Today marks the 65th anniversary of the commencement of the EOKA struggle for the liberation of Cyprus and its Union with Greece which finally led to the creation of the Republic of Cyprus.

EOKA stands for Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston, and was a Greek Cypriot nationalist guerrilla organisation that fought a campaign for the end of British rule in Cyprus, for the island’s self-determination and for eventual union with Greece.

The island of Cyprus was inhabited mostly by Greeks and had a Turkish minority population, and was part of the Ottoman Empire until 4 June 1878 when it was handed to the British empire in the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish War.

Following the War of Greek Independence in 1821, Greek Cypriots leaned towards the hope of Enosis (Union with Greece) which was part of the Megali idea for a united Greece. In the 1950s, EOKA was established with the aim of mounting a military campaign to end the status of Cyprus as a British crown colony and achieve unification with Greece.

The island’s communist party, AKEL, opposed EOKA’s military action, advocating workers’ strikes and demonstrations instead of a military campaign. EOKA, headed by Georgios Grivas, a Greek World War I and World War II veteran and his deputy Grigoris Afxentiou, disagreed with Cypriot Archbishop Makarios III about the way to rid the island of British rule. Grivas did not want to limit the campaign to acts of sabotage so as to avoid bloodshed. However, he did share Makarios’ view that victory would be won by diplomatic means and make it clear to the British that occupation carried a price while also keeping Enosis on the international diplomatic agenda.

EOKA carried out a first reconnaissance in Cyprus in July 1951, something of which Makarios was skeptical, however Gribas set about establishing an underground network. Recruits came from the Cyprus Farmers’ Union in the villages and from the two main youth movements, the Church-controlled Christian Youth Movement (OHEN) and the nationalist Pancyprian Youth Movement (PEON) in the towns.

Grivas intended to turn the youth of Cyprus ‘into the seedbed of EOKA’.  The backbone of EOKA were the mountain groups, a conventional guerrilla force living in hidden camps in the forests, and the town groups, often continuing their civilian job or schooling Supporting this armed wing was the much broader National Front of Cyprus (EMAK), which provided EOKA with intelligence, supplies, weapons, medicines, recruits and safe houses, confronted the British on the streets with demonstrations and riots and conducted the propaganda offensive.

READ MORE: Cyprus’ long history with the British

Armed campaign

The armed struggle started on the night of March 29-April, 1955. A total of 18 bomb attacks occurred in various locations across the island. Most notable incidents were those of Nicosia by the group of Markos Drakos as well as the demolition of the Cyprus Broadcasting Station’s transmitter. The attacks were accompanied by a revolutionary proclamation signed by “The leader, Digenes” (the alias for Grivas, who kept his involvement secret). The British, not expecting this turn of events, reinforced their local military bases (Dhekelia and Akrotiri) by transferring troops from Egypt.

At the end of April EOKA attacks temporarily paused, giving time to Grivas to organise the youth. A second offensive was launched on 19 June with coordinated bomb and grenade attacks against police stations, military installations and the homes of army officers and senior officials. One of those bombings demolished the building of the Famagusta Police headquarters. Those attacks were usually followed by sporadic incidents: shootings, bombings and increased public disorder. This second wave of EOKA attacks lasted until the end of June, totaling 204 attacks since the beginning of the armed resistance.

In August, two Special Branch members were assassinated in separate incidents. The raising of the Greek flag during demonstrations usually led to clashes with the colonial authorities, the latter removing it by force if necessary.  Another major EOKA success was the escape from Kyrenia castle prison of 16 EOKA members including a number of key figures, such as Markos Drakos and Grigoris Afxentiou.

British reactions

The situation seemed to be deteriorating out of control and the British authorities attempted to safeguard their position in Cyprus by diplomatic maneuvering and a counterinsurgency offensive. The first involved playing the Greek and Turkish governments off against each other. Eden saw Turkey as “the key protecting British interests” in Cyprus. By the end of September, as the crisis was escalating, the British Government decided to replace governor Armitage.

The new British governor John Harding arrived at 3 October. Harding sought to meet Archbishop Makarios, and both agreed on commencing what became known as Harding-Makarios negotiations. Increased security and stepping up military might was of Harding’s priorities. On 26  November, Harding declared stated of Emergency – that meant among other things, the implementation of the death penalty for non-fatality crimes. Repressive legislation and troop reinforcements did not succeed. The Greek Cypriot population was hostile and the Special Branch was neutered. The British response was large-scale cordon and search operations which rarely resulted in arrests or the discovery of arms caches, but which invariably alienated those whose houses were searched or who were roughed up and dragged off to be screened. Collective punishments, far from undermining support for EOKA, only succeeded in making the Greek Cypriots more hostile to British rule. Moreover, Harding viewed Cyprus very much as a pawn in the Cold War global situation: on December 13 he banned AKEL and detained 128 of its leading members, effectively crippling the only political party in Cyprus that opposed EOKA.

The inevitable result was to increase sympathy for EOKA and to assist its recruitment efforts. The problem was that the Greek Cypriot community was overwhelmingly in favour of Enosis. Far from moderates emerging with whom Britain could do a deal. It was this popular support, enabling Grivas and his small band of guerrillas to take on the growing security apparatus that Harding was marshalling against him, that sustained the armed struggle.

Operation “Forward to Victory” (Greek name) was launched on November 18 and was accompanied by several bomb attacks. In the urban areas schoolchildren had a prominent role in the EOKA struggle. The Battle of Flags, escalated during the Autumn of 1955 and peaked in January and February 1956- that kept British forces busy away from chasing down EOKA.

The struggle continued in the mountains as the guerrillas expanded their network in the Troodos mountains. However, due to harsh winter conditions in addition to certain British military pressure, the activity of EOKA temporarily eased. By the end of February 1956 the British were involved in suppressing a veritable schoolchildren revolt that left one boy shot dead and the island’s school system almost completely closed down.

READ MORE: Cyprus timeline of a crisis: 45 years of heartbreak

March 1956 to March 1957 (operation Victory, phase II)

After the failure of Makarios-Harding negotiations the British government abruptly exiled Makarios to Seychelles on March 9, 1956. This triggered a week long general strike followed by a dramatic increase in EOKA activity: 246 attacks until March 31 including an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Harding. The offensive continued into April and May and the British casualties averaged two killed every week. While Harding’s forces were making ground up in the mountains, EOKA guerrillas and youth were trying to assassinate members of the security forces at their leisure time or alleged traitors.

EOKA focused its activity to urban areas during this period. House bombings and riots, mostly by schoolboys, forced army to keep forces away from the mountains where EOKA’s main fighters where hiding. Apart from individual citizens or soldiers in their leisure time, army and police facilities where attacked totaling 104 house bombings, 53 riots, 136 acts of Sabotage, 403 ambushes, 35 attacks on police, 38 attacks on soldiers and 43 raids on police stations. But as the pressure of Harding mounted, Grivas began targeting Turkish Cypriot policemen effectively sparking inter-communal riots and a series of strikesl

Harding escalated his fight against EOKA organizing a series of operations in April-July. Harding also upgraded his intelligence network including the creation of the notorious X-platoon. On 10 May, the first two EOKA prisoners were hanged and Grivas responded with the execution of two British soldiers.The British were concerned to counter EOKA’s mountain units. Large scale operations were launched however Grivas managed to escape. He decided to move to Limassol where he established his new headquarters. Although Grivas escaped, the Troodos operations had some success for the British: 20 guerrillas and 50 weapons were captured. However, they ended up with a disaster: at least 7 British soldiers were killed and additionally 21 were burned to death by accident. The last incident overshadowed the first real success against the EOKA guerrilla forces.

On August 9 the British authorities hanged three more EOKA prisoners; however, Grivas did not retaliate this time. Widespread strikes were held in protest. On November 1956 due to the Suez Crisis large numbers of British troops were transferred off Cyprus allowing Grivas to launch a new offensive. EOKA launched a wave of attacks in what would became for the British “Black November” with a total of 416 attacks, 39 killed 21 of them British. After the Suez debacle the British military strength was increased to 20,000 and Harding managed to direct a new offensive.

Although EOKA activity was severely suppressed in the mountains its armed struggle continued in the urban areas while the British forces were apparently impotent. Grivas declared truce on 14 March 1957 which lasted nearly one year.

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From March 1957 to November 1957

Harding continued to pressure EOKA despite the unilateral truce imposing security measures on villagers. This backfired at the British Forces as EOKA made gains in the field of propaganda.

Meanwhile, PEKA was continuing the struggle for Enosis with political means, while EOKA was trying to recruit new members. Priests and teachers, under strict secrecy, were the scouting for young men aged 14-24, and were mostly successful. Grivas reorganised EOKA’s structure. By Autumn, Grivas was increasing his autonomy from Greece and Makarios and was planning to attack the Left and the Turkish Cypriot community. The Greek government and Makarios were unable to prevent those initiatives.

Detention of Persons Law, passed 15 June 1955, gave the authority to the British authorities to enclose a suspect in a detention camp without a trial. PEKA and later Makarios and Greek Government pointed to the inhuman conditions in those camps.

Initially, EOKA was intimidating the population not to co-operate with the security forces, but steadily the definition of traitor broadened as the security forces had some successes EOKA at the end of 1956.

EOKA members who had spoken to the security forces under interrogation were also considered as traitors and Grivas was in favour of the death penalty in such case. Incidences happened where EOKA guerrillas killed others by their own initiative and not solely based on accusations for treason. The killings took place in public. Such activity peaked especially during summer-autumn 1956. The Greek Cypriot Left and in particular the communist party (AKEL) were also targeted. The later aimed at a political role in the Greek Cypriot community challenging EOKA’s claim that Makarios was the sole leader of the community. As AKEL was growing in numbers it was practically denying Makarios’ role. The British delicately fueled this hostility and in August 1957 a second wave of intra-Greek violence broke out. Due to intimidation methods and targeting civilians towards local population a number of scholars characterized EOKA as a terrorist organisation. Another similar wave broke out in April- October 1958 when a peace agreement was imminent.AKEL held massive demonstrations and sought the help of Makarios which he granted.

End of truce

During this period the British were openly tolerating the Turkish Cypriot paramilitary organisations. The British had deliberately set out to use the Turkish Cypriot community on the island and the Turks government as a means of blocking the demand for Enosis. They had effectively allied themselves with the Turkish minority and turned them as the overwhelming majority in the police force. This had now got out of control as far as the British were concerned, but nevertheless they still managed to exploit the situation.

The truce against the colonial authorities lasted until the 28th of October 1957 (Ohi Day, Greek national holiday) when Harold Macmillan, British minister of foreign affairs, declined a proposal by Makarios.

Sir Hugh Foot arrived in Cyprus in December 1956, when it was obvious that a military victory for the British was not imminent. Grivas at that time was planning a gradual escalation of EOKA’s attacks on the British forces but in mid-December, he called for a truce to give space for negotiations to take place. The truce broke on 4 March 1958 when a new wave of attacks was unleashed but this time, Grivas ordered his guerillas not to attack Turkish Cypriots to avoid intercommunal violence that could lead to partition.

EOKA avoided conflict against the Turkish Cypriots but this changed later from January 1957. According to French, Grivas decided to attack Turkish Cypriots so as to spark intercommunal tensions and rioting in the towns of Cyprus, forcing the British to withdraw their troops from hunting EOKA up in the mountains and restore order in urban areas. From 19 January 1957 to the end of March, EOKA’s guerrillas attacked members of the Turkish community, starting with a Turkish Cypriot police officer, sparking riots lasting 3 days.

Intercommunal (and intra-communal) violence escalated in the summer of 1958 with numerous fatalities. French counted 55 assassinations by Turks on Greeks, and 59 assassinations by Greeks on Turks between 7 June-7 August. A substantial number of Turkish Cypriots fled from the southern parts of Cyprus and moved to the northern side due to the violence. In order to tackle the intercommunal clash, Foot mounted Operations “Matchbox” and “Table Lighter”. A truce was called in August, backed by the Greek and Turkish Governments.

From August 1958 to the Zurich and London Agreements

British authorities were unable to suppress EOKA activity, so the British government was trying to reach a solution that wouldn’t embarrass Britain. MacMillan Plan put an effort in this direction. Greeks rejected the plan as they saw it as an open door leading to the partition of the island and Grivas cancelled the truce on 7 September. As such a new armed campaign was launched and the targets differed significantly from the previous periods. Grivas ordered guerillas to “strike indiscriminately at every English person wherever they can be found” resulting in the death of 8 British citizens in 104 incidents attacks in the following two months. But while the military force of EOKA was growing, Greek Cypriots were getting frustrated from the intercommunal violence and the struggle against the British. Makarios hinted in an interview that he was ready to shift his stance and accept an independent Cyprus. This development infuriated Grivas but was backed by influential members of the Greek Cypriot Community. EOKA was losing its broad support base.

During the last months of 1958, all parties had reasons to favour a compromise. Greek Cypriot side was afraid that partition was becoming more and more imminent, Greece was anxious that the ongoing situation could lead to a war with Turkey, Turkey had to manage the ongoing crises at its eastern borders and the British didn’t want to see NATO destabilising because of Greek-Turkish war. On 5 December, the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey acknowledged the situation and a series of meetings were arranged that resulted in London-Zürich Agreements. This was a compromise solution in which Cyprus would become an independent and sovereign country. Both Makarios and Grivas accepted the agreements with a heavy heart, instead, Turkish-Cypriot leadership was enthusiastic about the compromise. On 9 March 1959, Grivas issued a leaflet declaring his acceptance to London agreements.

Grivas returned secretely to Cyprus to continue the EOKA struggle for Enosis, as he deemed that Makarios was gradually shifting away for their initial goal. He created EOKA B and with the aid of military Junta of Athens, attacked government buildings, Makarios himself and AKEL. In 1974, EOKA B joined forces with the Greek military units on the island and the Cypriot National Guard at the 1974 Cypriot coup d’état.


The authorities of the Republic of Cyprus consider the EOKA struggle as a struggle of national liberation and its members as heroic freedom fighters.The day of the beginning of the EOKA campaign, 1st April, is considered a national anniversary in the country today. Turkish nationalist narrative as written in a Turkish-Cypriot textbook considers the stuggle of EOKA’s guerillas as barbaric and illegal with the conclusion that “Cyprus is and will remain Tùrkish” (p. 61).”

  • Adapted from WIkipedia