Graveyards have a role of their own in ethnic diverse regions. Remembering the dead in dignity is important, and almost symbolic when it comes to ethnic conflicts.
I have written about the bad state of the Greek-Cypriot graveyards in Northern Cyprus in 2011 and that drew the attention of M. Thorsten Kruse who works at the Institut für Interdisziplinäre Zypern-Studien at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster. We exchanged information about the status of cemetaries in Cyprus. It is moving to see that M. Thorsten Kruse, a person with scientific ambitions has taken this heritage on as a subject.
Recently M. Thorsten Kruse has published his findings in his article “Zwischen Politik und Religion – Der Umgang mit den griechischen und muslimischen Grabstätten Zyperns nach der gewaltsamen Teilung der Insel 1974 [Between Politics and Religion – The handling of the Greek and Muslim Cemeteries in Cyprus after the Division of the Island in 1974]” in which he used photographs I made in Northern Cyprus. The article is publiced in this book: A. Berner, J.-M. Henke, A. Lichtenberger, B. Morstadt, A. Riedel (Hg.), Das Mittelmeer und der Tod – Mediterrane Mobilität und Sepulkralkultur, 2016. Please find the book at the publishing house. If you like to contact M. Thorsten Kruse directly, do so as he is willing to answer your questions!
One of the themes in his article is the fact that in the North of Cyprus (the Turkish side), the Greek graveyards may have been destroyed deliberately as they are all in a devastating state. The situation for Turkish cemetaries in the South of Cyprus (the Greek side) is different, he says. This raises questions about why this is the case and M. Thorsten Kruse comes – roughly – to conclusions as I formulated in a blog about the difference in approach of history and heritage between Greeks and Turks. The Turkish Cypriots were making up for a future in the North without the Greek Cypriots, leaving everything in the South behind with little care for Greek Cypriot heritage in the North while the Greek Cypriots were making up for a future where Turkish Cypriots will return and things will go back to the situation as it was before. This fundamental difference would lead to destruction of Greek graveyards in the North but maintenance of Turkish graveyards in the South.
I have to say here that the historic context as approached in this study mainly considers 1974 (when the Turks landed in Cyprus and took hold of the Northern part) as the turning point, while Turkish Cypriots would place that date much earlier (1963). There was destruction of Turkish Cypriot heritage in 1963. It is clear circumstances in Cyprus are very difficult to pursue a scientific study for his subject. Any choice made is not just a scientific choice but also a choice that might be seen as a cultural or political move, the expression of an opinion, a way to choose sides. This makes the job of M. Thorsten Kruse very challenging; however it is a necessary and important job. If you have ideas or funds to realize continuation, do not hesitate to contact him.
Finally we found the Panagia Melandrina church. We would not have managed without the help of an only-Turkish speaking but all-knowing worker at the Belediye (city hall) of Esentepe : friendly and enthusiast to help us out. After a search of several days for the Panagia Melandrina church, it was a joy to find it but a disappoinment to see it. UNDP and EU invested recently in ‘emergency measures’ to save this church (see UNDP-info Panagia Melandrina). I really wonder why they chose this church out of so many churches that could benefit from their time and effort.
The Panagia Melandrina church lies in the middle of bushes and fields not far from the coast at the harbour location of Esentepe and it is in fact a ruin. It goes back to the 15th century and did have wall paintings as they were reported by an historian in 1896 but those have disappeared long ago. The monastery this church was part of, was active till around 1940. The efforts and investment of the UNDP and EU mean that the church is prevented from total disaster with countless wooden polls : see the photographs.
A roof was made and it is covered in plastic (partly torn already), also two of the outside ailes are covered in plastic. One wonders whether that does any good to the fragile remains, especially in humid times. Unless you are interested in sites like these anyway, there is not one reason I could think of to recommend to you a visit to the Panagia Melandrina church. There are a lot of other, more beautiful and less annoying antiquities to see in Cyprus.
Both the UNDP-findings and information on sites like this site indicate that the church may be built on an older temple or other remains. That is very interesting as this is also the area where some of the rather unknown Mezar Houses, the underground houses of the 10th century would have been found. In some cases, one can go for what one can see. In this case, I’d spend my time and investment on what could be underneath the surface…
We were looking for the Melendirina church – a church that was on an urgent list for reparation on UNDP initiative in 2012 – when we came across the Abadi church. At first we did not know at all what kind of church it was; there is absolutely a lack of information about the churches in the Esentepe / Agios Ambrosius area. Any information you look for leads you to the Antiphonitis monastery – see our blogs Panagia Eleousa church and Agios Mamas church for the rest, churches seem to be considered uninteresting or non-existent. That is such a pity as we showed in the blogs 14, 15 and 16 of this Northern Cyprus heritage series that there is a lot to be discovered. Esentepe is not a touristic area which might be the reason why it is so difficult to find out more about the specific sites.
It was not clear how to get to the Abadi church when we saw it, driving our way through the mountain forests above Esentepe; so we ended up by just parking the car among the trees and walked our way up to the mountain. And there it appeared, the Abadi chapel, in all its beauty. Alas it was closed so we could not see the inside. The doors of the chapel looked quite new which gave us (born from experience) the idea that there was nothing inside any more and that doors were placed recently to protect the last bits and pieces. Please try to enter one day and prove us wrong.
As we had no clue about the chapel, its name or origin, we concluded from the surroundings that it had had a courtyard with beautiful trees, so it was an important center, some time, some day. Later we read on internet that it had been a monastery that was ruined and that a small church was built to replace the institute. So this is some kind of hidden secret in the middle of the forest on the hills above Esentepe / Agios Ambrosius…
Panagia Eleousa church in Tirmen/Trypimeni is another church that was turned into a mosque after the Turkish army took hold of Northern Cyprus in 1974. The church seems to be in a reasonable estate, just like the village itself that is not the wealthiest village to be found in the area either. The village lies right on the south side of the Pentadaktylos mountain range and overviews the Mesaoria plain that separates the Troodos mountains on the Greek side from the Pentadaktylos mountains on the Turkish side. Apparently the Mesaoria was a sea in very old times; so the symbolic separation was already there in history…
The only information that I could find about the church is that it was built in 1900. I was wondering about the tower, it seems to be a different style than the church, made from different materials, attached to the church externally from the side and put right in front of an opening fence; all this suggests that it was added later. The church is more beautiful without it.
The clocks from the church tower are missing. For the use of the mosque some small details were added like cleaning rooms and they are quite ugly.
If you have more info about this church, feel free to comment. In this Northern Cyprus heritage series there are other blogs showing churches that were turned into mosques after 1974, see Agios Ambrosius church and Agios Mamas church.
In Bahceli (Kalograia), about 20 miles east from Girne, there is another church that was turned into a mosque at an early stage, already in 1975 so very short after the Turkish army took hold of the Northern part of Cyprus. It is the Agios Mamas church Bahceli, named after Saint Mamas who lived in the 3rd century and seemed to be quite brave – his best companion being a lion. Read some more about him at http://orthodoxwiki.org/Mamas_of_Caesarea .
From the outside the church seems to be in a reasonable stage – note that the village itself looks rather poor. Only the clock tower is at risk as the picture here shows. The clock itself is still there but seems to have fallen down and rest on the wall sides.
We have not seen the inside. I could not find a lot of information about this church at all. Those who know more (facts), feel welcome to comment.
Agios Mamas is not the only church in this region transformed into a mosque, read also Agios Ambrosius church , another blog about Tirmen/Trypimeni will follow.
In Esentepe, a small town about 20 miles to the east of Girne, we find the Agios Ambrosius church that has been transformed into a mosque in 1978 already; this happened in more villages in this part of Northern Cyprus (other blogs will follow). Agios=Saint Ambrosius was a very influential bishop of Milan and a Doctor of the Church in the 4th century. The Agios Ambrosius church was built in 1867 out of yellow stones and characterizes very much the Byzantium architecture. It seems to be in quite a good state (we did not see the interior but the exterior looks fine) and in general inhabitants take care of the city center where it stands.
Actually with the peace talks between North and South Cyprus making progress, the question is raised what will happen to churches that were turned into a mosque. Time will tell… first bring the peace talks to a good end, then solve this too.
Look at Nicosia – Cyprus from above in these pictures and you can easily see 2 cities here: the Turkish one, in front and the Greek one, further away. Invisible here, inbetween the two city parts lies the Green Line, a 100 meter large strip where the UN rules since 40 years (!) to separate the Greek Cypriots from the Turkish Cypriots… Easy to understand how bored the UN-soldiers are here, they just ride around in expensive UN-cars as there is nothing else to do. The fighting has stopped long ago and the frontier is even ‘open’ since 2003 with small steps forward that symbolize progress like the abolishment of giving stamps every time a person crosses the transit point; this step was the first result of the new peace negotiations that started 2 weeks ago. It lead to quite some confusion especially at the Turkish side: the protocol had to change but Turkish officials love stamps – clearly that was really a thing to give up for them 🙂 Anyway the international community was investing here at least 30 years in vain, paying for useless UN-presence, boycoting the North / Turkish side without any result. For how long will we continue to do so? And why?
Nicosia could be a beautiful and flourishing city but it is not because it has no heart but a Green Line, a real wall in the middle of it: see the pictures, where we walk on the Greek side with theTurkish Cypriot and Turkish flags on the old city walls, and the walk on the Turkish side limited by a sudden wall to stop us going to the Greek side: no entrance, no photographs allowed either by the way.
I found the transit point at Ledra Palace the most sad one I have seen so far, although there are several peace seeking initiatives in the buildings there (and also the German Goethe Institut as if nothing happened, very funny). This transit point is at the Greek side surrounded by despair, no investment, no renovation, and even 40 year old remains of fighting (kept there deliberately?):
Coming from the city of Amsterdam where we love to restore houses and to let original beauty come out at the max, I have to say my hands were itching to take on the job. But well, there is certainly a reason for the non-investment and Nicosia will stay a city without a heart untill the political problems are solved – I hope: soon!
Cyprus is not a poor area in the world. People in Cyprus do have their struggle with daily life but they could do better with cats and dogs than we see them do now. In this case, the North and the South of the island (Turkish or Greek Cypriot) are alike. They are kind to the animals, for sure, and that is nice. One can recognize gentle people from the fact that the cats and dogs are not afraid. The cats and dogs in Cyprus see mankind as their friends, although the responsibility mankind in Cyprus takes is only partial.
Cats freely approach people for food, and everywhere around houses we see plates with foods or bowls with water for cats and dogs. This is the nice side. There are projects, usually cooperation of private citizens/asylums and local governments, to sterilize and castrate the animals in the street to stop the overpopulation of cats and dogs. This is very nice too. But, strange enough, private owners of cats and dogs refuse to invest in sterilization and castration. Their animals gets youngs and the young ones are sadly left and abandoned in fields, forests or faraway streets: just like that. This is such a shame! And it means there will be no end to the efforts of the asylums and local governments, because new animals keep appearing in the streets…
A few years ago I wrote this in a blog about Istanbul street cats: ‘Changes can sometimes be perceived in small signs that function as a symbol for deeper lying norms and values. Being valued as a human means that one can value an animal as an animal and embrace animals in their very existence close to mankind. Once the concurrency for food and survival is gone, care can be deployed”. http://grethevangeffen.nl/2012/03/03/istanbul-and-its-street-cats/
What could bring Cypriots, Turkish and Greek alike, to value these animals and take the measures necessary to prevent this endless row of new cats and dogs in their streets? Do we need peace between the North and the South side before further care for animals can be deployed? Or is this a conviction rooted deeply in Cypriot culture, that cats and dogs don’t matter and that you throw them in the street whenever it suits you?
Go to Nicosia, Cyprus and this museum with a spectacular overview of Cypriot coinage. It looks like a small museum in terms of square meters: just one room within the Nicosia headquarters of the Bank of Cyprus. This one room however houses a most interesting mixture of historic overview and coins. Starting from the 6th century BC, every window shows a period of life in Cyprus with its own rulers and coins. The explanation is clear and quite complete without being too much and the coins reflect both financial habits and general culture. We see Cyprus divided in cities and Cyprus as a united kingdom. And it all ends up with the Euro of course 🙂 To be honest, I am not interested in the Euro but I found the large collection of different very old coins amazing. Learn not only about the ancient times in Cyprus but also about the city of Amathus in the 5th/4th century BC with its own writing that was never deciphered so far… See coins with the word ‘Wroikos’ on it without having a clue who or what ‘Wroikos’ is… Here is a job to do for someone who likes puzzles; one of the last undeciphered languages!
Modern times alas tend to make me sad. In 1976 the Central Bank of Cyprus issued commemorative coins for what is called on the Greek Cypriot side the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974: it shows twice a mother and child, in front of a destroyed house and in front of a tent. For the rest, the ‘other’ side of the island Cyprus does not exist in this exhibition; Cyprus is either the past, or Greek Cyprus. However, that past is shown so brilliantly here that I highly recommend this museum! The entrance, by the way, is free but worth a price.