Record numbers expected at tonight’s Şafak Nöbeti (Dawn Watch) in North Cyprus

Record numbers are expected to turn out for tonight’s Şafak Nöbeti (Dawn Watch), the annual remembrance event at Yavuz Çıkarma Plajı in Girne – the beach where Turkish troops first landed in 1974. This year not only marks the fifth such event, but will also commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Turkish intervention that brought to an end the brutal 11-year Cyprus Conflict.

The Dawn Watch is free and open to all members of the TRNC public. The event starts at 10pm with a celebratory party on the roadside by ICE Club to symbolise the freedom of the Turkish Cypriot people. Performers tonight include famous Turkish singer Zuhal Olcay, a 90-piece marching band – the world’s largest – from Turkey, and a children’s choir.

As in previous years, once the crowds have assembled and enjoyed the initial celebrations, the tone of the event will change at midnight to one of more sombre reflection. People will light their torches and start their descent to the beach below in silence. There is no music, no alcohol, and no entertainment; just a peaceful walk and then the wait for first light and prayers.

This year being the 40th anniversary, the Şafak Nöbeti organising committee have invited back the surviving veterans who took part in the first landing on 20 July 1974. They will join the current troops from this elite Turkish squad, landing together on Yavuz Çıkarma Plajı to recreate that historic moment, where they will be greeted by Turkish Cypriot veterans. It promises to be a very emotional night, with attendance expected to break records for previous years, when up to fifteen thousand people gathered on the beach.

“Men from Turkey who didn’t even know where Cyprus was on the map came to fight & die for their fellow Turk”

Last month, T-VINE met with Fevzi Tanpınar, the creator of the Şafak Nöbeti (Dawn Watch), to ask him how the idea came about and also why the event is not universally embraced.

Tanpınar explained that as a reporter he had for many years observed the annual pilgrimage of Australians and New Zealanders to Çanakkale (Gallipoli) to pay their respects to the fallen on Anzac Day every April. Back in 2008 he wondered why Turkish Cypriots did not have a similar day of reflection and remembrance.

Over the following two years, he and a small team of friends meticulously researched and prepared for their own annual remembrance event. Tanpınar recalls how excited they all felt to be creating such a momentous occasion, yet also terrified by its responsibility, knowing even the smallest mistake could derail the entire project and result in failure.

Dawn Watch 2010. Photo: Hüseyin Sayıl
Dawn Watch 2010. Photo: Hüseyin Sayıl

Without a trace of arrogance, he says, “Şafak Nöbeti is the biggest and most important project I could ever undertake in my life. I am extremely proud because I will leave behind one of the best legacies for my children to pass on to the next generation. They will grow up knowing their father started this event.”

Tanpınar and his colleagues repeatedly visited Çanakkale to monitor their preparations and understand the pitfalls of organising such a massive public event that needed to embrace all the different parties involved with sensitivity and integrity. With their blessing, but with little involvement from the TRNC state – a deliberate intention – they drew up detailed plans about the shape and management of the event.

“Every Turkish Cypriot owes a huge debt to the martyrs, the veterans, our mothers and fathers who stood watch all night every night.”

On the night of 19 July 2010 the TRNC held its first Dawn Watch. Thousands of Turkish Cypriots of all ages gathered on the beach holding torches. Among them was the frail Rauf Denktaş – the founding President of the TRNC. Children with their parents or grandparents all sat in silence; many prayed or wept as they reflected on or relived the events of the past. As the first light of dawn broke, imams led the public in the early morning call to prayer (‘ezan’).

Tanpınar said: “It was an incredible moment as thousands of people collectively paid their respects to all those who had given their lives during the Conflict to guarantee the survival and freedom of the Turkish Cypriot people. They included men from Turkey who had not even known where Cyprus was on the map, yet had arrived in 1974 ready to fight and, if need be, die for their fellow Turk.”

Distraight Turkish Cypriot woman in 1964. Photo by Donald McCullin
Distraight Turkish Cypriot woman in 1964. Photo by Donald McCullin

When asked about why the Turkish Cypriot political Left refuses to support the event, Tanpınar acknowledges with sadness the situation. He says just before our meeting, the TRNC Government had contacted him to confirm that yet again they would not be involved or formally include the Dawn Watch in the state’s 20 July programme. This is the second year running the Turkish Cypriot authorities have taken such a line, their attitudes towards the Şafak Nöbeti reflecting the changes in government, when the Republican Turkish Party (CTP) replaced the National Unity Party (UBP) in power.

While disappointed by their decision, Tanpınar is not surprised, nor does he dwell on it, stating that the huge numbers of people who come out each year and who are again expected in 2014 shows it is the North Cyprus authorities that are out of touch with the people.

He explains that a small team of four or five manage the entire event, using private donations and sponsorship to cover the event’s costs. He and his team all work voluntarily and are supported on the night by many more volunteers. While it is an exhausting process to organise all in such a way, the response they receive from ordinary members of the public shows how highly valued the event is and how worthwhile their efforts are. 

“Hope was the only thing to keep us going”

Turkish Intervention, July 1974
Turkish Intervention, July 1974

“During the 11-years [of the Cyprus Conflict] there was no political Right or Left among Turkish Cypriots. The conflict unified us: we were all at the mercy of the brutal Greek Cypriot regime. Many of us were made homeless. The community lived in fear and poverty in enclaves, clinging together for comfort and support, helping each other through the seemingly never-ending days of darkness,” says Tanpınar.

“Hope was the only thing to keep us going. On the morning of 20th July 1974, our collective prayers were answered. Such sacrifices should never be forgotten. If we are here today living freely on this land of our ancestors, then we Turkish Cypriots must also acknowledge the huge debt we owe to all those who struggled, fought and died for us: the martyrs, the veterans, our mothers and fathers who stood watch all night every night. We must remember and treasure this with dignity and respect.” 

Turkey’s military intervention in Cyprus in July 1974 was in response to the Greece-backed coup, which installed notorious EOKA terrorist Nicos Sampson as the President of the Republic of Cyprus, resulting in a bitter war between his supporters and those of deposed leader Archbishop Makarios. Turkish Cypriots, already suffering from 11 years of oppression when Greek Cypriot unilaterally and brutally grabbed power in December 1963, found themselves at the mercy of these two warring factions.

The Şafak Nöbeti marks the date when peace returned to all of Cyprus, & the spirit in which Turkish Cypriots came through those dark days

For Tanpınar, this event is not about igniting nationalist fervour or celebrating a victory over Greek Cypriots. Rather it marks the date when security and peace returned to all of Cyprus, and the spirit in which the Turkish Cypriots came through those dark days. While today he is acutely aware of how Cypriots debate and disagree furiously with each other about the future solution of their island, what they cannot do, he claims, is to airbrush its history to suit their different political views.

The father of two says he is also saddened by the many myths circulated by some as they try to smear the Şafak Nöbeti, such as ‘alcohol is served on the beach where the party continues’ or that it is an initiative of Turkey. He firmly rejects both allegations and says those who attend can see for themselves the true nature of the Dawn Watch.

“There is no protocol area for VIPs, no long speeches or political talks. No army, or party political flags or rosettes. People do bring Turkey or TRNC flags – it is their choice. We provide torches and I say a few words on behalf of the organising committee and then we sit as one and wait for the dawn to break. The emotions of people when the ezan starts…” He breaks off.   

Those of us who have never experienced a war cannot underestimate the feelings of those who have: the mixture of emotions that must take hold as these memories are revisited, particular on such anniversaries.

Living in the UK, we understand the importance of days such as Remembrance Sunday, so it is difficult to gauge why the CTP Government and others in North Cyprus refuse to embrace and support the Şafak Nöbeti. Surely no one can deny the need to pay our respects to those who endured such difficult days so that today we can live out our lives freely and peacefully?

Those struggling with this concept of giving thanks need only look across the Eastern Mediterranean waters, where a mere 60 miles away we witness the embattled lives of Palestinians and Israelis, and the Syrians, to realise just how fortunate a position Cyprus is in through the actions of Turkey back in 1974.

It is for this reason Tanpınar believes every Turkish Cypriot should attend the Şafak Nöbeti at least once in their life, to recall the spirit and strength of their ancestors who fought for their freedom and independence, and the importance of the bonds between them and Turkey.

He recalls the words an emotional Rauf Denktaş said to him and the organising team after spending the entire night on the beach in 2010, even though his health was poorly: “I may not survive to be here with you next year, but I know this [Şafak Nöbeti] will go on forever. May God be pleased with you.”  

About Fevzi Tanpınar

Fevzi Tanpınar
Fevzi Tanpınar

The head of Telsim Vodafone TRNC spent most of his professional life as a journalist. He worked first as a writer, then as a foreign news correspondent in locations such as Athens before becoming a TV news editor for some of the biggest names in Turkish media, including Cumhuriyet and Güneş newspapers, and Star TV, Kanal D, and TV8. He returned to the TRNC in 2003 and continued in media for a time.

Married with two young children, Tanpınar originates from Larnaca. Born in 1966, he is the youngest of three children. His childhood was shaped by experiences from the Cyprus Conflict, which had engulfed the island at that time. His family home was on the frontline of the troubles and his enduring memory as a child is of sandbags in their garden, with his mum making food for the local villagers who also served as home guards as they stood watch every day. Every night, he said she would pray that they would all be safe for another day. This was their routine until the Turkish army arrived to save them in 1974.

Kayip Otobus
Still from Kayip Otobus / The Missing Bus documentary

Several years ago, Tanpınar and his older brother Raşit Pertev – the former undersecretary to President Talat – made a documentary called The Lost Bus, about 11 Turkish Cypriots who went missing on their way to work in Dhekelia on 13 May 1964. The men had boarded their usual daily bus, but were stopped en route by Greek Cypriot EOKA militiamen who ordered them off the bus. They were then taken to an unknown location and killed.

Their bodies were not found until 2007, discovered down a well in the Greek Cypriot village of Oronliki. The TG856 registered bus is still missing to this day. Tanpınar and Pertev’s father was a regular on the same daily bus, but on that fateful day in May he was running late and missed it.


Main photo by Hüseyin Sayıl of the 2010 Dawn Watch