Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Eradicating the past: Turkey’s assault on the cultural heritage of Cyprus



It’s worth watching the video above of the recent Lobby for Cyprus seminar held here in London, which looked at Turkey’s systematic attempt to wipe out the Greek and Christian culture of occupied Cyprus and the efforts to save and restore whatever can be saved and restored. I slightly take issue with Lobby’s wording in describing the seminar, since Turkey’s assault has not been on Cyprus’ ‘past’ or the island’s ‘heritage’. Churches, monasteries, cemeteries, etc, were, and still are, an animated expression of Cypriot culture and Turkey’s assault has not been on antiquarian monuments and sites but on a living and breathing civilisation. Below is Lobby for Cyprus’ press release for the seminar. Go here to sign the online petition to UNESCO to protest Turkey’s barbarism and misanthropy in Cyprus.

Eradicating the past: Turkey’s assault on the cultural heritage of Cyprus
The annual Lobby for Cyprus seminar at Theatro Technis, London, took place on 17 July 2013. The Kyriacos Christodoulou memorial seminar, so-called after Lobby’s founder, was entitled ‘Eradicating the past: Turkey’s assault on the cultural heritage of Cyprus’.

The evening began with a specially composed piece by noted composer and performer Nikos Savvides entitled ‘Keryneia Eleftheria’ (‘Freedom for Kyrenia’). This was followed by a reading of the poem ‘Keryneia kai neropontes’ (‘Kyrenia and heavy rain’) by noted poet Panayiota Zeniou.

Chairman Nick Kounoupias from Lobby opened up the seminar by reminding the audience that Turkey had perpetrated what constitutes a genocide in occupied Cyprus and as with every genocide it followed the same pattern. First a pretext was used to launch an attack on the island, then massive and well documented ethnic cleansing took place accompanied by horrific atrocities against the civilian population, third the Turks inflicted cultural destruction upon the religious and cultural identity of the Christians and Greeks Cypriots and finally they denied that any of this has happened, bought dodgy academics to re-write history and lied again about the past. This was the pattern that Turkey had used in the Armenian genocide, the Pontiac genocide, the Smyrna Greek genocide, and the Assyrian genocide. The fate of another weaker neighbour or non-Turkish indigenous group, the Greek Cypriots, was no different.

The first speaker was the Mayor of Kyrenia Glafkos Kariolou. He gave an excellent slide presentation: ‘Cultural destruction: recovery and protection – the Kyrenian approach’ in which he highlighted the Greek and Christian heritage of his town and placed the comparatively recent presence of the vandalism in context. Thirty-nine years of vandalism could not destroy 2,000 years of Hellenic culture. Glafkos emphasised that presenting accurately and scientifically the destruction inflicted by Turkey on Cyprus is of paramount importance. Glafkos specifically referred to the fact that the church of St George of upper Kyrenia was saved in 1974 as a few elderly Greek Cypriot ladies and their families together with 20 or 30 Turkish Cypriot Kyrenians prevented the interior of the church from being vandalised and looted by the Turkish military. The exterior was however badly damaged and it was not until 2007 that it was finally repaired by Greek Cypriots under the supervision of a Turkish Cypriot architect.

Tasoula Hadjitofi was introduced as a living legend and her presentation ‘Trafficking cultural heritage is trading a nation’s soul’ showed why. Tasoula explained how when she was based in the Netherlands as Honorary Consul for the Republic of Cyprus she worked over many years from the Hague to trace, identify and recover stolen icons and other religious treasures. Her most notable success was the recovery of the Kanakaria Mosaics. She enlisted the help of a notorious art dealer Michel van Rijn to help locate these treasures and this culminated in a series of raids in Munich to seize the stolen art works. Tasoula explained that she still works on fighting art trafficking and creating alternative ways of repatriation. She is founder of ‘Walk of Truth’, an independent non-profit NGO which aims to protect cultural heritage and provide a platform for dialogue between people living in areas of conflict.

Next up was Jim Karygiannis the Canadian MP for Scarborough-Agincourt and strong associate of Lobby over many years. He reminded the audience of the power that they have to effect change by pressurising their elected representatives in parliament. He also told the audience about the meeting he had earlier this year with officials from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to discuss the unacceptable state of affairs as regards Turkey’s destruction of the religious and cultural history of Cyprus.

Finally the audience heard from Costas Frangeskides of Lobby who spoke about how despite there being in existence a legal framework to punish Turkey for its vandalism, that little had been done to this end. However the law was there and it was up to us to pressure states, including the government of the Republic of Cyprus, to use it to punish Turkey.

There then followed a question and answer session to round off what all agreed was a very interesting seminar with exceptional speakers.

For further information:
www.kyreniamunicipality.com
www.walkoftruth.com

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