Gavur Imam Revolt – Remembering the most heroic fight of Cypriots

Gavur Imam Revolt

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01.01.2018 – The Gavur Imam Revolt, the largest and most important people’s movement in Cypriot history, took place in 1833.

Let’s talk about that era in Cyprus and the hero that put his heart and life on the line for the independence of Cyprus against the Ottomans. Of course, we cannot talk about him without mentioning Turkey’s effort to wipe out all sources about him, even forbidding the distribution of the music albums that include one of the most important folk songs of the Cypriot folklore, “Gavur İmam İsyanı” (Gavur Imam Revolt).

“The villagers were united, they resisted the pasha, as soon as Gavur Imam struck, the Ottomans lost. As soon as the revolt of the people started, the army lost,” say the final verses of this Cypriot folk song. This anonymous work talks about the social structure and the living conditions of its period. A Cyprus with oppression and tyranny that the people were facing under the Ottoman rule while giving everything up to the “pasha”, and a Gavur Imam that united the people for liberation against the Ottomans come across as the place and the hero in the song.


Cyprus in the Decline of the Ottoman Empire

Until the early 19th century, Cyprus was ruled by an Ottoman ruler, who was in collaboration with the Orthodox Church and other Christian officials, such as the “Dragomans” and the local “Kodjabashis”. The Church had great power in the 18th century, even some representatives of foreign countries used to believe the Archbishop to be the true leader of the island. Due to this reason, the wrath of the people against the ecclesiastical or political Christian elite led to shared uprisings by the Cypriot communities.

The equilibrium in Cyprus changed in the first half of the 19th century. The clash between the Ottomans and the Orthodox Church ended with the execution of the Archbishop Kyprianos in 1821. The problems that the Ottomans were facing in Egypt also were effecting Cyprus. Many Cypriots fled abroad, due to heavy taxes amongst other things, while small revolts followed one another.

1833: The Year of Revolutions

In the light of these circumstances, it is understandable to see how we withnessed 1833, the year of the three big revolts of Cyprus. These were the revolts of Nikolaos Theseus in Larnaca, the Kalogeros (monk) Ioannikios in Karpasia and Gavur Imam in Paphos. One of the most important reasons of the revolts of that period was the imposition of new taxes, which were unbearable for the Cypriot rural population.

All elements of the Cypriot community participated in all three movements. According to the Archbishop Panaretos, who did not support any of these revolts, some people from other European communities also participated in the rebellion of Nikolaos Theseus. Regarding the revolt of the Monk Ioannikios, it is known that the participation of Albanian soldiers who were in Larnaca at that time happened.

The revolt in Larnaca which was led by Nikolaos Theseus was the first of the three revolts. This movement was strong in Larnaca, Nicosia as well as the villages of Lakatamia and Stavrovouni. The revolt which many Turkish-speaking Cypriots also supported ended since the decision to impose the tax was annulled. Theseus, along with many of his followers, resorted to Stavrovouni, as he feared there would be retaliation. Having secured its safety, the group quietly dispersed without casualties. Theseus himself left Cyprus.

But the end of the rebellion in Karpasia was not so peaceful. It happened later, in July, and brought on a more serious challenge for the Ottoman forces. Monk Ioannikios, started out with a boat from Larnaca and disembarked along with the Albanian soldiers in Bogazi, proceeding to the village where he was born, Agios Ilias, and started turning the villagers against the Ottoman administration. His headquarters were at Trikomo. Although he found several supporters among the rural population of the region, including Turkish-speaking Cypriots, all his forces were scattered as soon as the Ottoman troops arrived. Monk Ioannikios himself and the ones close to him were arrested and executed.

Gavur Imam Movement

Gavur Imam, according to the Ottoman sources, was from in the village of Trimithousa in Chrysochous area of Paphos district. It was a “Linobambaki” village like many other Turkish-speaking Cypriot villages. It is believed that the reason that he is called “Gavur Imam” (infidel imam) in history, even though his real name is “Ibrahim Agha” of Polis, was related to this fact.

The beginning of the Gavur Imam struggle dates back to 1832, when he turned his place of residence into a camp without drawing the attention of the Ottoman authorities. In that period, the forces under his control were growing as Turkish-speaking Cypriots from Trimithousa and the surrounding villagers were joining him.

In March 1833, when popular dissatisfaction because of the imposed taxes started, Gavur Imam had already found enough Turkish-speaking Cypriot and Greek-speaking Cypriot villagers to join him. He was declaring that his purpose was to benefit all Cypriot villagers, whom he wanted to exempt from heavy taxation. As a result, his speech was addressed and got response from all Cypriot community.

The struggle started in Trimithousa, continued to south from Giolou and soon the entire province of Paphos was under his control. At the risk of moving to Limassol, some Christian officials, such as Kojabasis Pilavakis, have sought help from the Ottomans to suppress the rebellion. But this option was impossible for the Ottomans who always had weak existence in Cyprus and had also trouble with the revolt of Mehmet Ali Pasha of Egypt at the time.

The correspondence of the period shows us clearly that Gavur Imam’s plan was to proceed to Limassol, Larnaca and Nicosia after Paphos, and free Cyprus by declaring his own rule. He became the leader of the Turkish-speaking and Greek-speaking Cypriots in a short period of time by promising them salvation from the taxation and the humiliation by Ottomans. According to the Ottoman sources, the main concern of the governor of the island and the European consuls who resided in the island was the rumours that the rebels in the Karpasia and Gavur Imam in Paphos would proceed to Nicosia together. For the European consuls, the idea of Cyprus being in the hands of a Cypriot rebel instead of the Ottoman authorities that they knew and trusted was horrible.

In the light of these events and especially the pressure of the European consuls, the Ottomans decided for a military campaign against all odds of the period. The Ottomans were ready with the aid of troops arriving from Anatolia to Karavostasi, and forces of the collaborationist Orthodox elites and the Archbishop Panaretos who did not support any of these revolts.

Gavur Imam’s forces dispersed after the revolt repressed. There are different versions in different sources regarding Gavur Imam’s fate, but it is certain that he was executed after the end of the revolt.

Some Thoughts About the Forgotten Uprising

Although at first sight the main reason of the revolt is the taxation, it is known that there was a stance against the existence of the Ottomans in the island by both the Gavur Imam revolt and the other revolts. The most important fact is that all these movements that happened at the same period were attended by all the Cypriot community together. Another important thing we come across is that the people who stood next to the Ottoman authority in the island were Orthodox Christian notables.

Gavur Imam and his struggle continues existing in the Cypriot culture with its bravery and heroic character. The saga “Gavur Imam Revolt” is also an anonymous Cypriot folk song, first collected by Hamza Irkad. Later on, Oz Karahan covered the original version of this folk song and Monsieur Doumani interpreted the song in his own style. Gavur Imam’s memory remains in a street name dedicated to him in a Turkish-speaking Cypriot neighbourhood of Paphos.

History indicates to us that the dissatisfaction with the Ottoman administration and the will for independence of the Cypriot people were something that generally concerned the population, especially the rural one. This was the reason of the escalation seen from the revolt in Larnaca to those in Paphos and Karpasia. Gavur Imam’s aim to capture Nicosia was the threat to Ottoman’s domination of the island. Obviously, such an idea seemed possible in the unskillfully ruled Ottoman soils in the years of its decline.

These revolts also remind us of a very important point, the fact that the Orthodox Church almost always supported the Ottoman authorities in the island. This tradition did not change during this period, as all three revolts were condemned by the Archbishop Panaretos and the Church worked for the Ottoman authorities against them.

The Gavur Imam Revolt was the last great revolt on the island, in which both Turkish-speaking Cypriots and Greek-speaking Cypriots participated against the occupiers. Also, this movement is a slap to the minds that say its possible to struggle against occupation by dividing Cypriots to “zones and communities”. The Union of Cypriots continues the fight of Gavur Imam as the only formation that truly became a common front of Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking Cypriots who are struggling against the Turkish occupation and believe in an independent, unitary Cyprus.