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Crimes: Devastation in Occupied Cyprus
2001-09-06 00:22:19

One of the most tragic consequences of the 1974 Turkish invasion and continued occupation of the northern part of Cyprus has been the deliberate destruction, looting, pillage and desecration of Cyprus’ unique cultural and religious heritage.

The following are examples of such destruction and pillage of the cultural heritage in the occupied part of Cyprus:

(1) Ancient Monuments:

In accordance with the Antiquities Law, Ancient Monuments are divided in two categories. Monuments assigned to the first category, Schedule A, are the property of the government and are managed by the Department of Antiquities. Monuments in Schedule B are private property. Monuments in the occupied area, including those of extraordinary importance such as Enkomi, Salamis, Soloi, Lampousa, Bellapais and the Monasteries of Apostolos Varnavas and Apostolos Andreas are not accessible to the Department of Antiquities. Out of the total of 197 Schedule A Monuments, 76 are in the occupied areas, whereas for Monuments of Schedule B, out of a total of 974, 130 are in the occupied areas. There are, therefore, 206 Ancient Monuments situated in the occupied areas.

There are reliable reports of abandoned archaeological sites, large scale theft, looting and damage. Notable examples are the pulling down of the city walls at Vouni, looting at ancient Enkomi and Salamis, and theft of statues. In some cases these have come to light because of attempts to sell items, for example the purchase in 1974 by the government of Cyprus of a four wheeled bronze Mycenean stand placed on sale in Frankfurt by Turkish antique smugglers.

(2) Museums:

Three of the island’s museums, the Famagusta District Museum, the Kyrenia Shipwreck Museum and the Kyrenia Folk Art Museum are in the occupied area. From the first, gold jewellry and pottery are missing, from the second, antiquities were stolen and from the third all the silver objects were stolen.

(3) Archaeological Mission Stores:

The stores of 2 French missions as well as the stores of an Italian, a USA, a Canadian and a British mission were located in the occupied area, and all have been looted.

(4) Private Archaeological Collections:

There were 150 private archaeological collections in the occupied area that were registered with the Department of Antiquities, consisting of thousands of objects. The fate of these is unknown.

(5) Churches:

In 1974 there were more than 520 Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches in the occupied area. There is information on the fate of 244 of these.Based on this information 100 were looted or vandalized, 68 were converted to mosques, 14 are used by the Turkish military, 11 are used as sheep pens/stables and one as a barn. The loss in terms of structures (including a number of churches pulled down), fittings and movable items, in particular valuable icons, is enormous in terms of both cultural and monetary value.

As is the loss due to vandalism and the defacing of frescoes, buildings and monuments etc. The change in the use of buildings of Christian worship is especially aggravating (i.e. Ayia Anastasia church, the Armenian monastery of St. Magar).

(6) Icons:

Most of the movable items in churches have been stolen, removed or destroyed. Valuable icons, wall paintings or fixtures of churches, all stolen are found in art galleries or other locations throughout the world. The 1997 arrest in Germany of one Turkish smuggler of cultural property, brought to light hundreds of icons stolen from 46 churches in the occupied area. Overall, however, it is estimated that over 15,000 icons are missing. Some of these have been put up for sale by art dealers in Western Europe and innocent European buyers have fallen victim to the smugglers.

(7) Cemeteries:

Most of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Cemeteries in the occupied area have been destroyed. Evidence is available for 26 cemeteries that have been totally destroyed.

(8) Libraries:

In 1974 there were 107 public libraries in Cyprus, of which 36 were in the occupied area. There were also 194 school libraries in that area. In addition the mobile library of the Ministry of Education was also located there. Most of these libraries have been destroyed, as were many collections of rare books. From time to time stolen or looted rare books appear for sale at auctions in Western Europe.

(9) Private Art Collections:

There were a number of art galleries, collections and studios in the occupied area, of which three art galleries, 10 art collections and 4 art studios cooperated with the Ministry of Education. Numerous modern monuments were located in the occupied area. While seven folk and other cultural societies were forcibly displaced from their roots, rare and valuable books, paintings and other items have, from time to time, been put up for sale by Western European art dealers.

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