The Green Line in Cyprus

A Green Line is Drawn

The decade opened with great optimism and, in 1960, Nicosia became the capital of an independent Cyprus, with the Greek Cypriots leading a power-sharing government with the Turkish Cypriots.

However, the constitution (written mostly by representatives from Greek & Turkey with the aid of an academic lawyer from Switzerland) has been described as "unique in its tortuous complexity" and very soon disputes began to arise between the two communities.



The newspaper headline on Tuesday the 16th August 1960

Repeated attempts to solve the disputes failed and matters came to a head in late 1963. This year is a veritable "historical minefield" but it is necessary to have some understanding of the events that brought the two communities into conflict, saw Turkish fighter jets in the skies above Nicosia and the beginning of the UN's longest peacekeeping operation.



This famous illusion......do you see an old woman or a young girl.......sums up the difficulties with this period.
Different communities see things differently as the Cyprus Mail wrote in December 2013


"The dominant narrative on the Greek Cypriot side has been that in 1963 the Turkish Cypriots mounted an insurrection, effectively seceding/withdrawing from the Republic which they sought to undermine.
The Turkish Cypriot official narrative holds that the Greeks, the majority, never regarded them as equal partners and provoked the conflict by attempting to scrap the 1960 Constitution: they were the victims reacting to the violence initiated by the Greeks."

You can read the full article by clicking this link (opens in a new window)

Whatever the "truth", the period from December 1963 to August 1964 was one that saw significant intercommunal violence and a large movement of populations. Seventy four mixed villages were evacuated and twenty four wholly Turkish villages were abandoned.

Although the violence was island wide.....there was conflict in over a hundred Cypriot villages......the fighting was particularily intense in several areas of the capital Nicosia. 



Barricades appear within the walled city.......Greek & Turkish Cypriot

One particularly troubled area was the village/suburb of Omorfita, or Küçük Kaymaklı.
In Kitchener's early maps this was a separate village to the north-east of the walled city.



Omorphita (Omorfita) was once a separate village as shown on Kitchener's 1885 survey

In the late 1950s, Omorphita/Küçük Kaymaklı was the scene of fierce fighting between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot irregulars.
During this time many Greek Cypriots left and the Turkish population grew, reversing the Greek Cypriot majority.

1946......1236 Greek and 995 Turkish Cypriots
1960.......1123 Greek and 5126 Turkish Cypriots

In December 1963 a major battle was fought in this village.
Once again, there are different versions of this action. One version of the action is that it was to prevent the creation of a large and powerful Turkish enclave that would control access to the Kyrenia District. The other is that it was a pre-planned act of extreme violence perpetrated on unarmed Turkish families by Greek Cypriot Paramilitary forces.
Whatever viewpoint is accepted, the result of the fighting was that all the Turkish Cypriots from this village/suburb fled their homes.



Nikos Sampson (an EOKA fighter sentenced to death by the British....but later commuted) displays a captured Turkish flag following the fighting in the village of Omorfita

Fearing a Turkish invasion, President Makarios agreed to a British proposal for troops from the British Sovereign Bases to deploy between the two sides. The force was commanded by Major-General Peter Young and the first soldiers from this "Truce Force" began to arrive in Nicosia on the 26th December. Additional forces arrived on the island and, by the 27th December 1963, were patrolling the streets. One element of these additional forces was the air-portable 'C' Squadron of the 14th/20th King's Hussars, who just happened to be fairly close by in Benghazi. 



'C' Troop 14/20th King's Hussars photographed near Benghazi in 1963

The gravity of the situation prompted the British Secretary for Commonwealth Relations, Duncan Sandys to fly to Cyprus on the 28th December 1963.
He immediately set up a Political Liaison Committee (PLC) to arrange, amongst other things, the establishment of a ceasefire line between the two communities. The first meeting was to be at the residence of the British High Commissioner, just within the Turkish quarter of the city.



Duncan Sandys, Major General Peter Young (Commander Land Forces) and Air Marshal Sir Denis Barnett (Commander in Chief Near East Air Force and Commander British Forces Cyprus) were senior members of the committee
Other participants were the British High Commissioner, the Ambassadors of Greece and Turkey, delegations from both Greek and Turkish Cypriots and the Commanding Officers of the Greek and Turkish national contingents


Over a period of twelve hours on the 29th December 1963, following pressure from both sides, the line was frequently drawn and redrawn using pens handed to General Young by his Intelligence Officer.
Click here for details of this event taken from General Young's memoirs (opens in a new window)

The Intelligence Officer, Major Michael Perrett-Young, recalls........

"I believe it was during the Conference break that, at his request, I produced chinagraphs for him from the variety of colours I had brought up from Episkopi in my map case. The 'green' was no random selection. Bearing in mind factional sensitivities, my choice was quite deliberate. Blue and red, apart from the latter's association with the 'enemy', and with their Greek and Turkish connotations respectively, were hardly suitable. 'Green' usually used for marking mineflelds, seemed the least controversial."



A section of the map showing the agreed path of the Green Line which stretched beyond the limits of the walled city both to the west and to the east



The ceasefire line (the Green Line) was, in the main, not a physical barrier but in certain flash points in central Nicosia short sections of the Clemens Line were restored

On December 30th, following the successful conclusion of the Political Liaison Committee's work, a press briefing was held.

This description of the press briefing comes from the Forum of the 14/20th Hussar's club website.



For use in the press briefing, Major General Young showed the ceasefire line marked on a map. The map had been borrowed from Major William Garbutt of the 14th/20th King's Hussars, whose clerk, Lance Corporal Arnie Greenwood, had the responsibility of marking the map with the latest 'order of battle' and situation details.

The rest of the story is explained in Arnie's own words.........

"The map was stored in Billy's brand new map case. Two pieces of good plastic stitched with canvas around the edges and with a zip along one edge. A folded map placed in this was great for handling in the confined space of any armoured vehicle."

"Off Billy went to his 'O Gp' (Orders Group) and apparently sat with his map case on his knee intently listening to the latest sitrep (situation report) by Maj Gen Peter Young. After the 'O Gp' General Young was giving a Press briefing (it wasn't until much later that they became 'media' briefings).
General Young had noticed this very smart map case Billy had and asked if he could use it for his briefing. Billy readily agreed and the case was pinned up and the briefing began. Throughout the briefing, the Green Line was referred to constantly. This was picked up by the press and voilà........"

.........the term 'Green Line' was born.

(Author's note: The exact 'who, when & where' regarding the drawing of the Green Line is very difficult to confirm. I was fortunate to contact Major Garbutt's son who later served as a Troop Leader with a UN armoured car Squadron in Cyprus between September 1975 and March 1976. However, Lt Col (Retd) Peter Garbutt told me that, although he was carrying out the same patrols his father had undertaken in 1964, the history of the Green Line was never discussed.)



January 1st 1964........soldiers from the Royal Artillery at a checkpoint in Nicosia.
Image licensed from Alamy.com


By the new year, following 59 transport sorties, Britain had several thousand troops on the island.
Although President Makarios had only agreed to troops being deployed in Nicosia, with the aid of a number of jeeps, twenty armoured cars and four helicopters the Truce Force began to collect information on the conditions in a number of Turkish Cypriot and mixed villages across the island.

At the end of Britain's peacekeeping role (when the force became UN) troops had come from nine different units within the SBAs and twenty-eight from other locations.

Click this link for a full list of these units (a PDF document which will open in a new window)