Police Museum: A tour through Cyprus’ recent history

Much is known about the history of the Cyprus Police Force, but much more is unknown, until one visits the Police Museum, where crime prevention, and law and order, through the ages, come to life, along with notorious criminals that shocked the public, and makeshift weapons that refused to shoot.

The Police Museum, which CNA visited, is situated at the junction of Limassol Avenue and RIK Avenue, in Nicosia, and is housed in an historical building, which was built during British colonial rule and used for many decades as a house for senior Police officers.

The exhibits on the ground floor include Police equipment, weapons, uniforms, and vehicles, the Philharmonic, World War II, and British colonial rule, while the upper floor is dedicated to guns and knives from crimes, gambling and drugs, and serious crime.

Mattheos Shamptanis, Head of the Museum, explained to CNA that in 1571, when Lala Mustafa installed Janissaries and Horsemen on the island for defence purposes and the submission of the people, a body with a limited number of police officers was created, the so-called zaptiedes. The British colonial rule, which followed, brought about many changes to the structure and operation of the Police, and in 1960 the Cyprus Police Force and the Gendarmerie were created, which merged in 1963, after the Turkish Cypriot mutiny.

The Police Museum was originally founded as a Criminal Museum, in 1933, by the then British Chief of Police of the colonial government, W. King, who instructed that the Crime Combating Department officers should send any unusual evidence of crime to Police Headquarters, as well as any noteworthy object them deemed suitable to be exhibited in the Museum, Shamptanis said.

The Police Museum was originally housed at the Police Headquarters’ Crime Combating Department, but in 1951 was moved to the then Police School in Strovolos, and in 1975 to the now Police Academy. In December 2004 it was moved to its current location.

In the room with the Police equipment, the visitor can see equipment used by the Police in the past, such as cameras, oil lamps, old helmets, film projectors, gas masks, wireless, and old telephones and typewriters. There is also a Police School visitors’ book signed by Archbishop Makarios and the then Minister of the Interior Polykarpos Yiorkatzis. One can also see the first prize given to the best Police officer of 1960, which still bears the insignia from the British colonial rule, although Cyprus had already gained its independence. There is also a filing machine with cases dating from 1930 to the mid-1990s, used to issue Good Conduct Certificates.

The second room contains various musical instruments that belonged to the Police Philharmonic, founded in 1900. Some of the instruments bear bullet holes from the coup in 1974.

The Police weaponry room contains various types of guns used after the declaration of the Republic of Cyprus. There is also a Greek flag that was at the Kyrenia fort in 1974. On the back of the flag there are Turkish names, possibly those of the soldiers who took it down. The flag was taken many years later to the government-controlled areas of the Republic and handed to the Police officer on duty at the crossing point.

Shamptanis explained that the Police did not fly a Greek flag, but the Army, so this flag did not belong to the Police officers stationed at the castle, but to the soldiers. However, the flag was preserved and placed in a frame and is exhibited at the Police Museum. The flag may not be linked to the Police, but the Kyrenia fort is, since from 1947 until 1951 it was used as a Police School, and during the EOKA struggle it was used as a detention facility.

The visitor then enters a room dedicated to World War II, hosting a Nazi flag, looted by one of the ten Police officers who fought in the Cypriot division of the British army. There is also a banner with the inscription Fascio Italiano di Larnaca, confiscated by the Police from a family of Latin supporters of Mussolini, as well as bombs that did not explode, pieces from aircraft shot down, and tools used by Jewish refugees to escape from a camp in Famagusta.

The glass front of the Museum is home to a Land Rover used initially by rural stations and then turned into a tow truck, and an Active Fisher snow truck bought in 1975 and used until 2002.

The next room contains exhibits concerning the history of the Police, through which the visitor can see how the Police evolved through its flags and uniforms. There is also the Black Maria, used to transport imprisoned EOKA fighters. As with all the exhibits in the Police Museum, this has its own interesting story, as it was used by the Central Prison to transport convicts, was placed out of service, was sold at an auction, was found derelict after many years, was restored, and given to the Museum in memory of a person killed in a car crash.

This room contains two historical motorcycles. One is a Triumph and is one of the first motorcycles purchased by the Cyprus Police. The other is a Harley Davidson, which was in the guard of the first President of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios III. There is also a small submarine used by the Port and Maritime Police.

The theme of the last room of the ground floor is British colonial rule, where the visitor can see the anti-riot equipment of the period, a wooden sculpted board with the names of the Police officers killed on duty during the British occupation, the photographs of the Chiefs of Police during the time, criminal records for EOKA fighters, the evidence from the case of the 1958 Kontemenos massacre, the evidence presented in court by the British in 1931 when they outlawed the Communist Party, hand grenades from the EOKA struggle, and various documents.

The upper floor of the Museum is dedicated to crime and solving cases. Exhibits include murder weapons, photographs and other objects related to crime in the past, which shocked public opinion, as well as items and documents related to known fugitives, such as Hassaboulia and Mitas.

The first room contains various crime-related guns and knives confiscated as evidence. There is a broad collection of guns from the Ottoman occupation, dating as far back as 1690, with the paraphernalia used to manufacture buckshot for these guns.

There are also incomplete guns, Cyprus-made guns, guns modified in Cyprus, and a shotgun made out of a water pipe and a piece of carved wood, a locally-made gun with a barrel made out of a lorry’s steering wheel, and the legendary pistol tied with laces, which was notorious for failing to shoot. Furthermore, there are some small handguns, and pistols shaped as keyrings, knives, pens, and even keys.

In this room, the visitor can also see the evidence from a 1985 case, when a Jordanian arrived in Cyprus with pistols, bullets, a silencer, and hand grenades, stashed in two bottles of Chianti. The Police officer on duty at the airport arrival terminal saw that the Jordanian was carrying something heavier than wine and found the ammunition. More bottles with hand grenades were found at the Jordanian’s house.

The second room contains exhibits that have to do with drugs and gambling. The visitor can get a taste � so to speak � of hashish, heroin, cannabis, drug-smoking paraphernalia, and other dangerous substances, as well as items in which the perpetrators hid substances, such as toys, rugs, and even walnuts, but were detected by the Police. There are also roulettes and other casino games � old and new � which were confiscated by the Police, and which bear witness to the ingenuity of illicit gambling promoters.

The last room contains all the exhibits regarding serious crime in Cyprus. Here, the visitor can learn about the cases that shocked public opinion and thieves of the time, such as Hassaboulia and Mitas.

Regarding Damal Mehmet Mitas, the exhibits include various personal possessions, such as cartridges, a penknife, a cigarette holder, a matchbox, a pipe, a comb, a water or wine bottle made out of a marrow, and a red handkerchief.

In 1942, Damal Mehmet Mitas from Vretsia murdered Hassan Kara Mehmet from Ayios Epiphanios, while the latter was on his way to testify against Mitas in court. Mitas remained a fugitive for five years until he was finally arrested by the Police without resistance. He was found with a handgun in his possession. He was sentenced to death and executed in October 1946. During his time as an outlaw in the Paphos forest, 30 crimes were committed, for which Mitas was considered responsible.

The Police Museum hosts many more artefacts, such as murder weapons, counterfeit money and paraphernalia, dentures, identification documents, and registers, all with their own story, which is retold to visitors by Shamptanis.

Shamptanis hopes that retired police officers or their families or others who own artefacts that concern the history of the Police will donate it them the Museum, where they will be safe from wear and weather.

The Museum is open on a daily basis, except weekends and public holidays, from 0900 until 1300. Entrance is free.

Source: Cyprus News Agency