Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Kyriakos Matsis: the Eagle of Pentadaktylos

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


Stavros said...

Grivas has also been pushed aside of late. Do you see him as flawed given his activities against Archbishop Makarios?

john akritas said...

You have asked a big question with massive implications, which I can’t answer fully. Nevertheless:

It is an understatement to suggest that Grivas was flawed. Even his most ardent supporters would accept that he made huge miscalculations with devastating consequences – most notably the creation in 1971 of EOKA B, the junta's lickspittle in Cyprus whose catastrophic aim was to overthrow Makarios through violence and bring about double enosis and in pursuit of this appalling aim targetted in a terrorist campaign socialists, communists, Makarios supporters and generally all those who didn't fancy being ruled by the military clowns in Athens – i.e. 95% of the Cypriot population.

Even though Grivas died six months before the EOKA B coup against Makarios – which led to the Turkish invasion – and he is therefore spared some of the opprobrium for overthrowing the archbishop – Kyriakos Markides suggests that had Grivas lived he would never have agreed to the coup – his role after independence in consistently opposing and undermining Makarios – who had overwhelming popular support – and in fomenting a climate of civil war among Greek Cypriots was fatal both for the island and his reputation.

Nevertheless, none of this can take away from the fact that Grivas was a brilliant leader of EOKA, who outsmarted the British and galvanised the Greeks of Cyprus and led them, with Makarios, to a considerable victory in 1960, though it might not have seemed such a success at the time.

We hadn't achieved enosis, but by the end of the 1960s – and again with Grivas' dynamic military leadership – the Turkish Cypriot attempt to destroy the Republic of Cyprus had been neutralised, the threat of a Turkish invasion mitigated and the prospect of achieving a strong Cypriot state, which Makarios regarded as a prerequisite for achieving enosis in the future, was good. But the relatively strong position Cyprus was in at the end of the 1960s was thrown away by the Greek junta, Grivas' EOKA B and the external conspirators who detested Makarios and the prospect of an independent Cyprus.

Here are a couple of good resources:
1. What Makarios shortly before the coup thought of Grivas and EOKA B

2. Markides' account of the opposition to Makarios in the 1960s. Before he found God and monks, Markides was a Marxistic sociologist and though his account bears the hallmarks of his anti-nationalism and opposition to enosis, it still gives a reasonable flavour of Cypriot politics between 1960-74.

Stavros said...


I apologize ahead of time if this is a difficult question for you but do you personally still believe in enosis?

Grivas fascinates me, although it does seem he had a dark side. I am still curious about his motives before the invasion and this whole subject of "double enosis." I wonder if his memoirs hold any clues about his activities before his death?

As for Makrides finding God, better late than never.

john akritas said...


It's tough for me to talk about Grivas and how he's viewed in Cyprus because I'm not really sure.

Still, Grivas and Makarios strike me as being like two figures from a Kazantzakis novel, the man of action and the man of spirit, and in this case I find the man of spirit – Makarios – to be a far more interesting, complex, intelligent and tragic figure than Grivas, who although a brave, smart and ruthless soldier was a lousy politician, dogmatic, egomaniacal, conspiratorial, rabidly anti-communist – no good for Cyprus where 30-40% of the population had/has communist sympathies – and, quite frankly, a bit thick.

Indeed, it's possible that it was this thick and egomaniacal streak in Grivas that allowed him to be seduced by the Americans and the junta – with whom he collaborated closely – into believing that he was the man to save Cyprus from the 'red priest' (Makarios) and deliver the island – or part of it – to Greece.

Double enosis is one of the American contributions to the Cyprus tragedy and materialised in the form of the Acheson plan (1964) which proposed the abolition of the Republic of Cyprus, and the division of Cyprus between Greece and Turkey.

Greece would get most of the island, Turkey the Karpas peninsular and Kastellorizo in the Aegean. Turkey was keen on the plan, the Greeks lukewarm but Makarios was horrified and rejected it out of hand, earning him the contempt of the Americans, who began to see him as an obstacle to their efforts to pacify Greece and Turkey and keep the Nato alliance in tact in southeast Europe.

The junta, despite its patriotic protestations, liked the idea of double enosis and along with the CIA began to put in place in Cyprus, under Grivas' leadership, a team and strategy to bring down Makarios – by whatever means possible – and put in charge of the island those who would implement double enosis – hence the numerous assassination attempts against Makarios and eventually the coup.

I know you don't like Hitchens, but his book is the most accurate I feel in detailing the conspiracy against Makarios and the disreputable role of figures like Grivas.

As for Grivas' memoirs, I'm not aware of any other than the rather uninspiring account he gave of the EOKA campaign against the British written shortly after independence in 1960.

Regarding enosis; it would be a mistake to think that Makarios' pursuit of independence in Cyprus meant a rejection of enosis. Far from it.

What it meant was a rejection of Cyprus becoming part of Greece run by the colonels and becoming part of Greece the colonels' way – through double enosis. Makarios knew it was not feasible in the 1960s to achieve enosis and opted for strengthening the Republic of Cyprus and enosis in the future.

The model was Crete. Limited form of independence in 1897, union with Greece in 1913, when the international conditions were right. Makarios' strategy was a good strategy and by the end of the 1960s it was working and would have continued to work if it hadn’t been for EOKA B, the junta and the Americans.

As for my personal beliefs, yes I believe in enosis, and in fact it's worth pointing out that the Republic of Cyprus is a Greek republic and the part of the island it controls is as Greek as any other part of Greece. In this respect, enosis – if by enosis we mean Hellenisation and living freely as Greeks – has been achieved. The Hellenic Republic and the Cyprus Republic are pretty much one country.

As for bringing Cyprus formally under the authority of the Greek state – well, you know what the Greek state is like, and the advantages of this are limited. Cypriots don’t need Greeks from Athens to manage their affairs; Cypriots don’t need Greece’s education system or health system, Athenian morals or modernity nor the way Greeks do their politics and all the rest of it.

Finally, Makarios is from the same group of Paphos mountain villages as my father, so I feel a special affinity and affection for him, whereas Grivas is from Trikomo, just north of Famagusta, and now under Turkish occupation. I happen to have an aunt from Trikomo who is an evil psychopath, which has made me generally ill-disposed to Trikomites and Trikomitisses.

Stavros said...


Thanks for this very interesting information. You have given me a lot of new insights to think about.

Actually, I like Hitchens, especially his courageous stance on Iraq, although I can't abide his Trotskyite tendencies and his atheism.

Is that "evil" aunt the one who told you that you were headed non-stop to hell because of your views on Christianity??

john akritas said...

Regarding my evil aunt from Trikomo; no, she is definitely not the one worried about my eternal soul. The Trikomitissa couldn't give a damn about my eternal soul. Actually, the one worried about my eternal soul is an adored aunt, whose name day it is today, so chronia polla theia.

My adored aunt, who's very pious, was concerned by my lack of faith because she believes that atheists – if they're not communists – live their lives in despair. For her, admitting that you don't believe in God is admitting that your life is directionless and hopeless.

Hermes said...

I believe in enosis. Despite Athens and its elite being a bunch of losers the eparchia and islands really do not give a toss. However, they will care when there is trouble. Likewise, Cyprus should be completely brought into the fold; although, Athens should look to incorporate some of their systems. Cyprus can then behave like any other non-Athenian place - pay lip service but ignore them. Any Cypriots who object to enosis should be tried without a jury and made to clean tourist facilities frequented by the English.

john akritas said...

Hermo, you don't present a very attractive picture of what enosis would look like and I foresee a lot of Cypriots with cleaning brushes.

Besides, historically, the Greeks most indifferent to enosis – who cared little for the fate of Cypriot Hellenism or thought Greece's priorities lay elsewhere or were too short-sighted to see the advantages of Athens exercising sovereignty in Cyprus – were not from Cyprus but from Greece.

The patriotic deficit, as always, is not a problem of the periphery but of the centre. Remember, the only party in Greece to support Cyprus' rejection of the Annan plan was KKE – and even this support was for the wrong reasons. ie KKE saw the Annan plan as a Nato imperialist plot, blah, blah, blah. All the rest, and often with much vehemence, wanted Cypriots to vote Yes to the Annan plan, ie to vote to commit suicide and hand over the island to the Turks.