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Smuggled icons returned to lawful owner - the Cyprus Church
2007-01-11 10:41:44

New York, Jan 11 - Six priceless icons, smuggled from Cyprus before or after the Turkish invasion of 1974, have been returned to their lawful owner - the Church of Cyprus - after an agreement with the California-based Charles Pankow American Foundation.

The icons were due to be auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York but were returned on Wednesday during a ceremony at the House of Cyprus in Manhattan, New York.

Cyprus’ Ambassador to the US, Andreas Kakouris, said the Government was first notified in 2005 that the icons were due to be auctioned by Sotheby’s which was asked to halt the auction after it was pointed out that the legal owner of the icons is the Church of Cyprus.

The Foundation was then contacted about the matter and, through consultations, it was agreed that the icons should be repatriated, the Ambassador added.

“The return of the icons is part of continuing efforts by the government to maintain and protect our rich cultural and religious heritage. At the same time we are following a legal course of action relating to the plunder of our treasures and their illicit export,” he also said.

Thousands of invaluable icons have been channeled by illicit art dealers through the international art markets and presented as ordinary artifacts for which some payment was made so as to become the possession of various dealers or wealthy art collectors.

The returned icons are:

1) Virgin Hodegetria (“Mother of God”) (13th or 14th century) from the Bishorpic of the Holy Metropolis of Kyrenia

2) Saint Peter (14th century) from the Church of Panaghia Asinou near Nikitari village

3) Saint Paul (14th century) from the Church of Panaghia Asinou near Nikitari village

4) Saint Andronikos and Athanasia (13th century) from the Chapel of Saint Andronikos and Athanasia at Kalopanayiotis village

5) Theotokos Glykofilousa (“Mother of God”) (13th century) Cypriot-style painting

6) Saint Gabriel (15th or 16th century) Cypriot-style painting.

The return of the six Byzantine icons to the Church of Cyprus highlights the ongoing acute problem regarding religious and archaeological sites, as well as cultural, religious and archaeological items in the area of Cyprus that have been under Turkish military occupation since the invasion of 1974.

The Church of Cyprus is protesting strongly the continuing plundering of religious sites, in the Turkish- occupied northern part of the country, condemning the ongoing desecration of Christian churches, some of which have been converted to mosques, military camps, hen houses, mortuaries or silos.

Experts record that the overall looting activity in the past three decades, has about 550 churches desecrated, between 15-20,000 icons missing - believed to be stolen or sold in the black market. That is why a well orchestrated and concerted effort is underway to protest this illegality at all international fora.

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