Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sad Story from Cyprus

Anyone reading this blog can guess I'm no fan of how the State Department or the Cypriot government handled the renewal of import restrictions on cultural artifacts and extended it to coins.

On the other hand, one can't help to be saddened about this story posted on the Museum Security List Serve about the destruction of a Greek Orthodox church in Cyprus:

UN condemns razing of 16th century church in north
By Jean Christou

THE UN yesterday condemned the razing of the 16th century church of Ayia Katerina in Karpasia in May during a time when the leadersof both sides had entered a new peace process.

The destruction of the church to create building plots came to light during the launch of a new book published by the KykkosMonastery Museum titled The religious monuments in Turkish occupied Cyprus

Museum chairman Stelios Perdikis said news of the destruction of Ayia Katerina had only emerged this week, and photographic evidencewas collected showing the church in Yerani village some 27 kilometres north of Famagusta, as a pile of debris.

The cemetery behind the church was also completely destroyed.

"We think the destruction of the cultural heritage is unacceptable in general and in this case in particular," UNFICYP spokesmanJose Diaz said yesterday when asked to comment.

"I think it points to the urgency of efforts to agree on modalities for the protection and restoration of the cultural heritage onboth sides.

"The UN was ready to assist both sides in this regard, Diaz added.To add insult to injury, the razing of Ayia Katerina came at a time not only when the leaders were engaged in discussions, but alsowhile a special technical committee on cultural heritage was meeting as part of the peace process.

Only a month ago, aides to the two leaders, Presidental Commissioner George Iacovou and Talat's adviser Ozdil Nami, announcedprogress in that committee by means of an agreement for joint educational programmes on cultural heritage.A western diplomatic source said he could not comment on the specific case. "But I believe respect for cultural heritage of bothcommunities is important and I hope that the relevant technical committee can discuss this important issue," he said.

Perdikis said the Kykkos Monastery Museum was in contact with the chairman and the members of the technical committee on culturalheritage, who had been informed on what had happened at Ayia Katerina."This is happening at a time when we have started a process to solve the Cyprus problem, while a technical committee has been set upfor cultural heritage issues," Perdikis said."It is not the only church that has been razed intentionally, and the timing in this case can only lead to disappointment about thefuture.

"Byzantine specialist Charalambos Hodjakoglu, the author of the book, said the church had been in bad shape after being neglected for34 years. It had already been plundered in 1974, he said.

Icons, artefacts, doors, windows and other items had been stolen from the church, but the bell tower with its bell and cross remained intact. The roof of the church had fallen in and the walls were either cracked or sloping."This monument was very important for the archaeological development in Cyprus," he said, adding that "it maintained important architectural elements on the influence of gothic monuments on the architecture of that period.

"Eerily the cover of the new book, which was printed before knowledge of its destruction was known, depicts the Ayia Katerina church.Hodjakoglu said the photograph was chosen by Bishop of Kykkos and Tylliria Nikiforos after a vision he had of the church during thetime it was being demolished. The new book launched about the destruction of Orthodox heritage in the north is available in Greek and English, and an Italian version is also in the works.

An exhibition of photographs gathered by Hodjakoglu's team is currently on show in Salonica and will later be moved to Italy.

Perdikis said the book was part of the research on Byzantine and post-Byzantine archaeology and art, which the Museum has established.

He said efforts to list religious sites in the occupied areas was difficult and at times dangerous but resulted in a unique list of monuments. He said the state has still to draw up such an archive, although it has the mechanism to do so.The book is aimed at researchers and the public, and contains an archive pulled from 20,000 photographs from all churches,monasteries and chapels in the north, except those within Turkish military zones.

The seven chapters include the use of religious monuments for purposes other than those intended, as well as the condition of Ottoman mosques in the government-controlled areas.The churches that have been salvaged in the north are those of Archangel Michael in Kyrenia, Ayios Mamas in Morphou, the Virgin Maryin Trikomo, and Saint Barnabas in Salamina. Some of them have been turned into museums.

"Most churches are on the verge of ruin," Perdikis said, adding that those were the ones being targeted for demolition.

Those that have been turned into mosques were in better condition because they were being preserved. Hodjakoglu said the destruction was not confined to Greek Orthodox churches, but those of other faiths such as Roman Catholic,Protestant, Maronite and even Jewish monuments. "We present this in the book in order to show that there is a conflict, not onlyagainst the Orthodox, but anything not Muslim," he said.

He added that the problem is that, as time goes by without progress in the Cyprus problem or the committee discussing these issues,the condition of the monuments will further deteriorate.

It's even more shocking that the article suggests that the destruction of the church happened just recently. There was much destruction and looting of Greek Orthodox churches in the North in the aftermath of the 1974 Turkish invasion, but evidently the destruction of monuments associated with Greek Cypriot culture continues on to today.

In any event, the authors of the described book are to be commended for also discussing the condition of religious monuments of other faiths as well. One wonders in particular about the fate of Ottoman monuments on the Greek side of the Island.

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