More background info:
for the wider historical context see the Cypriot history
section in the chapter about Cyprus
Here’s some further background from a more Turkish perspective:
While many Greek Cypriots have long harboured the idea of a possible unification with mainland Greece
(called “enosis”), this would obviously not have been in the interest of the minority Turkish Cypriots, who strongly opposed the idea.
As the paramilitary Greek nationalist EOKA (under the leadership of the Greek colonel Georgios Grivas) started its 1955-1959 guerrilla war against not only the British colonial government and military but also against Turkish civilians, a nationalist Turkish counter-organization was formed in 1958 under the name of TMT. This stands for “Türk Mukavemet Teşkilatı” and translates as ‘Turkish Resistance Organization’. It was founded by no other than Rauf Denktaş, who would later become North Cyprus’s president for over three decades. Other than fighting EOKA, TMT’s goal was “Taksim” or ‘partition’, rather than unification with Turkey.
In fact Turkey had indeed also once made claims on the island of Cyprus but dropped these after the 1959 London and Zurich agreements and Cyprus’s subsequent gaining of independence in 1960. These agreements had actually been the result of meetings of Greek Cypriot Archbishop Makarios and Fazil Küçük, a doctor-turned-politician who acted as representative of the Turkish minority and would move on to become the Republic of Cyprus’s first vice-president until 1973. So initially, there was a relatively fair sharing of power between the two ethnic groups. But this soon was showing cracks and inter-ethnic tensions grew and led to bloodshed.
The Turkish minority suffered the worst from EOKA attacks during the inter-communal violence at Christmas 1963 (see especially the Museum of Barbarism
). After this the Green Line
was established by the UN to keep the two sides apart; and many Turkish Cypriots from the south migrated north. “Taksim”, or ‘partition’, was de facto achieved within the Republic of Cyprus.
In the early 1970s EOKA resurfaced as “EOKA-B” (again under the leadership of Georgios Grivas), which was still promoting ‘enosis’, but now had far less backing among the general population, nor the support of president Archbishop Makarios. Once freedom fighters against colonialism they were now indeed illegal underground guerrillas undermining the Cypriot state and launching attacks on Turks.
Then in July 1974 came the Greek nationalist coup d’etat
launched by EOKA-B and the Greek military junta (and with a little bit of support by the CIA), Makarios narrowly escaped assassination and fled, while a new pro-enosis president was installed in his place. This triggered the reaction by Turkey, which days later launched a military invasion
of Cyprus (labelled a “peace operation
”) to protect the Turkish Cypriot population and prevent enosis. This it achieved. The military junta in Greece
was toppled shortly after the coup and support for enosis collapsed. Eventually a truce was established, by means of which which Turkey continued occupying the northern part of Cyprus, and the Green Line
buffer zone was extended east and west of Nicosia
across the whole country. In the south eventually Makarios returned as president. However, he failed in his aim of restoring the territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus. With the support of the Turkish military, which refused to leave the island, ‘Taksim’ was ensured. And the Turkish Cypriot leader Denktaş would hold on to that state of affairs.
An “Autonomous Turkish Cypriot Administration
” was formed in the north, separate from the Republic of Cyprus, followed in 1975 by a “Turkish Federated State of Cyprus
”, both precursors to the breakaway independent state “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus
) which was unilaterally declared in 1983, but recognized internationally only by Turkey
. And so it remains.
The National Struggle Museum was opened in 1989.
What there is to see: When I visited the museum in early January 2023 the place felt almost deserted. There was some caretaker kind of guy who briefly acknowledged our arrival and quickly scuttled out of view again (maybe he was surprised to see visitors coming here). My wife and I were the only visitors the entire time we were there. I reckon it’s never really busy. My Lonely Planet guidebook for Cyprus (7th ed., 2018) doesn’t even mention this museum (I found out about it by chance).
Inside the museum’s foyer you are greeted by a faded floor-to-ceiling image of the Turkish crescent and star plus an image of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk together with that famous quote “Ne Mütlu Turkum Diyene” (‘happy is the one who is a Turk’). You can also see that line in giant letters on a mountainside north of the city (see under North Nicosia
On entering the permanent exhibition, three specific years are pointed out in silver: 1571, 1974 and 1983 (when the Ottomans first arrived on Cyprus
, the year of the Turkish military intervention, and the founding year of the TRNC
You then pass a wall with portraits of what is marked as “Liderlerimiz” (‘our leaders’); unsurprisingly you see here Rauf Denktaş and Fazil Küçük but also Osman Örek (who had been defence minister in the Republic of Cyprus
and then prime minister in the TRNC
precursor the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus – see above).
Then follows a large TMT panel (in Turkish only) and a host of Turkish flags and then you get to the first proper exhibition room.
There isn’t much about the Ottoman period. Instead the timeline covered begins in 1878, with the onset of the British colonial era in Cyprus
. Key events of that time are given in a brief bullet-point sort of list on one panel, in Turkish and English. By the way: most panels and captions are bilingual, while many artefacts are labelled in Turkish only (and some documents aren’t translated either).
It is also here that it is claimed that EOKA’s stated aim, other than independence and ‘enosis’, was to “eliminate the Turks”. On another panel about the December 1963 violence it is even claimed that it was a planned “genocide
There are photos showing scenes from the British period, including one of Fazil Küçük giving his first speech, and of the violence in the streets with images of “our people cruelly murdered by EOKA”, as two captions go. Also covered is, of course, the founding of TMT, and on display is what is claimed to be the first Turkish flag to use the slogan “Ya Taksim Ya Ölum” (‘partition or death’).
Artefacts on display include mostly weapons (literally loads of them), from crude home-made pistols to modern machine guns and even light artillery. There’s also a part of a fighter jet in which a Turkish pilot, Cengiz Topel, was shot down in 1964 (allegedly he was able to bail out but was then “tortured to death” by Greek Cypriots and thus “martyred”).
Another incident focused on in the museum is the murder of the family of the Turkish military doctor Major Ilhan in North Nicosia – see Museum of Barbarism
! Here the photos of the dead victims on display get rather graphic. This may be a bit too explicit for some visitors. Other photos of exhumed dead from mass graves are not far behind. The language in the photos’ captions is similarly explicit, e.g. when they say things like “bloodthirsty Greeks”. There is certainly no mistaking which side this museum is on and which not.
Other than photos, panels and objects, there are also quite a few paintings on the walls, some of which are also quite graphic (e.g. depicting a massacre of civilians by uniformed soldiers), others rather almost socialist-realism-like battle depictions.
In another exhibition room about developments in the mid to late 1960s and the run-up to the 1974 Turkish invasion, the largest exhibit is a wooden motor boat – but it’s not made clear what its significance is. A panel nearby tells the story of the exiled Rauf Denktaş (see above) trying to secretly come to Cyprus in 1967. But I have my doubts that he could have attempted the sea crossing in a vessel as tiny as this one.
Otherwise this part of the museum concentrates on the Greek ideas of ‘enosis’ and how to achieve it, and the precedent of the “annexation” of Crete to Greece
is brought up. Another section details the role of Turkish Cypriots campaigning in England.
And then we come to the coup d’état of July 1974 and the subsequent invasion by the Turkish military, portrayed here as a “peace operation”. The exhibition goes to great lengths detailing alleged massacres perpetrated by Greek Cypriots against Turkish Cypriots, including children and even the burying of victims alive. To what degree these claims may be truthful, I have no way of knowing.
The Turkish invasion of 1974 is also celebrated through a stained-glass window, one half of which depicts warships, helicopters and paratroopers, the other giving the year 1974 on the Turkish national flag. A map of Cyprus details the landing operation of the Turkish troops and the eventual line of truce achieved in August that year.
Subsequent sections chronicle the route towards “independent” North Cyprus via the precursor “bicommunal” federal systems (see above). The final part is a celebration of the TNRC
in the brightest of colours.
A kind of monument is the last flourish: it consists of another stained-glass window flanked by two large panels listing names. The left one is headed by the word “unutmayacağiz”” (‘we will not forget’) and the right one by some slogan going on about flags flying and blood and homeland.
Outside the museum building are also a few open-air exhibits in the form of anti-aircraft and artillery guns and a trio of crude-looking armoured vehicles. They do not appear very well looked after and the panel next to them is partially illegible due to eroded letters (and what you can make out is rather cryptic).
I thought that was it, but on our way back to the street we noticed a door standing open to the east wing of the building facing the street. So we had a quick look around inside this building too. There were some patriotic exhibits, such as martial bas-reliefs, more photo displays, busts, a ship model and a Turkish flag with Atatürk superimposed on it. Other rooms looked rather like offices. So I’m not sure this was really a public part of the complex. The writing over the door I later deciphered as saying “Cyprus TMT Mujahideen Association”!
All in all
, I found this a rather strange site, with a very unbalanced narrative and uneven mix of displays. In general there were way too many weapons on display and too little explanation of context. And then the strong language praising everything Turkish in flowery words while decrying everything Greek in no uncertain terms. In a way it vaguely reminded me of museums I’d seen in North Korea
. It also felt a bit neglected and has clearly not seen any updates since its inception in 1989. Still, very much worth “experiencing” when in North Nicosia
, if only to get to see the drastically different Turkish angle that so starkly contrasts with the (no less one-sided) Greek Cypriot Museum of the National Struggle
in South Nicosia
in North Nicosia
, more precisely on the Barbaro (Musalla) Bastion, the northern-most part of Old Nicosia
’s Venetian Wall fortification, some 800 feet (250m) east of the Girne Kapısı (Kyrenia Gate), and a good half mile (800m) north of the pedestrian border crossing at Ledra Street/Lokmacı.
Access and costs: slightly hidden, but not too hard to find; free.
Details: to get to the museum from anywhere within Nicosia’s Old Town you can walk it – otherwise get a taxi. From the northern end of North Nicosia’s main street, Girne Caddesı, it’s a short walk east along Istanbul Caddesı that takes you to a modern white building marked “K. TMT Mücahitler Dereneği”, walk past a Turkish monument with an Atatürk bust and through the wide colonnaded opening to reach the courtyard behind that building and at the far end is the museum marked “Milli Mücadele Müzesi”.
Opening times: daily from 8 a.m. to 12:30, and from 1:30 to 4:15 p.m., and to 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays (these are the winter opening times as I found them advertised at the site – I guess in summer it may be open longer).
Admission is free.
I had read on a what’s-on-in-Northern-Cyprus website that you have to produce ID to enter the museum, as it is located within a military compound. But when I was there, nobody asked for any ID. It might be a good idea to have your passport on you, though, just in case.
Time required: I spent a bit over half an hour in the museum, but if you want to read everything on site (and especially if you can understand Turkish) you may need longer than that.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
see under North Nicosia
One incident of the “Bloody Christmas” of 1963 mentioned in the museum has its own commemorative mini-museum: the Museum of Barbarism
, located in North Nicosia’s New Town.
See also under South Nicosia
. In particular comparing this Turkish-perspective museum with the very different Greek nationalist Museum of the National Struggle
, with its over-the-top EOKA hero worship elements, can be interesting. What a contrast!
- National Struggle Museum 01 - entrance to the complex
- National Struggle Museum 02 - museum building
- National Struggle Museum 03 - patriotic slogan in the foyer
- National Struggle Museum 04 - three significant years
- National Struggle Museum 05 - exhibition
- National Struggle Museum 06 - exhibits
- National Struggle Museum 07 - crude weapons
- National Struggle Museum 08 - semi-labelled pistols
- National Struggle Museum 09 - probably home-made
- National Struggle Museum 10 - yet more weapons
- National Struggle Museum 11 - communication gear
- National Struggle Museum 12 - helmet
- National Struggle Museum 13 - plane part and models
- National Struggle Museum 14 - boat
- National Struggle Museum 15 - that year
- National Struggle Museum 16 - invasion, er, liberation
- National Struggle Museum 17 - the result - partition
- National Struggle Museum 18 - wall of names not to be forgotten
- National Struggle Museum 19 - celebration of the TRNC
- National Struggle Museum 20 - weapons display outside
- National Struggle Museum 21 - deflated howitzer
- National Struggle Museum 22 - ancient armoured vehicles
- National Struggle Museum 23 - TMT wing
- National Struggle Museum 24 - inside
- National Struggle Museum 25 - martial bas relief