The President of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus Ersin Tatar attended this year’s Dawn Vigil (Şafak Nöbeti in Turkish) to commemorate the brave Turkish soldiers who came to the aid of Turkish Cypriots 49 years ago.
Turkiye’s vital military intervention on 20 July, five days after by far-right Greek Cypriot nationalists staged a coup, not only saved Turkish Cypriots from annihilation, but also prevented Cyprus’ annexation to Greece.
Ersin Tatar, who has been a regular at this annual remembrance event initiated by Fevzi Tanpınar in 2009, joined thousands of people of all ages. The crowds first gathered by the Peace and Freedom Memorial and Ç-1974 Museum Ship on the Alsancak main road for some light entertainment on Wednesday night.
The Turkish Cypriot leader, accompanied by his foreign press officer Kerem Haser, took time to mingle with the public, which included many British Turkish Cypriots such as Hornsey Ataturk Turkish School founder Türker Çakıcı.
The TRNC President also met with veterans from the 1974 military intervention who were also present at this year’s Şafak Nöbeti.
At midnight, Ersin Tatar led a silent torchlit procession down to the Girne beach below, known locally as Yavuz Çıkarma Sahili, where Turkish troops had first landed in the early hours of 20 July 1974.
While some people held large torches, others held Turkish and TRNC flags, creating a striking landscape along the beach.
Prayers were said by imams, as those present reflected on the events of 49 years ago when Ankara heeded the urgent cries for help from Turkish Cypriots.
Turkiye was the only Guarantor Power to act in the summer of 1974 when Turk-hating mass killer Nicos Sampson toppled President Makarios and installed himself as leader of Cyprus on 15 July in a bid to unite Cyprus with Greece (‘Enosis’) and turn the island into a Hellenic Republic.
Sampson, who is believed to have murdered dozens of people during the Cyprus Emergency in the 1950s, had vowed to wipe out all Turks from the island. His fanatic EOKA followers made good on that pledge killing men, women, children and the elderly in various villages across Cyprus and burying them in mass graves before the Turkish army could reach them.
On 20 July 1974, Turkish soldiers arrived by sea and air and quickly created a corridor to the capital Nicosia before expanding east and west to liberate Turkish Cypriots, who had been subjected to a decade of brutal oppression under President Makarios.
Nearly 500 personnel from the Turkish armed forces were killed in battle in Cyprus in 1974 (415 soldiers, 65 seamen, 5 airmen and 13 from the Gendarmerie) while some 1,200 Turkish troops were injured. Greek and Turkish Cypriots also suffered heavy casualties in the fierce 30-day war that ensued between July and August of 1974. The island has been free of fighting and bloodshed ever since.
Since 1974, 20 July has become known as Peace and Freedom Day for Turkish Cypriots and is a public holiday. The Dawn Vigil is a way of Turkish Cypriots showing their gratitude to those who gave their lives for their liberation.
As the big crowd sat on the beach and waited for dawn this year deep in thought during this poignant commemoration, they were also treated to a demonstration from the Turkish Navy’s Underwater Assault Command (Su Altı Taarruz Komutanlığı, or SAT for short) team. The event concluded with a fireworks display just before dawn.