48 years ago today, Turkey invaded its neighboring country Cyprus. A brutal war ensued, killing thousands, and the island has been divided ever since. A look back at the 48th anniversary of Europe’s oldest conflict since the end of World War II.

July 20, 1974 is a black day in the history of Cyprus: Turkey launched an invasion and marched into the island nation – five days after a failed military coup against the archbishop and political leader of Cyprus, Makarios III. Turkey justified the invasion with a peace operation, but it was the beginning of a brutal war.

At around 5.30 in the morning, Turkish forces by ships and planes arrive in northern Cyprus, around the city of Kyrenia. Airplanes and helicopters lower paratroopers. Sirens sound on the island. There is talk of around 40,000 Turkish soldiers.

The invasion called “Attila” hit the Greek Cypriots completely unexpectedly, and defenseless civilians paid for it with their lives. The defense begins only after a long delay. Meanwhile, the Greek military junta initially believes that the Turks are merely bluffing. It also reacts late, which in turn gives the Turkish armed forces important time to advance their invasion.

Cyprus and Greece eventually put together a 12,000-strong army without modern weapons and anti-aircraft systems. Brigadier General Michael Georgitsis, who commanded the coup against Makarios, is leading the military. In addition, Greek Cypriot civilians are mobilizing to take part in the fight against the invaders.

Turkey ignores ceasefire demanded by UN

Meanwhile, anger erupts in Greece over the Turkish invasion. Dimitrios Ioannidis, who at the time belonged to the country’s military junta and was largely responsible for the military coup in Cyprus, accused US Secretary of State Joseph Sisko in Athens of deception. On the evening of the same day, the UN Security Council called for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of foreign troops from Cyprus. However, Turkey ignored the request. Otherwise, there are relatively few reactions from abroad to the Turkish invasion.

The heavy fighting continued the following day. The Cypriot forces want to cut off the Turkish Cypriot enclave of Nicosia from the beachhead of Kyrenia. However, Greece predicts failure in the defense of Cyprus and withdraws two Greek submarines bound for Kyrenia.

Not everything is going according to plan on the Turkish side either. Although the Turks are superior in terms of numbers and weapons, a devastating misunderstanding occurs: the Turkish air force mistakes a Turkish destroyer for a Greek one and shoots it down. She also damaged two other Turkish destroyers.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Sisko is trying to get both warring parties to agree on a ceasefire. The Chief of the Hellenic Navy, Admiral Petros Arapakis, agrees on the afternoon of July 22nd.

In the night that followed, a misunderstanding occurred on the Greek side: Twelve Greek transport ships were supposed to take commandos near Nicosia, but one of the ships was accidentally shot down by the Greek side. Four crew members and 27 commando units die. On the same day, Turkey increases its offensive and brings tanks to Kyrenia. At this point, the Turks took control of part of Cyprus and established a bridgehead between Kyrenia and the Turkish Cypriot enclave of Nicosia. At 4:00 p.m. there is a truce, which is interrupted several times.

Turkish part not recognized until today

In the afternoon, the military junta in Greece finally falls and there is a change of government. A day later, Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis returns to Greece from exile and becomes prime minister again. There is also a change of power in Cyprus. Peace talks begin in Geneva on July 25, five days after the Turkish invasion. After another five days, they reach an agreement on an end to the war.

The Turkish invasion of Cyprus leaves thousands dead and people are still missing. In addition, 170,000 Greek Cypriots are being expelled, and many Turkish Cypriots are moving from the south to the north. In November 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was officially founded, which to this day is not recognized by any state except Turkey. Cyprus is divided into a Greek part in the south of the island and a Turkish part in the north. In between there is a border that has been permeable again since 2003. UN troops have been stationed on the island since the Cyprus conflict.

Sources: Euronews, Federal Agency for Civic Education