The TMT
(Türk Mukavemet Teşkilatı)

The TMT was a a special warfare organisation under the direct command of Turkish Army Officers. Its mission was to “recapture” Cyprus, but it presented itself as an organisation for resisting Greek agression, hence its name, which means “Turkish Resistance Organisation”.

On 29 November 1957 the residents of the main towns of Cyprus awoke to find leaflets with the title “Bulletin Number One” had been circulated overnight. The leaflets informed them that Volkan had been disbanded, and was to be replaced by a new organization, the TMT. Turkish Cypriots were told to stand by for instructions.[1]

The TMT, according to Rauf Denktash, speaking in 2000 to a group of its former commanders, was founded by three people: the Administrative Attaché of the Turkish Consulate Kemal Tanrisevdi,[2] the doctor Burhan Nalbantoglu, and himself.[3]

There is some confusion as to the date on which the TMT was founded. Denktash gave the date 27 November 1957 in his memoirs, but Tanrisevdi thinks Denktash made a mistake and that the actual date was 15 November 1957.[4] (I note, for what it is worth, that according to Alan Lennox-Boyd, Secretary of State for the Colonies: “... the Turkish-Cypriot organisation, T.M.T., came to the fore at the end of August [1957].”) [5]

Elsewhere Denktash has stated: “... the TMT was established ... for distributing the leaflets, for neutralizing ‘Volkan’ at the beginning, until Turkey took it [the TMT] over.”[6]

A clue as to why Denktash may have wanted to “neutralize” Volkan is perhaps contained in the statement he is reported by Kıbrıslı to have made in November 2005, “that he has suspicions that the extremist-nationalist organization Volkan was established by the British and that those who offered services to the British have gone to Britain”. However Kıbrıslı also reports statements from two Turkish Cypriots vehemently refuting Denktash’s aspersions on Volkan.[7]

In an interview published in The Times in 1978, Denktash reveals that the formation of the TMT was kept secret from Kuchuk, who was at that time the acknowledged political leader of the Turkish Cypriots, and the suspicion arises that the creation of the TMT may also have been a way of limiting Kuchuk’s influence and involvement in the area of terrorist activity.

“I had set up the TMT (Turkish resistance movement) with a few friends to organize the individuals who were rushing around doing things.”

When the TMT issued its first pamphlet, taking over from its predecessor, Volkan, Dr Kutcuk asked who these fools were. We had not told him about TMT. He was happy with Volkan. He never got out of the feeling that he was left out of it.”

For a few years he was most uncomfortable about it. But he trusted me and if he had any worries he would come to me and I would placate him. We did not allow TMT to become an underground terrorist organization.”

It was now in the late 1950s and there was bitter inter-communal strife. “Eventually TMT became more than a military force, it became a moral force. Everybody thought I was the leader but I was not. I was political adviser. Immediately after forming it I handed it over. It was a good mask because even the British and American intelligence thought I was the man who ran and decided everything. I was not.” The leaders, he said, were former army officers from Turkey.[8]

One has to wonder just what is meant by the statement: “We did not allow TMT to become an underground terrorist organization.” In the period from May to July 1958—before the handover of the TMT to Turkish Army officers—at least six Turkish Cypriots who disagreed with TMT’s policies and were in favour of Greek-Turkish cooperation in Cyprus were targeted for assassination. Moreover the period between the founding of the TMT and its handover to Colonel Rıza Vuruşkan was one of the bloodiest in terms of violent intercommunal clashes—clashes initiated by Turkish Cypriots who presumably had “stood by for instructions” and were now following orders. Perhaps what Denktash means is that it was not an underground organisation within the the Turkish Cypriot community, since its aim was to lead the community and to have complete control over it, but it was certainly a terrorist organisation, as we shall see, and outside of the community the involvement of Turkish Army officers was kept very secret indeed.

Denktash’s claim that he handed it over immediately after forming it, and that after the handover, the leaders “were former army officers from Turkey” is questionable. If he is referring to the handover to Colonel Vuruşkan, the statement is not true. Vuruşkan and his companions were serving officers of the Turkish Army seconded to the TMT, and the handover did not happen “immediately”. The TMT was very active for months prior to being “handed over”. If Denktash was not the leader during the bloody months of January to July 1958, who was? Or, to rephrase the question, who was responsible for unleashing the indiscriminate violence of the intercommunal clashes?

The first leader of the TMT after the “hand over” was Colonel Rıza Vuruşkan, a veteran of the Korean War, who arrived in Cyprus on 1 August 1958 under the assumed name of Ali Conan and in the guise of an auditor for the Labour Bank. With him came another five officers.[9]

Vuruşkan’s immediate superior in Turkey was Ismail Tansu, who claims it was he and Colonel Riza Vuruşkan who established the TMT.

Tansu worked for the STK (Tactical Mobilization Committee [Seferberlik Taktik Kurulu]), which was founded in 1952 with the blessing of the National Defense Supreme Council, and was “the first institutional extension of the Turkish branch of the European stay-behind operations”.[10] It was led by Brigadier General Daniş Karabelen, who had been one of sixteen Turkish soldiers (including Alparslan Türkeş) trained in special warfare in the United States.

Following instructions from Menderes, Karabelen asked his right-hand man Ismail Tansu to prepare a plan for Cyprus. The plan Tansu came up with, and to which he gave the title Kıbrıs İstirdat Planı (Plan for Recapturing Cyprus), involved the creation of a “special warfare” organisation which would utilise the Turkish Cypriot population of Cyprus, but be led by Turkish army officers.

In his book In Reality No One Was Asleep,[11] Ismael Tansu records the instructions given by Prime Minister Adnan Menderes regarding the TMT:

The establishment of a secret armed organisation in Cyprus is approved with the aim of securing the (Turkish) state presence on the island. You can go ahead and implement the plan you have prepared and which will be implemented under extraordinary conditions and clandestinely. The risks and difficulties of establishing such an organisation are well known in a country which is under the control of the English. All preparations in connection with this issue should remain top secret and efforts should be exerted to avoid any leaks inside or outside the country. All those taking part in this operation should avoid statements or acts that would rate [?raise] the suspicion that the organisation was set up with the consent of our Government. The needs in arms, material, personnel and money will be met by our government and our armed forces. The leaders of the Turkish Cypriot community in Cyprus, Fazil Kutchuk and Rauf Denktash, are persons enjoying the support and trust of our government. There should be close cooperation with these persons, who will assist in setting up the organisation. All officers who will get involved in the organisation will retain all their legal rights and would be considered on unlimited leave. We believe that the organisation will secure the security of life and property of the Turkish Cypriot people, and will also contribute in promoting the policies on Cyprus followed by our Government. I depend on the able officers who will shoulder this duty and I wish them every success.[12]

Noting Menderes’s emphasis on the need, for complete secrecy with regard to the Turkish government’s involvement, it is tempting to speculate that the TMT was created because Volkan was too closely linked to elements in the British administration, and that there was a long gap between its founding and the arrival of Vuruşkan because the Turkish Cypriot community had to be prepared—silence had to be ensured, and the Turkish Cypriots had to be “primed”. This would provide one reason for the sudden initiation of large scale intercommunal conflict and the spate of assassinations—the former to excite nationalist fervour, and the latter to terrorise into silent acquiescence those Turkish Cypriots who could not be primed with adequate levels of “Milli Galeyan” [nationalistic excitement].[13] Presumably it is in this sense that the TMT “became a moral force”. Reinforcing this line of thought is the reminiscence of a former member of the TMT, Ahmet Bey, who at the age of eighty-seven remembered that: “In the old days, there was fear of the Organization. The TMT had spread fear, so that the Turkish-Cypriots would obey them. The TMT threatened people, killed many. Often the TMT didn’t even hide that they were behind the murder of Turkish-Cypriots. Otherwise, if they hadn’t spread this terror, they wouldn’t have been able to make people submit to their authority.”[14]

According to Yael Navaro Yashin, writing in 2009: “People almost viscerally remember the fear instigated by the TMT.” And she cites the testimony of Pembe Hanim:

The TMT came to our village and made a “guerrilla” out of every thief and idle man. These men became the leaders of the TMT in our village. We used to be afraid of both Greeks and Turks. The TMT spread fear amongst us; that fear remains. They killed many Turks, you know. For example, they killed the husband of our neighbor Behice Hanim who was a policeman in the British bases. One night the TMT came to his house and said he should leave the gate to the bases open for them to go in and smuggle guns. But if he were to hide this from his British employers, he would be left without a job, so of course he told the British. The following day, the TMT called him up to the village square. There they beat him up violently. His bones were broken. He was practically lynched. He died soon after.[15]

The Assasinations of 1958

22 May 1958

The TMT attempted to assasinate Ahmet Sadi Erkut, the Director of the Turkish Office of AKEL’s trade union the PEO (Pancyprian Workers Federation), “but his wife saved him taking the bullets herself”, and he was merely wounded. After Fazil Onder was killed, Ahmet Sadi fled to Britain. [16]

24 May 1958

Fazil Önder, formerly Chief Editor of the banned weekly newspaper İnkılâpçı was murdered by the TMT.[17]

29 May 1958

Ahmet Yahya, a committee member of the progressive Turkish-Cypriot Athletic Cultural Centre, was killed in his bed. To save his life, Ahmet had complied with a TMT request that left wingers and trade unionists resign publicly from the Pancyprian Workers Federation, PEO, by publishing an announcement in Bozkurt. The edition carrying the news of his death also carried his declaration of faith in “the line taken by our leaders”:

“Apart from the fact that I am not a member of the labour union, I am not a leftist either. I declare that I am and always have been faithful to the line taken by our leaders and our people.”[18]

Rather than give in to the TMT’s threats and submit to the demand for public declarations, some Turkish Cypriots chose to flee to Britain: “Another veteran trade unionist, Hulus Halil Ibrahim was threatened so he escaped to London to save his life.”[19] Others, however, did submit:

“Kamil [Tuncel] escaped death [a] couple of times but he was on the ‘hitlist’ of TMT...

[....] Kamil gave an advertisement in a newspaper to save his head.

He told us of a scene which I will never forget–one night the hitmen of TMT come and take him to Cetinkaya to have dinner. All of them are eating and drinking and Kamil is sitting there, frozen, not knowing what will happen to his life. They tell him ‘It’s okay, you don’t need to worry, you have resigned from PEO…’ But the scene gets stuck in my heart and I can imagine what sort of suffering he went through all these years on this island, having to live under death threats, having lost some of his friends in the struggle, having had to bury them and still try to survive with human dignity.”[20]

5 June 1958

An attempt was made on the life of Hasan Ali, a member of the board of the Construction Workers Union affiliated with the Pancyprian Labour Federation.[21]

29 June 1958

Kristis Vevis, a well known footballer playing for the team Apollo, received a letter containing a death threat, and fled abroad. Vevis was a Muslim who had become a Christian four years before.[22]

30 June 1958

Ahmet Ibrahim, a barber from Limassol, was assassinated because he had friendly relations with Greek-Cypriots and publicly supported coexistence.[23]

3 July 1958

Arif Hulusi Barudi, a trade union leader who worked in a business owned by a Greek Cypriot, was the victim of a failed assasination attempt, after having received a threatening letter demanding that he leave his job.[24]

 

As indicated above, the aim of the assassinations was not only to silence once and for all a handful of individuals—it was also a means of inspiring fear in would-be dissenters and thus ensuring their silence and compliance. The TMT meant business, and although the Turkish Cypriots were not a monolithic community, they did begin to act as one to a remarkable degree. Few voices of dissent were heard, if any.

Since one of TMT’s aims was to persuade the world that Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots could not live together, another desirable consequence of the assassinations for the TMT was the severing of ties of friendship and collaboration with Greek Cypriots:

“TMT assassinations of progressive Turkish Cypriots created a climate of panic and fear amongst the masses of Turkish Cypriots who were obliged to withdraw from the PEO organised union movement and gradually sever Greek Cypriot ties.”[25]

The Intercommunal Violence of 1958

Although there had been some intercommunal violence in 1956 and 57, it was minor compared to the clashes which began in January 1958 and climaxed in June 1958 with the Guenyeli “Incident”, when a group of unarmed Greek Cypriot villagers were butchered by “Turkish vigilantes”. A foretaste of what was to come occurred on the 10th of December 1957. It was triggered by a rumour that a Turkish policeman had been shot and killed by a Greek. In fact a Turkish policeman had been accidentally shot in the buttocks by a colleague when they were both pursuing the same Greek schoolboy at a rally. The wound was minor, but as the false rumour spread about 500 angry Turkish youths gathered in Ataturk Square and headed for the Greek quarter of Nicosia. There they began “to wreak vengeance on Greek shopkeepers and others. Two lorries were overturned and set on fire, windows were smashed, and shots fired at random into the air.” Outside the offices of the Cyprus Mail an English journalist was shot at by two Turks but the bullets missed him. Meanwhile, Turkish Cypriot leaders protested against ‘the murder of our policeman’ and sent a formal protest to Britain and a cable to Menderes declaring that every Turkish village faced a massacre.[26]

Much more to come...

Π.Α.

Footnotes

[1] The Times, 30 November 1957, p. 6; Robert Holland, Britain and the Revolt in Cyprus, 1954-1959 (OUP, 1998), p. 216.

[2] Tanrisevdi, a Turkish diplomat, was appointed Administrative Attache to the Turkish Consulate General in Nicosia on 30 October 1956. (Kibris 3 April 2001, cited in “Death of One of TMT Founders”.)

[3] Kibris 16 June 2000. Cited in “Denktash: Three people established the TMT”.

[4] Σπύρος Α. Αθανασιάδης, TMT (Nicosia: 1998) p. 51. His source: Neriman Cahit, “TMT Yılları”, Ortam, 26 May 1997. See also Erdinç Gündüz, “1 Ağustos ve TMT” [“1 August and the TMT”] Kıbrıs Postası 4 August 2011: “Rauf R.Denktaş, Kıbrıs Türk Mukavemet Teşkilatı’nın kuruluş tarihinin 27 Kasım 1957 olduğunu söylemektedir. Kemal Tanrısevdi ise 15 Kasım 1957 tarihini vermektedir. Bazı araştırmacıllar ise söz konusu teşkilatın 23 Kasım 1957 tarihinde kurulduğunu belirtmektedir.”

[5] Hansard House of Commons Debate, 26 June 1958, vol 590, c613.

[6] Costas Yennaris interview with Rauf Denktash, Nicosia, 14 February 2001. Broadcast on CyBC TV, March 8.

[7] Kıbrıslı 30 Nov. 2005, cited in “Rauf Denktas´ statement that he suspects Volkan organization was established by the British draws strong reaction by its members”.

[8] “The politics of resistance that divided Greek from Turk,” The Times, 20 January 1978, p. 17.

[9] Colonel Rıza Vuruşkan, Colonel Necmettin Erce, Colonel Şefik Karakurt, Captain Mehmet Özden, Captain Rahmi Ergün (Ismail Tansu, In Reality No One Was Asleep: A Secret Underground Organization, with State Support? TMT, translated by Ayhan Sutcuoglu [Afghanistan, n.d.]. Turkish Edition: Aslnda hic kimse uyumuyordu: TMT [Ankara 2001] p. 61.)

[10] H. Akin Ünver, “Turkey’s ‘Deep-State’ and the Ergenekon Conundrum”. In 1967, the STK became part of Özel Harp Dairesi [the Special Warfare Department] under the General Staff.

[11] Ismail Tansu, In Reality No One Was Asleep: A Secret Underground Organization, with State Support? TMT, translated by Ayhan Sutcuoglu [Afghanistan, n.d.]. Turkish Edition: Aslnda hic kimse uyumuyordu: TMT [Ankara 2001].)

[12] Quoted in TMT: With Blood and Fire, Part 2, Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation, 20 January 2006.

[13] “Kıbrıs Türkünün kaderini değiştiren kavga: Dırvana Denktaş kavgası”, Haber Kibris, 03 April 2011.

[14] Quoted by Yael Navaro Yashin in “Confinement and the Imagination: Sovereignty and Subjectivity in a Quasi-State,” pp. 103-119, in Sovereign Bodies: Citizens, Migrants, and States in the Postcolonial World edited by Thomas Blom Hansen & Finn Stepputat (Princeton University Press, 2009).

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ahmet Djavit An, “Good Old Days of Cooperation within the Working Class of Cyprus”; Sevgül Uludağ, “The Slow Burial of the Patterns of ‘Nationalism’”, Αλήθεια, 26 September 2004; Farid Mirbagheri, Historical Dictionary of Cyprus [Scarecrow Press, 2010] pp. 143-4.

[17] Ahmet Djavit An, “Good Old Days of Cooperation within the Working Class of Cyprus”. İnkılâpçı (Revolutionary) was a left-wing Turkish Cypriot weekly newspaper. It began publication on 13 September 1955 but continued for only 14 weeks. After a state of emergency was declared by the colonial government, it was banned, along with AKEL’s Νέος Δημοκράτης (New Democrat). The last issue was published on 12 December 1955, and contained an article with the title “Threat”, revealing that the Turkish Cypriot leadership and its underground organization had sent threatening letters to the publishing team with statements like: “Cease publication or you will be killed, your head will be crushed”.

[18] Costas Yennaris, From the East: Conflict and Partition in Cyprus, 2003, p. 127.

[19] Sevgül Uludağ, “The slow burial of the patterns of ‘nationalism’”, Αλήθεια, 26 September 2004. Also in Sevgül Uludağ, Cyprus: The Untold Stories: A Reader (Bibliopolis, 2005 ), p. 91.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Costas Yennaris, From the East: Conflict and Partition in Cyprus, 2003, p. 127.

[22] “Ηπειλήθη και ανεχώρησε” [“He Was Threatened and He Left”], Ελευθερία, 1 July 1958.)

[23] Costas Yennaris, From the East: Conflict and Partition in Cyprus, 2003, p. 127.

[24] Turkey’s Expansionist Designs on Cyprus: The Role of TMT (Cyprus Public Information Office, 1979), p. 9.

[25] Michalis Michaelides, “The Turkish Cypriot Working Class and the Cyprus Labour Movement, 1920-1963”, in The Cyprus Review, Volume 5:2 (Nicosia: Intercollege, 1993), p. 51.

[26] “Nicosia School Stormed”, The Times, 11 December 1957, p. 10; Charles Foley, Legacy of Strife: Cyprus from Rebellion to Civil War (Penguin Books, 1964), pp. 106-7.