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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Cyprus remembers and commemorates the Greek War of Independence

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By Polyxeni Potter, Honorary Consul of Cyprus 

CYPRUS REMEMBERS AND COMMEMORATES the Greek War of Independence because this war is also the island’s own war for independence and statehood. Cyprus shares with Greece the same roots and origins. The population of Cyprus in 1821 was 80,000, and then as now, the population was predominantly Greek. 

Here are some highlights of the revolution on the island. Archbishop Kyprianos of Cyprus was initiated into Filiki Eteria in 1818. He pledged his support for the cause and held secret meetings in a crypt located beneath the main entrance of the Hellenic School in Nicosia. 

Captain Konstantinos Kanaris traveled to Cyprus on the 9th of June 1821 and arrived on the coast of Lapithos near Kyrenia, where he received a hero’s welcome and was supported with funds and volunteers. Many volunteers had left the island already to form the Cypriots’ Battalion, led by General Hatzipetros under the Greek flag of Cyprus. Alongside the Kefalonites, the Cypriots went to fight in the Peloponnese, Missolonghi, and Athens. The northern coast of the island where Kanaris disembarked is named the Kanaris coast.

When news of Archbishop Kyprianos’ clandestine activities reached the Ottoman authorities, they reacted violently. They sought reinforcements; 4,000 Ottoman troops from Egypt. They confiscated anything that could be used as a weapon, including knives from butchers. They rounded up the usual suspects, the island’s leadership.    

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A month after Kanaris’ visit, on the 9th of July, Archbishop Kyprianos, all his bishops, and more than 480 church and community leaders, along with common citizens accused of participating in Filiki Eteria, were arrested and beheaded, hanged, or killed in cold blood, their properties confiscated, their families enslaved or exiled. The most prominent families in Cyprus today trace the demise of their ancestors to this massacre.

The blood bath continued for several months. On the 6th of December 1821, Clerics and others who survived the massacre and escaped abroad with the help of Europeans resolved to continue fighting on the Greek front. They met secretly in Rome and Paris and took action to free Cyprus, including mortgaging properties and other assets on the island and abroad to secure loans to finance the Greek revolution.

By 1825, more than 1,000 Cypriots, a large number out of 20,000 men who remained on the island after the massacre, fought in mainland Greece, on land and sea, in crucial battles. Many died, most of them at Missolonghi. 

The main drama of the Greek Revolution in Cyprus, the July 9 massacre, was commemorated in literature and poetry, notably by Cypriot poet, Vasilis Michaelides. The poet articulated the Cypriot people’s love of freedom and quest to unite with the motherland. Although much is made of the poetry written by European poets about the Greek revolution, perhaps the most poignant statement ever made about the essence of Hellenism, Romiosyni, as we call it, was written by this Cypriot Greek in his poem about the 9th of July massacre in Cyprus. I urge you to look it up. “Romiosyni,” Michaelides wrote, “Is a race as old as Time and very difficult to kill.”   

During the tough negotiations following the hard-fought victory of the Greeks over the Ottoman Empire, the powerful nations of the day allowed Greece to become a country, gathering within its borders most of the scattered enclaves that were inhabited by Greeks, give or take some. But despite persistent and multiple efforts, not Cyprus. This critical omission is at the heart of the island’s precarious situation today. 

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