The truth in ‘A Dark Room’: excerpts from Alexis Papachelas’ forthcoming book

The truth in ‘A Dark Room’: excerpts from Alexis Papachelas’ forthcoming book

“The nut, he went and did what we didn’t,” said Greek dictator Georgios Papadopoulos the morning of July 15, 1974 after he found out that Dimitris Ioannidis, the junta’s military police chief, had orchestrated a coup to overthrow Cyprus President Archbishop Makarios. Papadopoulos had been under house arrest in Lagonissi, east of Athens, after being toppled by the brigadier general.

The product of a quiet 25-year-long investigation, Alexis Papachelas’ book “A Dark Room” (to be published by Metaichmio on October 14) contains previously unpublished documents and explores the military regime’s obsession with Cyprus, the unfettered nationalism that inspired the key players, and the fatal decisions which in the name of “enosis” (union with Greece) pushed Hellenism to its greatest national tragedy after the Asia Minor disaster.

the-truth-in-a-dark-room-excerpts-from-alexis-papachelas-forthcoming-book0The book contains testimonies by Greeks and Americans who played a key role in the events, as well as an interview with former Turkish prime minister Bulent Ecevit, who gave the 1974 order for Turkish troops to invade Cyprus. Readers will find details on what was said during the war council at the Greek Defense Ministry the morning of July 20, 1974 at the onset of the invasion. The irony of fate, the diversity of objectives and the disastrous implications of hubris are all over this volume.

Below are two excerpts which are indicative of its density. One concerns the scenarios drawn by the US intelligence agencies about the outcome of a possible military conflict between Greece and Turkey. The other concerns the launch of Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus.

US intelligence scenarios about the outcome of a Greek-Turkish war

However, what would be the outcome of a war between Greece and Turkey? A report prepared by US intelligence agencies outlined the possible scenarios and their predictions. Two annexes remain classified. One analyzes the nightmare scenario according to which one of the two countries would seek to grab the American nuclear weapons that were stored at Souda [military base in Crete] and Incirlik [air base in southern Turkey]. According to the report:

“While deliberately initiated war thus seems unlikely in the near future, some sort of armed clash or incident remains possible. Greek and Turkish naval units in the disputed area could through some miscalculation exchange fire. With present inflamed tempers, other incidents (say over fishing rights) could lead to a localized engagement… But even in these cases, it seems likely that Athens and Ankara would seek – undoubtedly through US mediation – to prevent larger-scale conflict.

“[…] Even if negotiations were to begin, the issues would not yield easily to [a] satisfactory solution. The controversy is likely to be prolonged at least in part because it will be particularly difficult for the Turks to force the pace of mineral exploration. The amount of actual exploratory activity that the Turks can perform is extremely limited. Oil drilling rigs are in short supply and are already committed to drill elsewhere. Moreover, as long as the area remains in dispute, oil companies will be unwilling to make available the oil rigs necessary for actual drilling. Thus the issue of delimiting the continental shelf boundary and of oil exploration in this disputed area is likely to drag on, carrying with it potential for further damage to the NATO alliance.”

The report concluded with the prediction that Cyprus would not be directly involved [in hostilities between Greece and Turkey], especially in a conflict of short duration. Nevertheless, it estimated that “it is within Turkey’s capabilities to cut off Cyprus from any Greek access, and to launch a successful landing on the island, if it chooses. Ankara would take such action only in the unlikely event of a Greek attempt to take over the island or in order to protect a threatened Turkish minority on the island.”

Ankara’s concern over the 12 miles

Over the same period, in the spring of 1974 the US agencies were mainly centered on the tension between Greece and Turkey. The threat to expand Greek territorial waters from six to 12 miles was on the table, and it was deemed it could spark a conflict.

The CIA warned: “New indications that Greece is considering extending its territorial waters to 12 miles have reportedly prompted a Turkish decision to challenge such a move. The extension would have the effect of denying Turkey rights to almost all the Aegean continental shelf…. A Turkish Foreign Ministry official told the US charge privately on June 12 that his government was uncertain of Athens’ intentions, but was concerned the Greeks might declare an extension before the conveying of the Law of the Sea Conference in Caracas next week. The official said Turkey would not accept a 12-mile limit and claimed that the Turkish National Security Council had already decided to challenge such a move with its warships. Pointing out that a 12-mile limit would restrict uninhibited Turkish passage into the central Aegean to only two places, the official insisted that Turkey would not accept the Aegean as a Greek lake nor would it give up its navigational rights. He reiterated Ankara’s desire for negotiations, indicating his government was willing to discuss the question of Greek territorial waters. Whatever decision Athens reaches on the territorial waters issue, it is likely to attempt to avoid a military confrontation with the Turks, relying at this time on what it regards as its strong legal case in the simmering dispute between the two countries over the continental shelf.”

Saturday, July 20, ‘the annual military exercises’

On the night of July 19, 1974, Athens was in the grips of great concern and even greater confusion. A lot of intelligence was pouring in and the signs of an imminent invasion were clear. The country’s leadership however seemed blind and headed for disaster.

Phaedon Gizikis, the president, was sitting at his office when the director of his military office walked in and said, “Mister President, are you leaving soon, or should I change shifts?”

“Lambros called me on the phone a while ago and reassured me. So I will leave and go home. If they’d needed me by now, someone would have given me a call.” The “Lambros” who had reassured him was the head of KYP [the former Greek secret service] and had called him a few hours earlier, at 4 p.m., to tell him, “We have just decrypted a Turkish signal which more or less says, ‘Stage a ship boarding exercise.’” Then, according to Gizikis, he said, “Mister President, it’s the usual annual combat demonstrations.” During the parliamentary inquiry [on the Cyprus tragedy], Lambros Stathopoulos denied that the above dialogue had taken place, and in response, Gizikis told him: “Mr Stathopoulos, I regret to have worn the same uniform as you did.” “I also much regret it,” he responded.

Gizikis left his office and headed for his home in Filothei. At the same time, Lieutenant Alexandros Simaioforidis, the head of the Greek KYP team in Kyrenia [a historic harbor town on the northern coast of Cyprus] who could speak Turkish, was anxiously monitoring the maneuvers of the Turkish landing fleet that had set off at 5 p.m. on July 19. “By midnight, we did not know where it was headed. When it reached the northern tip, at [the monastery of] Apostolos Andreas, we had no idea whether it would turn toward Kyrenia or head toward Famagusta. When at that point we saw it coming toward Kyrenia, we watched it, so around 4.30 in the morning we saw the whole convoy in the bay of Kyrenia. It was at a distance of approximately 500 meters and it looked like an inspection of naval forces… They were disembarking, not landing against a supposed enemy. Asked about his feelings at that moment, he said: “Like a sedated [patient] who feels nothing. It was shocking to see that spectacle, [seeing them all] in line aboard the vessels as if some official was to inspect the convoy right there on the beach.”

Kissinger: ‘Maybe they are heading to Thessaloniki’

Athens was not alone in being wrapped up in confusion. Over in Washington, [then US secretary of state] Henry Kissinger was also confused over the Turks’ exact plans. The American minister at some point got his hopes up because Turkey’s landing fleet appeared to be changing course, obviously as it reached the island’s northern tip and headed toward Kyrenia. Most US analysts expected that the landing would take place at Famagusta so they were not sure when the landing fleet moved north whether it would sail to Kyrenia or return to Turkey after [conducting] yet another threatening maneuver. Kissinger thought that perhaps [under secretary of state Joseph J.] Sisco had achieved a 48-hour postponement, but did not have time to inform him. After he was told that the fleet was heading north, he said:

“Maybe they are heading to Thessaloniki.” One of his aides said that Thessaloniki “is too far away.” Kissinger tried to correct his mistake, and this time said: “Perhaps they are heading to Rhodes. I have not lost it yet.” “Maybe you should check with your map,” his aide said, which caused him to lose his temper: “I know they are not heading to Thessaloniki. Let’s see what they’ll do when the landing starts then,” he said.

The shock of Ioannidis

Greek Foreign Minister Konstantinos Kypraios called Charalambos Palainis [staff officer in the Army Command], looking for Ioannidis. “The Turks are landing,” he told him… Ioannidis seemed bemused and told his aide: “What are you on about? Have the Turks really landed on Cyprus?” Immediately after, he ordered that armed forces chief Grigoris Bonanos be located immediately and for a meeting of all the parties involved to take place at the Defense Ministry. The only people there at the time were the officers on night shift in the operations center… Another aide, Georgios Stavrou also went to the Defense Ministry and recalls that “when Ioannidis found out that the Turks had invaded [Cyprus] he was in a state of shock. He was at a loss. His eyes had turned red and he was not speaking.”

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