals and Nationalism in Cyprus: A Study of the Role of Intellectuals in the 1931 Uprising (1999). Master's Theses. 3885.
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  18. ^ "Κύπρος: Δημοψήφισμα υπέρ της Ένωσης – ΔΕΚΑΕΤΙΑ 1950 – 100 Χρόνια Κ". Retrieved 7 February 2024.
  19. ^ Kambas, Michele; Gumrukcu, Tuvan (22 February 2017). "Cyprus reunification stalled in row over 1950 vote". Reuters.
  20. ^ Georgis, Giorgios; Kyriakides, Christos; Charalambous, Charalampos (2022). "The Cypriot Referendums for Union with Greece [Τα Ενωτικά Δημοψηφίσματα στην Κύπρο]". Cyprus Review. 34 (2): 186. ISBN 978-9925-581-66-5. The referendum of 1950, which followed the failure of the Consultative Assembly (Διασκεπτική, Diaskeptiki), marked the beginning of a new dynamic stage of the efforts of the Greeks of Cyprus to unite with Greece, which culminated with the EOKA struggle.
  21. ^ Richard J. Aldrich, Ming-Yeh Rawnsley, The Clandestine Cold War in Asia, 1945–65: Western Intelligence, Propaganda and Special Operations, Routledge, 2013, 106.
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  25. ^ Βαρνάβας, Ανδρέα (2002). ΙΣΤΟΡΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΠΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΩΤΙΚΟΥ ΑΓΩΝΑ ΤΗΣ ΕΟΚ Α (1955–1959) [The history of the liberation struggle of EOKA 1955–1959] (in Greek). Nicosia: Ίδρυμα Απελευθερωτικού Αγώνα ΕΟΚΑ 1955–1959. p. 58. ISBN 9963-576-99-0. Η ΕΟΚΑ διαβεβαίωσε με φυλλάδιο της, που κυκλοφόρησε σε τουρκική γλώσσα τον Ιούλιο του 1955 στην τουρκική συνοικία της Λευκωσίας, ότι ο Αγώνας που διεξάγει δεν στρέφεται εναντίον των Τουρκοκυπρίων, αλλά εναντίον του Αγγλου κυριάρχου.
  26. ^ French 2015, p. 110.
  27. ^ Times, Homer Bigart Special To the New York (17 June 1956). "U.S. Vice Consul Is Killed By Cyprus Terrorist Bomb; Series of Bombings". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 1 March 2024.
  28. ^ Richter 2010, p. 496.
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  33. ^ "A personal National Service 50th anniversary :: The Wardrobe". Retrieved 1 March 2024.
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  35. ^ 179 Times, 21 April 1956; The New York Times, 22 April 1956; TNA CO 926/417. Harding to Colonial Office, 22 and 26 April 1956.
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  37. ^ French 2015, p. 58: "He may have been the source who informed Grivas that the British were about to launch a major cordon and search operation (Operation Pepperpot) between Lefka, Lyssi, and Troodos two days before the search began in May 1956."
  38. ^ Snelling, Steve (March 2011). "Cyprus Emergency Remembered" (PDF).
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  40. ^ "CYPRUS: Fire & Smoke". Time. 2 July 1956. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 1 March 2024.
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  42. ^ van der Bijl 2014, p. 103.
  43. ^ a b c Newsinger 2016, p. 106.
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  45. ^ Holland 1998, p. 213.
  46. ^ a b Newsinger 2016, p. 104.
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  49. ^ "Incident English Electric Canberra B.2 WF886,". Retrieved 1 March 2024.
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  55. ^ Holland 1998, pp. 263–264.
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Further reading