President Tassos Papadopoulos is in Greece at the moment, meeting the country’s political leadership to discuss the latest developments in the Cyprus issue and to visit the village of Artemida in the Peloponnese burnt down in the catastrophic summer fires and which the Cypriot government is pledged to rebuild.
On Monday night, Papadopoulos, along with Greece’s president, Karolos Papoulias, and other dignitaries attended a concert at the Megaron Musikis in Athens in honour of one of the foremost EOKA heroes, Kyriakos Matsis, known as the Eagle of Pentadaktylos – the mountain range which runs along the north coast of Cyprus. Here is a description of Matsis’ life, mostly taken from the Phantis website:
‘Kyriakos Matsis was a Cypriot fighter during the EOKA struggle of 1955-1959.
‘Matsis was born on January 23,1926, in the village of Palaiochori, Lefkosia province, one of three children of Christofis Matsis. He studied at the University of Thessaloniki, received his degree in 1952 and returned to Cyprus. Matsis was active in labour union matters for both farmers and labourers.
‘When EOKA was formed, he was one of the first to join.
‘On January 9, 1956, Matsis was arrested by the British and tortured during interrogation. As he was an important EOKA member, Matsis was even interrogated by Cyprus Governor Sir John Harding. At one point Harding offered Matsis £500,000, a new identity and relocation if he would reveal the whereabouts of EOKA leader Georgios Grivas-Digenis.
‘Matsis replied: "Ου περί χρημάτων τον αγώνα ποιούμεθα, αλλά περί αρετής." (This struggle is for virtue not for money).
‘While imprisoned, Matsis organised his fellow prisoners and, through his charismatic leadership, kept their morale high. He managed to escape from Kokkinotrimithia Prison, with six fellow inmates, on September 13, 1956 and rejoined the struggle as area-leader of Kyrenia. The British placed a £5,000 price on his head.
‘Finally, on November 19, 1958, Matsis and two companions – Kostaris Christodoulou and Andreas Sofiopoulos – were surrounded at their hideout in Dikomo, Kyrenia province.
‘Matsis ordered his comrades to surrender but refused to do so himself. When the British commanded him to come out, he answered: "No. I won’t surrender. If I come out, I'll come out shooting.” A battle ensued but Matsis still refused to give up, prompting the British to throw hand grenades into the hideaway. After the smoke cleared, they removed the dismembered body of Kyriakos Matsis. He was buried in the Imprisoned Tombs in Nicosia.’
Matsis’ idealism, patriotism and sense of being engaged in a struggle and immersed in a tradition and history in which self had no meaning, were typical and widespread in Cyprus in the 1950s. Cypriots were convinced that they were fighting not just for Cyprus but for Greece too, for the whole of Hellenism, and as such were gripped by a delirious love for Greece and unwavering belief in the validity and value of Greek ideals, the spirit of Sparta, Athens, the Byzantine Empire and the 1821 Greek War of Independence.
Unfortunately, stressing this romantic spirit and the heroism it induced – particularly in light of the 1974 coup and invasion – are no longer fashionable in Cyprus (or Greece) and this has resulted in a campaign to reassess EOKA’s armed struggle (1955-1959), to diminish it, regard it as a mistake and an expression of fanaticism. A more passive struggle, the argument goes, to rid the island of British colonial rule should have been pursued.
But I don’t see it this way, and not because I want to glorify violence, patriotic death and armed struggle. Indeed, if the British could have been persuaded through a non-violent campaign of diplomacy and civil disobedience to leave the island – as they left the Ionian islands in 1864 – then, of course, this would have been preferable.
But once the British declared, in 1954, in relation to Cyprus, that there were certain territories in the Commonwealth ‘which, owing to their particular circumstances, can never expect to be fully independent’ and simultaneously began to conspire with Ankara to arm the Turkish minority on the island and encourage it to violently agitate for partition, then what choice did Cypriots have other than to take up arms?
The hideout where Matsis was killed