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The Tragedy of Cyprus -rescue by US marines of FBIS staff in a military coup

THE TRAGEDY OF C Y P R U S~by A. Djev. Basharan ... & formerly of the FBISA memory of the day of a military coupI had gone through this before. But it was not ... by bombs, shells, a


~by A. Djev. Basharan (1974)
-author & formerly of the FBIS
A memory of the day of a military coup

I had gone through this before. But it was not accompanied by bombs, shells, and bombardment, and the war was not waged right on top of us or around us.

The coup which ousted President Makarios took place on a Monday morning. Shells dropped on CYTA which is only 100 yards from my house in Nicosia, fell in dozens into our street. I knew then that the island was in for endless trouble. I could not bear to hear Greek Cypriots call their president a traitor, a tyrant. This was unbelievable.

In the afternoon of the same day when a curfew was imposed throughout the island, Chief editor Henne and another American picked me up from Nicosia and took me to FBIS where I stayed on duty until the hours of evacuation.

It was obvious to me that what the Greek officers from Greece tried to do was to bring about an unproclaimed Enosis. In fact, all courting trouble, and trouble it was.

Ankara had pretended to be seeking powers from the Grand National Assembly to send troops to foreign countries, though the Government had already been vested with such powers earlier. This move fooled many people.

On Friday evening, asked whether he expected any sad development, Prime Minister Ecevit cheerfully answered in the negative. And yet early next morning Turkish planes started coming in rapid succession. Most of us had spent the night at the station as a precautionary measure. It was 05.15 in the morning on Saturday 20 July when we all rushed into the corridor in utter amazement. Some of us looked more horrified than others.

On Sunday night shells from the warships and bombs and strafing from the planes came down thick and fast. Some exploded within the precincts of FBIS, damaging doors and shattering windows. Some explosions were simply as much deafening as they were horrifying. At times, death was not around the door. It was inches away.

Our bureau Chief Mr. Tom Weiss, exhausted as he was, kept praying not only for himself but for all of us. I will never forget that tried but determined figure continuing to operate in various capacities under the most trying circumstances. His wife, a formidable lady I thought, was always by his side.

On the last day, our Bureau Chief looked like a ghost of himself, and yet he was bombarded with all sorts of questions to which he tried to provide answers. I do not recollect having seen him in a bad mood. I don’t recollect having heard him give vexed answers to any of the many relevant as well as irrelevant questions.

Mrs. Weiss, Mrs. Clegg, Miss. Pat Werrell, as well as Miss. Elizabeth Seely did their best to make an even distribution of the food available. Allen Clegg, a very small boy, who maintained a remarkable composure, did a wonderful job in helping the ladies in their difficult task of feeding the hungry crowd. He was almost always around with a tray asking “Have you been served?” When I asked him for another very small helping, he sharply retorted “No second helpings, Sir.”

But the highest credit goes to the Marines in general and to their chief Ernesto (Gutierrez) in particular. I have never seen such a self-sacrificing young man in my life. He was on duty almost 24 hours a day. He never ran into a temper. He always gave us the best possible advice and kept us informed of the tragedy that was going on outside the station. He was so efficient that we soon felt and acted like disciplined soldiers under his command. I would like to call him a shepherd and us his flock.

As to the tragedy itself, apart from the intensive bombing and shooting that went on around and over us, I was not much scared, because the Marines continually advised us on exactly what was going on.

On Sunday night Mr. Weiss gathered us in the corridor and told us that he had received instructions to evacuate only the Americans and the third country nationals. When we asked him what would happen to us, the locally hired monitors and others, who had borne the brunt of the past week as far as monitoring was concerned, he was so moved that he could hardly say, “I wish I could take you all with me. I will try to take you all with me.” But no sooner did he utter these words than he choked up. That very moment alone proved how sincere he was. Our confidence in him was reinforced.

At Mare Monte, where the evacuation took place by helicopters, Mr. Weiss was the last to board the helicopter, because he was struggling over an impossible telephone to obtain approval for us. When we met on board the British aircraft carrier off-shore, we all wept for joy. We were all out of danger and Mr. Weiss was the proudest man on earth because he had saved lives by defying rules and regulations.

On board the British aircraft carrier Hermes and the U.S. warship Trenton we were excellently treated. No treatment could be more humane. I am over 60 and should know by now how important praying is. But I will never abandon the kind of intense and devoted praying I have learned from Mr. Weiss.

I thank God, I thank Mr. WeissFree Reprint Articles, and I thank the Marines. I thank the warships and I thank the FBIS as a whole from the very depth of my heart.

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Cevdet Basharan had enabled FBIS to be the first to brak the news of the above coup -his works include his book The Teaching of Modern English

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