The Bathtub Massacre in Cyprus

cyprus, turkish invasion, bathtub massacre

Turkey illegally invaded northern Cyprus in 1974. Today, international law and Cyprus’ sovereignty remain violated as about 43,000 Turkish troops and over 160,000 Turkish settlers remain in the occupied territory.

The 1974 Turkish invasion was not planned overnight. Starting in at least the 1950s, Turkey engaged in many acts of violence and propaganda against Cyprus, which attempted to justify its invasion and subsequent criminal actions.

One of the more infamous of such incidents is what came to be known as the 1963 bathtub massacre in Nicosia. According to the Turkish narrative, Greek Cypriots brutally murdered the three young children and the wife of Turkish major Nihat Ilhan in the bathtub of their house. According to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, the incident happened as follows:

"On the night of December 24, 1963, Greeks raided the house of Major Nihat İlhan in Nicosia. Greek attackers murdered Nihat Ilhan's three sons, Kutsi, Murat, and Hakan, and his wife Mürüvvet by a shooting spree in their bathtub where they were hiding."

Hurriyat reported that Ilhan was the doctor of the 650-strong Turkish force in Cyprus, which was called the "Turkish Cypriot Regiment". Ilhan lost his life in 2016. Hurriyet quoted him as saying:

"When the massacre happened, I hadn't been home for a few days and hadn't heard from my family. A Turkish shepherd, who was staying near our house, came and said in the presence of the regiment commander that the Greeks attacked the families of the Turkish officers. We didn't understand what happened. I immediately wanted to go home, but the regiment commander did not allow me to. The regiment commander asked me to keep calm about what I would experience that day. I still did not realize that my family was murdered. We went to Turkey's embassy in an armored vehicle. It was filled with the wives of officers and embassy officials. The women were crying.

"I still did not understand that my family was killed… Then the Turkish Ambassador told me: 'My condolences to you. The Greeks killed your wife and children.' So it had been three days since the massacre, and I was getting news."

The bathtub massacre has widely been used by Turkish nationalists to generate hostility and mistrust within the Turkish Cypriot community against Greeks and to justify the 1974 Turkish military invasion of Cyprus in the eyes of the international community by portraying Greeks as aggressive and murderous.

However, objective observers and researchers have challenged the truthfulness of the Turkish narrative. This includes prominent Turkish Cypriot journalist Sener Levent.

Levent and his journalistic team at the newspaper Afrika have done extensive investigative journalism on the tragic incident, exposing the inconsistencies and contradictions in the Turkish narrative. Levent published an article about the issue in 2015, which was republished in 2018. In it, Levent exposed that there were several versions of the photo of the bathroom massacre. Referring to the photo of the massacre as the "icon of our political propaganda", Levent wrote:

"The bathroom slaughter... Three children in their bloodstained little pyjamas in a bathtub… And their mother ... Is there any human that would not be affected by this? If so, they cannot be regarded as human. The most painful, the most tragic memory of the 1963 Christmas... This photograph travelled the world ... All the famous press organizations of the world published it as 'Greek barbarism' in Cyprus ...Everyone tried to prove the 'attacks and massacres by Greeks against Turkish Cypriots' on the island through this photograph.  We then turned the house where the massacre happened into the 'Museum of Barbarism' ... We took all our students to that museum and told them about 'Greek barbarism'. And we are still doing that.

"In recent years, we have covered this topic widely. We opened a [investigation] file into the massacre. We started digging deep into it, for there were questions on the minds of the people that were left unanswered. And there were all kinds of rumours out there about the incident. But some people did not like the fact that we were investigating the incident. Some were angry and attacked us by calling us 'traitors' as usual. As we further investigated the incident, some unknown facts came out. For example, there were other versions of that famous photo, the propaganda icon.

"So the victims were not murdered the way it looked. They were made to "look" like that so that the propaganda would be more effective. And we think that it was Ömer Samih Coşar, a journalist from Turkey, who did it. Ömer Samih Coşar, who was an expert on Cyprus and a reporter for the newspaper 'Milliyet', operated more like a Turkish intelligence officer on duty than a journalist.  Nobody could come out and explain to us why such a scene [in the bathroom] was made.

"However, when our news reports progressed and reached Turkey as well, the [Turkish] nationalists brought the sad Major Ilhan to Cyprus forty years after [the incident]. They also got him to talk on TV channels, but I guess they later regretted having brought him here... He said they [Turks] brought a Greek captive woman and a man to the Turkish Embassy so that he'd kill them and avenge his wife and children. They gave him a gun and told him to kill them and get revenge. He said that the Greek woman was pregnant and that he did not kill them.

"Today we are publishing a photo about the bathroom massacre that has not been published anywhere before. For the first time in our press and in the world. We hope that this photo will contribute to the further enlightening of the facts. Take a good look at the photo and at the bathroom. Is there any blood stain in the bathtub? No. Where are the bodies? Outside of the bathtub, next to it. Is that how they [the victims] would have looked if they had been massacred in the bathtub?

"I asked six questions in my recently published article entitled 'The secrets of the bloody bathroom'. I'm repeating once again the questions that need to be answered.

"Question one:

"Is it not weird that the mother was lying on the bottom and the kids were on top of her? Would a mother rushing to protect her kids not try to cover and guard them?

"Question two:

"It is said that the shot child's brain squirted and stuck to the wall.  For one's brain to jump out, one must be shot in the head from a close range and with a gun to the chin. But Major Ilhan said that he washed the corpses of his children with his own hands and none of them had been shot in the head. So why are they [Turkish nationalists] still lying that the child's brain popped out and stuck to the wall?

"Question three:

"There is serious evidence that the massacre was not committed in the bathroom. And there are photos taken outside of the bathroom. So who took the bodies and put them in the bathroom? And why did they do it?

"Question four:

"There are multiple versions of the propaganda icon-photo. Photos that show the kids in different stances inside the bathtub. Who staged that? Don’t you want to know who are those that are so vile to have played with child corpses for propaganda purposes?

"Question five:

"There are those who survived the slaughter house. And some are still alive. But somehow, they never speak about it. Why? Who are they scared of? Would they be in trouble if they spoke up? Have they been threatened? This is a secret too. Have you ever seen a Turkish Cypriot scared of talking about 'a massacre committed by Greeks'? I never have.

"Question six:

"The bathroom massacre was covered by the local media three days after it happened. Back then there were only two newspapers – "Halkin Sesi" [Voice of the People] and "Bozkurt" [Grey Wolf]. While other news was covered immediately, why was the coverage of the massacre delayed so much?

"Those who are angry at us for digging deep into the bloody bathroom incident should stop calling us 'traitors' and explain these things to us. The most important one is the photo we publish today. Why are they lying when none of the kids were shot in the head and their brains were not stuck on the wall? Why are they saying untrue things such as 'the massacre was committed in the bathtub'? Most importantly, why do they need these lies? They must explain these things to us.

"We have been fed with lies until today. Mosques were bombed. They lied about it and said 'Greeks did it'. The Turkish News Bureau affiliated with the embassy was bombed. They lied about it. Two Turkish lawyers were slaughtered one night. They lied about it. A bullet was shot at the Atatürk statue. They lied about it. They lied even when they bombed us. They said 'they bombed themselves'. After they have told us so many lies, how can we believe what they say about the bathroom massacre?"

The questions Levent asks about the bathtub massacre still remain unanswered. What is obvious is the extremely inconsistent narrative Turkish nationalists invented concerning the murders of the innocent kids and the wife of the Turkish Major.

Perhaps the most significant question that comes to mind after investigating thebathtub massacre is the following: If Turkish state authorities are capable of killing even their own people for political or propaganda purposes, is there any limit to the atrocities they could commit against Greeks and other non-Turks that they consider to be their enemies?

About the author: Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara. Her writings have appeared in various outlets such as the Gatestone Institute, Washington Times, Christian Post and Jerusalem Post. Bulut’s journalistic work focuses mainly on human rights, Turkish politics, history, religious minorities in the Middle East, and anti-Semitism. Bulut is also a regular contributor for the Greek City Times.

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