Graveyards as symbol of ethnic conflict

graveyard symbol ethnic conflict

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.graveyard symbol ethnic conflict

 

Northern Cyprus heritage (18) Panagia Melandrina church

panagia melandrina churchFinally 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.
melandrina church esentepe
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.
panagia melandrina church  panagia melandrina church
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…
melandrina church kibris

Northern Cyprus heritage (17) Abadi church

abadi church northern cyprusWe 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.
abadi church northern cyprus  abadi church northern cyprus
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…

 

Northern Cyprus heritage (16) Panagia Eleousa church

panagia eleousa2Panagia 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…
panagia eleousa church  panagia eleousa church
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. panagia eleousa church clock tower
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.

Northern Cyprus heritage (15) Agios Mamas church

agios mamas church bahceli 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 riskagios mamas church bahceli 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.
agios mamas church bahceli    agios mamas church bahceli

Northern Cyprus heritage (14) Agios Ambrosius church

agios ambrosius church northern cyprus 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.     esentepe-ambrosius  esentepe-ambrosius2  esentepe-ambrosius3

Northern Cyprus heritage (13) Agios Trias Basilica

Northern Cyprus Heritage - Agios Trias Basilica 0  5th/6th century rests of the Agios Trias Basilica are found on the peninsula of the Northern Cypriot Karpaz close to the village of Sipahi which means: in the middle of nowhere. We were the only visitors but there was a most friendly guard who was happy to sell us a ticket for 5 TL, at that moment € 1,90 (it was before the 2015 elections, after which the Turkish lira devaluated). So the entrance price should not stop you and moreover the mosaics are very much worth a visit, they are amazing!
Northern Cyprus Heritage - Agios Trias Basilica 1  Northern Cyprus Heritage - Agios Trias Basilica 2  Northern Cyprus Heritage - Agios Trias Basilica 3  Northern Cyprus Heritage - Agios Trias Basilica 4  Northern Cyprus Heritage - Agios Trias Basilica5  Northern Cyprus Heritage - Agios Trias Basilica6
A great article with lots of information about this site can be found here: http://allansartworlds.sites.ucsc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/154/2015/03/Langdale-Basilica-of-Agias-Trias.pdf. This article published in 2009 talks about ‘lack of proper maintenance (page 2). Things have only got worse since that time. The unique mosaics lie there completely unprotected and this is not all… (reliable) rumour goes that the mosaics are regularly ‘cleaned’ with a high pressure washer.
In an earlier blog I wrote that the Greeks consider the Turks as barbarians – http://grethevangeffen.nl/2011/08/01/northern-cyprus-heritage-12-cultural-approach/ – for the way they deal with their heritage and that sometimes they are proven right in that opinion. This is one of those times, that they are proven right. I thought I’d faint when I heard about the high pressure washer…
Anyway this monument is still extremely beautiful with its unique mosaics so I’d hardly recommend a visit. Positive thinking: it might be one of the only moments you can actually and freely walk over 5th/6th century mosaics and live the feelings of people who did the same many centuries ago.

 

 

 

Green line Nicosia – Cyprus

green line nicosia saray hotel 4   nicosia green line saray hotel 5
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.nicosia green line UN post Nicosia 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?
Nnicosia green line greek soil versus turkish sideinicosia green line turkish soil versus greek sidecosia 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?):
nicosia green line house at ledra palace  nicosia green line remains of fighting close to ledra palace
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!

 

Museum of the history of Cypriot coinage

cypriot coinage museum 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… cypriot coinage - coins of amathus 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.   cypriot coinage  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.

Istanbul and souvenirs with a religious component

  Changes can sometimes be perceived in small signs that function as a symbol for deeper lying norms and values. One of those signs in Istanbul is the way souvenir shops deal with presents that have a religious component. When I was here twenty years ago, the presents with different religious background were thoroughly separated from each other. For example in the jewelry market, jewelry with the ‘bismallah’ sign were sold in shops with a muslem owner, golden crosses were sold in shops with a christian owner. In that time there was no mixed collection of presents with religious component to be found at the same shop; absolutely nowhere!
This is something that has really changed now. In many shops it is possible to find articles with islamic, christian and jewish meaning all together not just in the same shop, but also on the same shelve. For someone like me who missed 20 years of Istanbul development, it feels like a radical change. I asked some questions about it in one souvenir shop and the workers there kindly explained to me that they believe in and respect all the prophets. I tried to explain them how this was in the years ’70, ’80, even begin ’90 but they kept telling me how they feel about it now. They couldn’t explain history to me, why it was different before and why it changed. They had Maria and Jesus hanging in their shop next to islamic holy artefacts, see the picture above, and considered that as normal.
I cannot analyze this yet, it would need a more indept insight but as said I have seen this mixture in many shops in Istanbul city already. These are small signs for what could be a more fundamental change. My first and overall impression is that the selfconfidence of the Turks has increased a lot in daily life, and tolerance often comes with selfconfidence. Another way of looking at it could be that the Christian minorities form no more threat whatsoever to the Turks which allows a different attitude. Finally, it is also possible to look at this businesswise. The Turks were always good in customer service, eager to help customers out, create strong relationships and earn some money; maybe they have just added these new products to their buckets…

Northern Cyprus Heritage (12) cultural approach

  Culture exists and it doesn’t exist. It is almost impossible to describe a culture in general terms as it is always possible to show members belonging to that culture that differ from the description. There is so much diversity within cultures – diversity that will even increase the coming years – that people who read about the culture they adhere to can strongly disagree about the description given. Nevertheless, I am going to give it a try, knowing already that some people might feel irritation while reading it.

Concerning heritage, it seems that Turks are more oriented towards the future while Greeks are more oriented towards the past. In the words Turks and Greeks I include Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, without denying that in many aspects they have an identity of their own, as Cypriots.
The consequence is that Turks are inclined to value and use heritage that they see as relevant for the present. This is why the former cathedral of the Lusignans in Lefkosa/Nicosia, the Venetian castle in Girne/Kyrenia and a typical Greek building like the Mavi Kösk / Blue House are well kept and get a good profile in any touristic and cultural presentation. They can show the greatness of the Turks in actual times and the (conquered) enemies they had to deal with. This is also why churches like Ermelaos or monasteries like Sourp Magar and Pandeleimon get no attention at all: what message for the future could be given with that heritage?
I remember a visit I made once to Hattusa in Turkey. The guide told us that Hettites were the high and mighty ancestors of the Turks. He got very very angry when I said there was at least 2000, maybe even 3000 years of difference in time between the Hettites and the Turks arriving in actual Turkey. Clearly this was not just about the facts: this was about the value that Hettite history presented for the greatness and the future of the Turkish people. What I saw as objective truth, was useless for my guide and even upset him.
Greeks have a magnificent ancient past. They had Socrates, Homer, Euripides and so many others, really high science and culture. Then they developed an independent and mighty church that created such beautiful monuments. Memories of that past are kept with the highest care as to remember what Greeks brought to civilization, development, faith and culture in this world: it is their identity. So when a new country exists that calls itself Macedonia, Greeks protest firmly as Macedonia including Alexander the Great is considered as a Greek identity and cannot exist independently of them. The fact that this happens anyway in the 21st century is very difficult for the Greek.
 In heritage on Northern Cyprus, two cultures meet. Greek see the way the Turks deal with their monuments as a proof that Turks are barbarians (barbaros = the ancient Greek word for a stranger, a non-Greek). Just read some Greek websites where these issues are discussed and you will notice a consequent approach: tell the world how terrible the Turks are. In several blogs I have shown pictures that prove them right.
Turks really do not understand what is expected from them: why would they contribute to prove the greatness of the Greek past? They prefer to invest in what they see as relevant for actual life and development of Northern Cypriot inhabitants. There are few Turkish websites that blame the Greeks. The Turks have given up the territories that they lost in 1974 as well as their monuments, lives and dreams. They are looking forward, not backward. They just ignore the Greek complaints and move on. In several blogs I have shown examples that prove them right.
In heritage on Northern Cyprus, two cultures meet. To find each other, they need to listen more. At this moment, they are mainly blaming or judging each other – this is strongly influenced by the problematic political situation of course. However, for heritage it is a lot better if parties listen to each other and recognize and value differences. This could be a starting point to create synergy in diversity. Then both the past and the present will profit!

Northern Cyprus Heritage (11) Maronites

 The Maronite community on Cyprus (both North and South) counts 6000 persons and it is very much alive. Since 1974 the Turkish army took hold of 2 of the 4 Maronite churches / villages, to the great regret of the Maronite community. In Asomatos it is possible to have church services, Agia Marina is so closed that during 36 years nobody could even see the place. A meeting from the Pope and the Turkish Prime Minister last year was necessary to allow an exceptional visit; maybe the first step for more opening? The Maronites see the lost churches / villages as an important part of their heritage, necessary also to live and express their identity.
On special days like Christmas, Easter and the 15th of August (2 photographs below for the breads delivered and the procession around the church – and the Lebanese bishop’s car), the large church of Saint Georgius of Kormakiti is packed; not just church banks are full, also corridors and even outside the doors people stand to follow the service inside. Many of the visitors are young people, aware of their identity and ready to contribute.
      
Maronites live in Cyprus (as well as Lebanon and Malta) since the 8th century. They are part of the Roman Catholic Church but have their own rites in Aramaic and some different rules, f.ex. the priests are married. They were always oppressed: by muslims, by Venetians, by Franciscans, by Greek Orthodox, the latter trying to take over their churches. Under the 1960 Constitution Turkish and Greek Cypriot form two equal communities, the Marionites are seen as a religious minority which means that their ethnicity, culture or language are not recognized. They had to choose a community to belong to and they chose the Greek community. Maronites have one ‘observer seat’ in the Greek Cypriot Parliament so they have a voice but not a vote and depend of Greek Cypriots to defend their interests. However, Greek Cyprus leads a politics of assimiliation. On the Turkish side the Maronite interests are neglected.
The Maronites position is very complicated. They do not want to be involved in the dual conflict of Greeks and Turks. They have the Greek Cypriot nationality because they belong to that community according to the 1960 Constitution but their villages lie since the 1974 division in Northern Cyprus. Recently the Turkish Cypriot nationality was offered to them so that they can have equal rights but accepting that nationality means conflict with the Greek Cypriots who accuse Maronites of bad citizenship and ‘trying to get the best of both worlds’. For the future the entrance of (South-)Cyprus into the EU in 2004 opens new perspectives for the Maronites as the European concept of multicultural diversity is larger than the actual dualism on Cyprus and could improve the position of the ethnic-cultural and religious ‘other’.
In the meantime, there is nothing that withholds the Turkish army to give back the 2 churches / villages to the Maronite community right now.

Wanna read more indepth analysis about Cypriot minorities? Read this book: http://www.amazon.com/Minorities-Cyprus-Development-Patterns-Internal-Exclusion/dp/144380052X or this article: http://www.ahdr.info/ckfinder/userfiles/files/14_andrekos.pdf
Absolutely interesting to look at Cyprus not from Greek or Turkish perceptions, but from the perceptions of Cypriot minorities.