He has been called a traitor and weapons smuggler, but also hailed as a great hero. What Swedish Willy Lindh did for Turkish Cypriots the difficult summer of 1964 will not be forgotten here. As a young UN officer in Cyprus, he dared to go against the international community for what he saw as the right thing – to help a distressed minority threatened by both expulsion and extermination. A while ago I had the opportunity to meet Willy Lindh, who today resides in North Cyprus. This is his story about his time as a UN officer on the island, and what got him to secretly transport weapons to the vulnerable Turkish Cypriot community:
I came here with the Swedish UN troops early summer 1964, when I was 27 years old. It was a mission I had long looked forward to. Partly to participate and contribute to peace and stability in Cyprus, which was then a troubled island, but also to get a real experience of what I for eight years as a military in Sweden had only practiced.
As a Lieutenant, I was placed as manager of five small Turkish Cypriot villages in Erenköy, in the western parts of the country. It was the only part of the island where Turkish Cypriots (TCs) still had access to the coastal strip, and contact with the outside world. Everywhere else the TCS were isolated and encircled by Greek Cypriots. Because of this, this part of the island was also the most unsettled.
Our task was to set up outposts and prevent conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. We would report on any military action, eg, major troop movements, field operations, changes in forces, but above all the shootings, which occurred daily in varying degrees of intensity. Some days, it could be very intense firefight.
In the five villages lived approximately 700 inhabitants, of whom 300 were male villagers without any military training, who were forced to defend themselves armed with only shotguns. To help, they had a few hundred student volunteers who had returned from studies in Turkey, but also without any military skills.
It soon became clear to me that the Turkish Cypriots were much more dependent on the United Nations than the Greek Cypriots were. The Turkish Cypriots needed the UN to survive. Without our escorts, it was impossible for them to manage the supply and transportation of patients.
The turmoil in Cyprus originated far back in time. In the Greek-speaking population, there had long existed a strong desire for a close cooperation with the “motherland” Greece. There was a great Hellenistic idea that all parts of the world, populated by Greek-speaking people would be united under one crown. The strongest driving force behind the idea was the Greek Orthodox Church. In this lies the explanation for that Church leaders in Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios III, was the one who was behind the rebellion against the British in Cyprus in the 1950s. The island was in fact since 1878 under British rule. Makarios call for Enosis, union with Greece, supported by the majority of the Greek Cypriot population.
In the fall of 1963 occurred the events that later resulted in that the Swedish Government sent soldiers to be part of the UN peacekeeping forces. Makarios informed the Vice President Dr. Fazil Kücük and the three guarantor powers that he intended to amend the Constitution radically. The changes would almost completely deprive the island’s Turkish Cypriot all rights and guarantees equal ethnic group and thus extradite them to the Greek Cypriots’ discretion. Shortly thereafter began to disarm the Turkish Cypriot policemen and encircle several Turkish Cypriot communities. Turkish Cypriot ministers and MPs were prevented from going to their workplaces and they took control of all power plants, water supply, ports and airports in the country. This was the first step in what became known as Akritasplanen – a liquidation plan.
Shortly before Christmas 1963, two Turkish Cypriots were killed and five were wounded after being ambushed in their cars. The following day, during the funeral, the Greek Cypriot police opened fire on mourners and two other youths were wounded. These incidents represent the beginning to the massacre that would cost hundreds of civilian lives of Turkish Cypriots.
Turkish Cypriots began to withdraw to the smaller villages to defend themselves against the Greeks. From having lived on 35 per cent of the country they came now only to populate three per cent of the island. The UN presence was necessary for the Turkish Cypriots to even survive in Cyprus.
On August 6 the sporadic firefight converted into a massive attack when Greek Cypriots along with 10,000 embarked Greek soldiers attacked the villages surrounding Erenköy. They managed to directly conquer a few dominant heights. The attack was supported by mortars and artillery, but also recoilless cannons were fired against the Turkish Cypriot positions which were completely inadequate to withstand the mortar fire. The Turkish Cypriots never anticipated this massive effort by heavy weapons and even if they would have anticipated it, they were lacking the resources to defend themselves. I remember that I thought that the Greeks weapons rearmament was excessive and unreasonable given that they met such a weak and poorly equipped enemy.
UN’s mission in Cyprus was precisely to prevent such a large gun battle from taking place. But as soon as it became clear that the Greeks would attack, the UN immediately decided to withdraw several posts and the leadership gave orders that we would have to evacuate our men from the area. So instead of collecting the maximum possible strength in the critical area we regrouped the entire UN battalion of a thousand men up the mountains. Remaining was just me and a dozen of my soldiers who chose to stay. The illusions that possibly existed among UN Swedes that we could prevent any extension of Greek Cypriot territory were now in shambles.
The civilians in the villages were picked up and transported to safer places, but surprisingly many of the Turkish Cypriot women chose to stay. They did not leave their villages and chose to hide in the nearby caves to protect themselves. There was a heavy gun battle that was to follow. We were among others fired at from the coast from gunboats, which I would later learn, ironically, was Swedish Bofors canons. After two days, the Greeks had taken four of the five villages surrounding Erenköy. Many people, including civilians, were dead or severely injured. Besides us stayed there, the UN was not to be found anywhere. It was then, when it looked at its darkest hour, it all turned. Late in the afternoon on August 8* suddenly a large number of Turkish fighter planes appeared and attacked the Greek troops around Erenköy. During several hours they were subjected attacking troops so intense that eventually the Greek forces were forced to cancel the attacks. Without the help of Turkey at that time there would had been no Turkish Cypriots in that part of Cyprus.
After the Erenköy area was secured by Turkey the UN troops returned. The Greek Cypriots had temporarily receded but the area was now completely isolated from the rest of the island. UN helped with food supplies, but no emergency health care was to get through the roadblocks Greek Cypriot had set up. The general feeling among us UN soldiers was at this time that we wanted to support the Turkish Cypriots who were the weak and vulnerable.
Thanks to Erenköy’s waterfront location the locals had small contact with the outside world and could because of that receive boatloads of weapons that were shipped over from Turkey. When the nearby village of Lefke came to be attacked, I was asked by the inhabitants if we could help the village with guns. By that time me and my men had lost faith in the UN, we were very disappointed. Our view was that the UN betrayed the Turkish Cypriots. As long as it was about small fights UN was competent, but when it really mattered they did nothing. It did not matter how much we did for the people, if they didn’t have weapons that they could defend themselves with, they would eventually be annihalated. It was with those thoughts, me and my colleague Helge Hjalmarsson took the decision to secretly transport weapons to the Turkish Cypriot inhabitants of Lefke. It was a decision which meant that we went completely against the rules, it was a formal violation of the UN neutrality.
Helge and I began transporting weapons from Erenköy to Lefke. In the beginning it was fine, but then one day whilst driving our armoured cars, we were stopped at roadblocks. The Greeks had been informed about what we were doing and we were caught and it all immediately became a huge THING. UN chief, battalion chief, the police and the press became immediately involved. UN Secretary General was woken by a phone call in the middle of the night. We were put in a British camp in Nicosia where we were interrogated and then sent back home to Sweden. I remember we were flown in a UN plan to Skavsta Airport. When we stepped off the plane, we were taken by surprise by the massive attention that the happening had developed. There ware both military personnel and journalists waiting for us when we stepped out of the air plane. Eventually we ended up on trial, accused of “crime of majesty”, which were of the same degree of seriousness as treason. There ware talks of us getting sentenced for a life time of prison labour, but luckily we were defended by the Swedish, at the time, best criminal lawyer, Ragnar Gottfarb. He managed to get the court to calm down and we eventually sentenced to two years of penalty labour, which then was shortened to 8 months.
The penalty work took place in Åkersberga and consisted in making paper bags for chemical fertilisers. It was a pretty depressing time and we had to work together with men convicted of both robbery and murder. In the months that followed, I received over 400 handwritten letters, of which 300 were from the Turkish Cypriot women who wanted to marry me! The rest were from people who thought that we acted properly and wanted to show their support. It was a contrary to the opinions of the press, journalists across the world condemned us hard. IThe Turkish media could not understand how such a campaign that had been carried out at the risk of our own lives to help people in need, could be treated as a crime in Sweden. We were even invited down to Turkey to Turkish authorities who wanted to show their appreciation, but the trip was to be stopped, partly because of the Swedish media.
I have afterwards been asked if I ever regretted our decision to “smuggle” weapons, but the answer is no. I felt, and still do today, that we acted correctly. Through the years, I have unfortunately faced many allegations and accusations that we’d been bribed to do what we did. The truth is that we chose to do it, not just because it felt right, but because it felt like the only right thing. It was a question of humanity. It was the villagers who were being massacred by the Greek Cypriot and Greek military and UN neither responded or acted as they should according to its statute. You hear many stories from other Swedish UN soldiers who did their service in Cyprus during the same period. About how they described theit time in Cyprus as a holiday where they took with their families, spent their days on the beach and at the pubs at night. My months in Cyprus were something totally different.
After we served our sentence in Sweden, I went to Turkey on holiday. You could not travel to Cyprus at this time as the island was under Greek Cypriot control. I had planned to only stay a week in Turkey, but it ended up that I remained for four full years. I took a job as a guide, first in Istanbul and then in Ankara. I also went to Alanya, where me and a colleague started a travel agency. Fate then took me back to Sweden, where I met my current wife that I now have three daughters with.
Summer time we often went for vacations to Turkey. During the mid-90s, I felt it was time to show Cyprus to my wife. it was the first time I returned to the island and it was a happy reunion with many people I knew from my time as a UN soldier. I also got to know the north of Cyprus’s first president Rauf Denktaş. The years that followed we returned several times to North Cyprus. When our youngest daughter Ingrid graduated we decided to move to North Cyprus permanently. We chose to sell both farm and forest in Sweden and sent all our belongings to Cyprus in a container. This was year 2000 and we moved into a house in Lapta outside Kyrenia.
The last thirteen years I have worked as a touristic guide in North Cyprus. Ingrid and I are the only authorised Swedish-speaking guides on this side of the island. Groups of Swedish tourists come here all year round, I usually include showing them Famagusta and Salamis ruins that I find as very interesting places. Tourists who are here for the first time tend to be surprised at how much it actually is to see in such a small area. I also host presentation where I talk about my time as a UN soldier, but not least of the core to the “Cyprus problem”, about the conflict that divided the island’s population of over a thousand years.
Willy has very strong ties to North Cyprus that has become his home. He feels the “we” of the country and the Turkish Cypriot population. Three years ago, he took the decision to write down its entire story from the summer of 1964. It resulted in the book “Genocide under UN guardianship?” and is based on the diaries and memories of the time he served in Cyprus. The reader will follow Willy the months in Cyprus and take part in a detailed description of his time as a UN soldier. In the book he also questions the UN’s neutrality and tells the story of what led him to the decision to defy the power of the world to help the Turkish Cypriot minority on the island. Here is an extract from the book:
“It was not long before I realised that the mission I got to solve was completely hopeless. It did not take long before I realised the bloody seriousness, that no one had talked about at the information meetings in Sweden before we went. What about a people threatened by both the expulsion and extermination. As a UN officer and a Swedish man I was expected to participate in a macabre game and not react to what was happening around me. UN’s expectations of me completely collapsed the day I and a fellow officer were stopped on the way to the besieged city Lefke. This is a book about a UN lacking teeth. About how the world community would just stand and watch as a group of people put on the “herremansstövlar” and put the heel of the co-creators of the land they inhabit. This is a book about Cyprus and its “problems” of fear, powerlessness, hardship, hatred, love, drama and desire for peace and security”.
The book is published by Edere Publishers and can be ordered from Adlibris, Bokus or by contacting Willy on email: firstname.lastname@example.org
*August 8 has become an important remembrance of North Cyprus. Every year, survivors and relatives are escorted by the UN to Erenköy, which today is on Greek Cypriot land. The president is usually also present. Willy and his family are honourary citizens of North Cyprus and they attend the memorial ceremony in Erenköy each year.