The Role of Armenians in the Turkish Conquest of Venetian Nicosia (1571)

In the tumultuous period of the late 16th century, the Mediterranean witnessed a fierce struggle between the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Venice. The Fourth Ottoman–Venetian War, also known as the War of Cyprus, unfolded between 1570 and 1573. At the heart of this conflict lay the Venetian-held island of Cyprus, a strategic gem coveted by the Ottomans.

The Siege of Nicosia

The capital city of Cyprus, Nicosia, became a battleground. The considerably superior Ottoman army swiftly captured Nicosia and several other towns, leaving only Famagusta under Venetian control. Christian reinforcements were delayed, and Famagusta endured an 11-month siege. The Venetians fought valiantly, but the odds were against them.

The Armenian Contribution

Amidst this intense struggle, Armenians played a crucial role. Mustapha Pasha, the Turkish commander, received advice from a Spanish military engineer. However, it was the corps of 40,000 Armenian sappers who left an indelible mark. These skilled engineers dug an extensive network of deep trenches around Nicosia. The trenches were so vast that the entire Ottoman army could be concealed within them. Their depth allowed tents to be pitched inside, and cavalry could move about unseen.

At the forefront of these subterranean approaches, the Armenians filled in the town ditch and constructed two formidable forts—crafted from oak and earth. These forts loomed like castles above Famagusta, enabling relentless bombardment at almost point-blank range. Their efforts significantly contributed to the eventual fall of Famagusta in August 1571.


The Armenian sappers’ dedication and expertise left an indelible mark on the course of history. Their role in the Turkish conquest of Venetian Nicosia underscores the complex dynamics of this conflict—a blend of military strategy, engineering prowess, and unwavering determination.

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