Heritage

The Destruction of Historic and Cultural Heritage in Cyprus

By Ismail Veli……

The title of this article is as controversial as they come. For decades both Turkish Cypriots (TCs) and Greek Cypriots (GCs) have accused each other of destroying each other’s Historic and Cultural sites. Each side claims to hold the moral high ground and claim the other side is the real culprit. If the truth has to be said, both sides are guilty. The GC side in particular has carried out an unceasing and successful campaign in the propaganda war, while the TC side as usual tends to go on the defensive. In fact while the GC side has many valid points to make on this subject, it almost seems to relish the negligence of the Turkish side on this subject insofar as it helps fuel its propaganda war. The level of hypocrisy and denial on both sides on this subject beggars belief.

Embargoed, who for years has argued for protection and co-operation from all sides on this subject, has been side-lined and ignored. It seems that pre-conceived views from the Greek NGOs that Embargoed is a nationalist organisation in wanting the lifting of the Isolation on North Cyprus is far more important than the proposals to work together in order to protect, restore and save decaying sites on Cyprus. In fact there is complete denial of any destruction of TC heritage in the south. The protection of Hala Sultan/Tekke is shown as an example of immense care and goodwill on the GC side in protecting Islamic/TC heritage.

This sadly is something that the International community and the GC public has swallowed lock stock and barrel. The fact that the Mosque of Yeni Cami/new Mosque, also known as Cami-i Sagir/ deaf Mosque in Paphos/Ktima was raised to the ground and turned into a car park after 1974 has been completely ignored. The Turkish cemeteries, historic baths, fountains, schools that have been destroyed, many turned either into car parks, roads and dump yards is not even discussed let alone investigated by the media or people.

When the GC Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou Markoulli was invited by the All Parliamentary Group of Cyprus (APGC) as a guest speaker at Portcullis House on 25 January 2012. I asked her how a recognised member of the EU, that seems to take such an active role on the protection of sites in the North can possibly excuse the destruction of hundreds of Turkish sites in its own backyard. She was not particularly interested in looking at the immense number of photographic evidence which I held in my hands. Her response was so abysmal as to make it laughable. She claimed “if it can be proven then of course it’s not right”.

If one is a Foreign Minister of a tiny Island with every site within a short driving distance of the Ministry, then not knowing, or rather not wishing to know the reality at one’s own doorstep is an example of utter ignorance or hypocrisy on a grand scale. How can a road be built over Ceylan/Kilani Cemetery named ‘1st Apriliou Street”, which was the date of the start of EOKA terrorism in 1955, not possibly be known by a Foreign Minister of a country no more than 2500 square miles in size??. (The South). The fact is the condition of Turkish Cultural heritage hardly gets discussed, let alone investigated by the media or people.

The following statement by Mr Stefanos Stefanou, the government spokesman at the time, seems to follow the same path of denial. In his statements as reported in the Cyprus Mail on 16 April 2012 he blatantly ignored the GC attempts to politicise this issue and completely denied their part in the destruction of Turkish heritage on the Island.

“The Republic of Cyprus fully respects the monuments and places of worship of the Turkish Cypriots, located in the free areas and preserves and protects them,”

Stefanou condemned the arson attack but denounced the Turkish Cypriot leadership’s efforts to politicise the issue by making “arbitrary and unfounded accusations”.

Mr Stefanos Stefanou’s was responding to questions on the arson attack on the Köprülü Mosque in the city of Limassol in Greek Cyprus on Friday, April 13, that caused the gate of the mosque to be seriously damaged. made the following statement.

Stefanou said and in turn slammed Turkey for the destruction of religious monuments in the North “in an attempt to alter our country’s cultural heritage and history”.

The evidence in the video below makes a mockery of the claim that Turkish sites in the south are being protected.

Embargoed and many TCs have acknowledged the lack of care or indifference to the destruction of many GC heritage sites in the North. In fact Fevzi Hussein, the Chairman and Ismail Veli, former community relations officer for the group often went on TC television to condemn the destruction and negligence on the Turkish side. Denying the obvious is tantamount to denying the undeniable and accepting the unacceptable.

For many people who fully support the protection of heritage on the whole Island, we can only look aghast at the useless and pathetic attempts by all sides to cover up their own complicity in destroying what has taken thousands of years to evolve.

The lack of co-operation on such an important issue is one of the many causes at the root of much suspicion and distrust between the two peoples on the Island. In fact while the Greek Cypriot NGOs constantly sing the tune of “unacceptable foreign interference” they are quite happy to invite the APGC at the time headed by MP for Southgate, London, David Burrowes to Cyprus in order to “help clean up GC cemeteries in the occupied North”. This MP whose only knowledge of the Cyprus issue is one of total ignorance and self interest became very obvious in a meeting with members of the TC community in Palmers Green. He unashamedly declared that he actually met and had the support of the Muftu of the TRNC Doç. Dr. Talip Atalay for such an undertaking, and that the opposition of TC NGOs in the UK were unjustified and therefore should be ignored on the grounds that they were only motivated by nationalistic ideas and completely out of touch with the people in Cyprus.

Obviously Mr Burrowes did not take into consideration that anyone would bother to write to Doç. Dr. Talip Atalay for clarification of such a claim. The email received by Tözün Zeynel on the 17 Apr 2012 from the Secretary of the Muftu is proof of Mr David Burrowes unbelievable and shameless lies to the Turkish community, and of course to members of the APGC. Before that on 8 December 2011 with an Embargoed delegation comprising of Fevzi Hussein, Fahri Zihni, Simon Ayhan Ahmet and Ismail Veli he came under pressure to respond to photographic evidence of the destruction of TC heritage in the south, Mr Burrowes made one of the most atrocious remarks possible for a politician. His excuse for the destruction was:

“In a twisted logic I understand the destruction of sites for infrastructure projects”. The obvious question was then asked “would you (Mr Burrowes) support the destruction of Apostolos Andreas for an infrastructure project like a power station to be built in its place”. His response was a complete 180 degree turn in stating “that would be unacceptable”. The conclusion was that Mr Burrowes as head of the APGC had no complaints about the destruction of TC heritage.

How on Earth there can be a reconciliation on the immense problems in Cyprus when such Politicians are invited to participate in the affairs of Cyprus is beyond comprehension, and possibly reveals the underlying truth that perhaps the Cypriots do not, or will not take the necessary steps to heal the wounds of the past. In fact one could go further and say that perhaps the Cypriots themselves are quite cosy with the constant hatred and enmity that has gone on for over 60 years. If peace was achieved many will simply have nothing to do in a harmonious and peaceful environment. That I’m afraid is a sad indictment of the reality behind the psych of the Cypriot Lobbyist’s and political establishment.

Copy of the Mufu’s letter. The English translation has been added for the benefit of non Turkish readers.

 

Date :    17, Apr 2012 12.25.:00 + 0300

From :    KKTC DIN İŞLERİ BAŞKANLIĞI (KKTC head of religious affairs)

Sayın Tözün Zeynel

(Dear Mr Tözün Zeynel)

Din İşleri Başkanımız Doç. Dr. Talip Atalay ile görüştüm.

(I have met with the head of religious affairs Doç. Dr. Talip Atalay ile )

Bu anlamda şu hususları belirtmek isterim.

(On this issue I have a few points to make)

a- Başkanımızın her hangi bir İngiliz Parlementerle ne tercüman aracılığıyla yüz yüze, nede telefonda her hangi bir görüşme yapmadığı,

(a- Our head has not met with any British Parliamentarian via an interpreter, in person, or by telephone),

b- Dinler arası dialog kapsamında, İsveç elçiliği yetkileriyle görüşmelerde bulunulduğu,

(b- On the issue of religious affairs the only meeting that has taken place was with the Swedish Ambassador).

The following survey carried out by the political research department of the TRNC in 2006 shows the general condition of Turkish Heritage in 171 regions.

Mosques, Cemeteries, Turkish baths, Fountains, Tekkes-Ancient tombs

30 in good condition

63 Destroyed

115 in bad condition

57 Neglected

_____________________

265 total

 

Below is a slide show showing some  destroyed or uncared for, Turkish Cypriot historical and cultural heritage sites in south Cyprus.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

10 replies »

  1. Congratulations to Ismail abi on another fantastic article which I’m sharing with everyone on Facebook. Brilliantly and accurately written, highlighting the true extent of this awful problem in Cyprus and lack of interest from certain political figures in authority. Heartbreaking to see the disgraceful and pointless destruction happening on this beautiful island and homeland of ours. Really, really saddens me.

    • Thank you Nefise. Though its true that both sides track record is abysmal, only the Greek side of the story is normally heard. My article is intended to raise awareness on the South’s neglect also. Its possible many will not like hearing the truth, but the evidence cannot, and should not be denied. I hope both sides make a massive effort in this regard. Nothing less will suffice.

  2. Dear Ismaıl Velı, Thank you for wrıtıng thıs very ımportant artıcle about the hıstorıcal sıtes and how they are deterıoratıng especıally all those very valuable places all over the North of Cyprus.

    And ıt ıs all because of fınance where organısatıons such as UNESCO only looked to the South and perhaps occasıonally a few bıts to the North. As for the EU, I know from experıence when I asked for some help to restore the KUMARCILAR HAN in Lefkosa they turned ıt down wıth the excuse that it belonged to me, a prıvate person, thank God Turkey came to my help and ıt ıs now being restored but dear Ismaıl the whole of the Walled Cıty of Nıcosıa needs to be restored to ıts orıgınal state and so many other hıstorıcal places, after all they belong to the whole WORLD not just to the Turkısh people.

    We have ten thousand years of hıstory ın Cyprus that belongs to everybody but ıt cannot be restored by people lıvıng under the Embargoes of the World sanctıoned by the EU and the rest of the WORLD WATCHING and accusıng us of not restorıng our Herıtage when we haven’t got the help that every other country gets from the EU, UN and all other sources.

    Thank you Dear Ismaıl for remındıng the World of theır responsıbılitıes. Maybe ıf we all joın you ın remındıng everybody, hopefully some people wıll hear us and do somethıng ınstead of tellıng lıes, lıes and more lıes, the truth ıs the solutıon to everythıng

    BEST WISHES TO ALL
    JOHN AZIZ KENT

  3. Thank you Aziz bey for your support and kind comments. I do agree that the embargoes and lack of funds is a major contribution to much neglect and decay of these valuable sites. As a Turkish Cypriot however I would like to see the TRNC take vandalism and theft of valuable artefacts as a serious crime. Heavy fines or prison sentences depending on the level of damage inflicted on national heritage would help deter the many people who seem to make a habit of destroying or stealing from heritage sites. These measures would show that we as a society can, and do respect the rich and varied heritage. By doing so we can hold our head high and tell the world that in-spite of their embargoes and lack of support we as a people are doing our duty. Our efforts can and should be a lot better. We just need to keep up the pressure and raise awareness.

  4. What a truly enlightening piece from Ismail Veli. When we talk about the pain associated with the Cyprus Problem, one must always look to advocate balance as two sides have endured pain linked to loss of life and property etc. Two sides have ensured senseless attacks on our culture and heritage. Those Greek Cypriots who seek to only highlight a biased outlook on this issue should be ashamed of themselves – the evidence is there for everyone to see that sites of historical religious significance in the South, by and large, are not respected. Indeed evidence suggested the complete opposite.

    Embargoed! continues to highlight the injustice of the embargoes and I hope that Cyprusscene readers will support our group as we continue lobbying in this respect. Becoming a member is only 10STG (per year) and every single penny goes towards our lobbying efforts and you can join online via the group’s website by clicking on the following link : http://www.embargoed.org/

    • Thank you Fevzi for your great comment which has been posted and we have added the Embargoed web site link so Cyprusscene readers can easily go to it and hopefully become members and help support the important work of Embargoed.

  5. Thank you Fevzi for your remarks and contribution. I hope to revisit this subject in the not too distant future. If the two main communities truly wish to have a permanent reconciliation then its imperative we all respect each others heritage on the Island. If and when we all appreciate the immense diversity on the Island we shall truly find this to be the key to permanent peace.