Actions to protect cultural heritage a ‘top priority’ of Cyprus’ foreign policy, FM says

Cyprus Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Christodoulides has said that international actions to protect the religious and cultural heritage of the country are a top priority

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Foreign Minister Christodoulides was addressing on Friday morning the third International Conference on Byzantine and Medieval studies.

Foreign Minister Christodoulides was addressing on Friday morning the third International Conference on Byzantine and Medieval studies, which brings together about 120 scholars from over 20 countries, in Nicosia, between January 17 and 19.

Cyprus is dotted with Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches and monasteries with well-preserved art including mosaics, frescoes, and icons, he said. It is worth mentioning, he added, that one can make a specific byzantine trip following an itinerary suggested by the Deputy Ministry of Tourism to visit several such monuments traveling a total of 280 km.

According to the Foreign Affairs Minister, ten of them can be found in the Troodos mountains. Dating from the middle to the end of the Byzantine period, he said, they are included by UNESCO in the list of world heritage sites as important monuments of ecclesiastical architecture of the countryside that bear witness of the flourishing Byzantine culture on the island and includes elements that reveal the relationship between eastern and western Christian art.

Christodoulides stressed that “we are making every possible effort to protect our cultural heritage, our strongest link with our roots.”

“We are making every possible effort to protect our cultural heritage, our strongest link with our roots.”

In Cyprus, he noted, “with over one-third of our territory been under occupation, we are unfortunately faced with an effort to alter the religious character and distort the cultural identity of our Turkish Cypriot compatriots in the northern part of the island in particular.”

“The gradual Islamisation through the conversion of Christian churches into mosques and the continued building of new huge mosques that are completely unrelated to the traditional Turkish Cypriot architecture is an indisputable reality,” he said. He referred to relevant studies, according to which at least 74 Greek Orthodox churches have been converted to Islamic mosques while over 520 churches, monasteries and old Greek Cypriot cemeteries have been plundered and looted to entirely erase the Hellenic Christian cultural identity.

Christodoulides also referred to the conventions for the protection of religious freedom and cultural property including the European Convention of Human Rights and the Hague Convention, adding that “our international actions to protect our religious and cultural heritage is a top priority of our foreign policy.”

“Our international actions to protect our religious and cultural heritage is a top priority of our foreign policy.”

A recent example, he said, is the Nicosia Convention on offenses relating to cultural property. He explained that it is a legal tool to combat the
financing of terrorism through the illicit trafficking of cultural goods as we have sadly observed in neighboring Syria and Iraq in recent years with the destruction of valuable archeological treasures and world heritage sites.

The Foreign Affairs Minister added that he also considers “important the work of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage whose main concern is the protection and restoration of religious and cultural monuments throughout Cyprus.”

In an address, delivered by his representative Dean Kyprianos Koundouris, Archbishop of Cyprus Chrysostomos also referred to the monuments in the Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus, noting that they are completely neglected and are in danger of collapse while invaluable religious treasures have been plundered, trafficked and sold abroad.

“We are witnessing such painful and disgraceful images in the Middle Eastern region since the continued ravages of war destroy everything in their path,” he noted.

“We are witnessing such painful and disgraceful images in the Middle Eastern region since the continued ravages of war destroy everything in their path.”

On her part, Director of the Cyprus Department of Antiquities Marina Solomidou – Ieronymidou emphasized “the importance of the surviving monuments, of the art and architecture from the Byzantine and medieval periods for the broader Eastern Mediterranean region.”

“From the famous painted churches of the Troodos mountain to the fortifications of cities like Nicosia and Famagusta and the treasures kept in our numerous monasteries in the middle ages have significantly shaped Cypriot culture,” she added.

According to the Antiquities Department Director, “it is our responsibility to manage it and protect it during difficult times and facing a range of man-made and natural dangers and threats.”

Our Department of Antiquities, she said, “has by definition a very important, manifold and difficult mission.”

The conference’s Honorary President, Dean of the School of Theology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, professor Theodoros Giagkou referred to the work of the Theological School. He also said that 2020 marks 800 years from the passing of Saint Neophytos the Recluse, who was one of the most productive Cypriot authors of the Byzantine period and said that two volumes of his works are being published and another four are nearly ready.

“Saint Neophytos the Recluse, who was one of the most productive Cypriot authors of the Byzantine period and said that two volumes of his works are being published and another four are nearly ready.”

Chairman of the Byzantinist Society Andreas Foulias said the society is completing 7 years since it was founded and spoke of the conferences it has organized, noting that it has contributed as much as possible in the promotion and study of the Byzantine civilization not just in Cyprus but also in the wider region.

Chair of the organizing committee Nikolas Bakirtzis expressed the view that the participation of colleagues from around the globe underlines the success of the conference, a key achievement of our society and its dedication to the promotion of byzantine and medieval studies in Cyprus and the region.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.

The uncontrolled situation in the Turkish-occupied area of Cyprus after the Turkish invasion in 1974 has fostered the development of a network of dealers in illicit antiquities whose aim was to sell out the cultural heritage of Cyprus. With the encouragement and help of the Turkish army, the trade in illicit antiquities has brought great profit to those involved, and Cypriot treasures already adorn private collections in a number of countries including Turkey, Russia, Switzerland, Holland, and the UK, and even as far as the US, Australia, and Japan.

More than 500 churches situated in the areas under Turkish occupation since 1974 have been destroyed, plundered and looted or turned into stables, warehouses, restaurants and hotels.

The Cyprus government and the church have repeatedly protested to the UN, the World Council of Churches and many other international and religious organizations.

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