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23 May, 2024
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US ambassador’s murder in Cyprus still unresolved

Divided island remembers American ambassador and secretary shot dead during demonstration in 1974


The killing of the American Ambassador in Cyprus in August 1974 made headlines on Friday, as it happens every year on the island on the anniversary of his death, with convoluted information emerging in the public domain through the years and no convictions half a century later.

US Ambassador Rodger Davies and local embassy secretary Antoinette Varnava were shot dead on 19 August 1974 in Nicosia, after shots were fired into the embassy building during a protest outside the big compound near The Hilton.

Davies was fatally shot by a stray bullet during a demonstration protesting alleged US bias toward Turkey. He was struck in the heart while Varnava, who was rushing to his aid, was shot in the head as she was reaching for the ambassador.

“He was dead before he hit the ground. Another bullet came in and ripped off the top of the skull of Toni Varnava, a Maronite local in the administration section, and she was dead instantly,” said James Williams, a foreign service official stationed in Nicosia at the time.

The incident took place around midday just days after peace talks collapsed, and one month after Turkish troops landed on the island in what Ankara described as a peace operation but viewed as an illegal invasion by Greek Cypriots.

In the early morning protesters gathered at PASYDY union in the midtown area for a peaceful protest but the event quickly turned into a mob, as others joined and an angry crowd in the low hundreds marched towards the American embassy.

US marines tasked with the security at the embassy had closed the gates and window shutters and got the gas canisters ready, but things turned ugly as angry protesters pelted rocks and some bearing arms began to shoot. Reports and audiovisual documents suggested that armed police officers were present in the crowd.

Foreign media reports cited sources arguing homicide charges were dropped to stop evidence from emerging in court about any links between the accused gunmen and higher-ups

The leadership of the National Guard reportedly asked a commando platoon to send a company to protect the embassy but commander Yiorgos Papameletiou, who recounted the events in a video, vehemently refused the order and stormed the headquarters.

“Are you insane? How can you have a unit from the platoon go there to protect the American Embassy? What do you think this is, military police?” Papameletiou said, adding he was very shaken by the request.

“If God himself came to give the order, I would still say as the platoon commander that I won’t execute such an order,” he said.

Case file lost, no homicide convictions

Two Greek Cypriots, Ioannis Ktimatias and Neoptolemos Leftis both described as pro-EOKA extremists, were later arrested on murder charges but those were downgraded to illegal gun possession after the file in the case had been lost.

Ktimatias had said he was working for a Greek army officer in the military intelligence section of the Cypriot National Guard, but there was no cross examination as he had made an unsworn statement and he was not facing murder charges.

Presiding Judge Demetrios Demetriades ruled on 4 June 1977 that not enough evidence had been produced in court to link the defendants to the incident.

Some political pundits suggested prosecution took place to appease Washington, which had been seeking the real perpetrators and hoping for a homicide conviction.

Foreign media reports also cited sources arguing that homicide charges had been dropped to stop any evidence from emerging in court about any possible links, real or imagined, between the accused gunmen and higher-ups.

Cyprus  |  Nicosia  |  American Ambassador  |  Rodger Davies  |  Antoinette Varnava  |  war  |  demonstration  |  diplomat  |  violence  |  foreign policy  |  Turkey  |  Greece  |  Greek  |  Turkish  |  Cypriot

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