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…
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!
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.
War is not a rational thing. You’d say it is a fight between the living but when the Turkish army took hold ofNorthern Cyprus, also the dead suffered: many Greek graveyards were destroyed with an anger that is surprising. One wonders who would do such a thing. Don’t we all love our dead and cherish the monuments we give them so that they will not be anonymous and have a place of their own?
I remember about ten years ago there were some ideas in Alba Club in Lapta – I think it was the manager – to restore the demolished graveyard that lies in front of the Club. They thought it was a shame to have that at their entrance. I checked this year but no, this has not been done, see the photographs:
In Alsancak, close to theRiversideHoliday Village, lies another demolished graveyard. It is not that people here do not know what it should be like; see the photograph on top of this blog showing the Turkish graveyard right beside it: peaceful, nice and well taken care of. Apparently theRiverside does not feel embarrassed to have this so close to their compound and the community of Alsancak does neither.
Is it possible to hate so much that you also hate the dead of your enemy? Or is it just disinterest and lack of feeling of responsibility, like is the case for other heritage sites? However these were deliberately destroyed and 37 years have passed now: it’s about time to restore the graveyards. Until that time these graveyards lie like open wounds in a society that otherwise is proving to find ways for social and economic development in many aspects.
In Sinirürstü / Syngrasis stands the church of Agios Prokopios. The building looks strong and healthy, and looks better now than it did on a photograph on this site (http://patrimundianorthcyprus.e-monsite.com/rubrique,ayios-prokopios,545036.html), that give you by the way lots of information about heritage in Northern Cyprus. The inside is not well preserved and pidgeons seem to rule the place which is not favourable for conservation of course. On the walls of the church’s courtyard we still find the words EOKA and ENOSIS: visible memories of fighting times. Is it a coincidence that that graveyard with its crosses in this courtyard was destroyed?
The Gaidhouras Church in Lefkoniko / Gecitkale is still in a good state. Until five years ago it was used as a mosque. Now the new cami is ready and the church stands empty. Pidgeons have conquered the side aisle and this becomes dirty. Locals say Greek Cypriots visit the church on a regular basis and told the church is much older than the presence of the Greeks in Northern Cyprus. I could not find any evidence about that information, no information at all actually about this church: if you have, it’s welcome!
The inside has a completely intact floor, very beautiful and a spectacular, undamaged wooden upper-floor. Gecitkale also has a cemetery that is largely intact, although clearly neglected, unlike some other places (see my posts the coming days).
This place has been a bit away from direct fighting, and that works out better for heritage.
The Byzantine monastery church of Antiphonitis lies lonely but strategically in the hills on the north side, not far from Sourp Magar (see blog Heritage (1). It has a special and beautiful architecture. Inside it has frescoes dating from the 12th to 15th century. Part of the frescoes have been looted, but others are still there.
Greek Cypriots have heavily blamed Turkish Cypriots for the looting, even suggesting that this was part of a bigger plan of the Turkish army to make all Greek signs disappear from their point of the island. Indeed there was a proven case of a Turkish art robber, cooperating with a Dutch one (see: http://www.cyprus44.com/kyrenia/antiphonitis-church.asp. But concerning the harm done to frescoes by visitors, I found hundreds of Greek writings on unique frescoes. Many of them seem to date from before the conflicts on the island, at least the dates that people marked in (!) the frescoes are all before 1975, dates like 1910, 1929 and 1960. This suggests that the Greek Cypriots didn’t care so much or protect this heritage themselves. Just a few pictures to show the serious damage done:
There is nothing Turkish there… it is too easy to blame ‘the enemy’, it is beside the facts and rather paranoid to blame the Turks for a deliberate appraoch in this destruction.
The monastery of Agios Pandeleimon, patron saint of physicians, in Camlibel was in closed militairy area untill recently. The church is late 16th century, the 18th century monastery was already abandoned in the ’50’s and contained little of interest. The site shows an incredible negligence. Why not clean things a bit up before you leave them open to the public, I’d say to the army; it makes a much better impression. This looks like the army has really worn out the place and when there was nothing left, withdrew from it. Even if we keep in account that the monastery was already empty for some time it is a great pity.
The place is extremely beautiful and could be developed for new functions although I know that the Greek Cypriot Church is fiercely against that. However, like this a precious site is just falling into pieces. Why was the army so inconsiderate with this place? I think it is the same problem as for Agios Christostomos: when a church acts like a political factor, its buildings will be treated like that too. This is how valuable heritage is lost. On a pillar of the church I found the words: ‘sleep quiet’, obviously written by someone with Turkish background as they always write the way they speak (‘slip kwot’). Although quite some Turkish Cypriots criticize role and influence of the army, they never deny the core function of their presence: that since the army is here, they can sleep quiet.
Sirinevler is a rather poor village. It is located not on the coastal side of the northern part of Cyprus where life is flourishing but behind the Besparmak ridge in the large Mesaoria plain that lies in between the Besparmak mountains in the North and the Troodos mountains in the South; in the middle of the Mesaoria, the Green Line dividing the island in two parts. On the Turkish side in the Mesaoria there are mainly farmers. Life is hard there, cold in winter, hot in summertime.
Where in the very North the EU is only present with some signs about improvement concerning environment, in the Mesaoria villages we find the EU improving the infrastructure and look of the villages themselves; this is really a poverty issue.
The church in Sirinevler that was called Agios Ermelaos before, is in a terrible state. It is a more simple church than the ones with frescoes and all, but it certainly doesn’t deserve this status. It is a little beauty that deserves to be there in all pride.
I think the pictures of Agios Ermelaos are clear: this is dreadfull…
And now a few pictures from two churches in Lapta on the northern side of the Besparmak ridge. There are more than 2 churches in Lapta but the overview is the same: these churches are preserved better and respected more. Lapta is much richer and more international than Sirinevler; this works out well for heritage conservation!
So when you are confronted with a diversity issue, do not assume too easily that the problem is diversity itself; it might be poverty and isolation. Solutions that you propose depend highly of the view you have about the situation: go for an indepth analysis!
The church of Ayios Christostomos was located in military area until 7 or 8 years ago. The Bogaz region where it stands was for many years, from 1963 to 1974 the middle point of severe fights. Most probably the status of the church was better before all this started. Looking at its exterior, there is not a big problem but when you look inside you can really see the negligence and the absolute destruction of unique frescoes:
Clearly for Turkish Cypriots this church is not felt as their heritage or their responsability. Ayios Christostomos lies in the region where fightings among Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the ’60’s and ’70’s were most fierce. And that memory is alive, it appears, maybe also because there has always been few recognition for the problems of Turkish Cypriots. I made two other photographs here of recent graphitis:
The picture on the left is clear I guess, the one on the right has, if you look carefully, yellow graphiti mentioning ‘Hamitköy’. Hamitköy was the village where hundreds of refugees had to stay for over ten years in sheds and tents. They ran from Omorphita that was 80% Turkish and attacked by EOKA troops during christmas 1963. There was looting and killing and until today 150 persons are missing. It is significant that ‘Hamitköy’ is painted as a graphiti on a church. Many Turkish Cypriots see the church as the great inspirator of anti-turkish feelings on the Greek side. For example at the moment Greek Cyprus has an electricity problem. Turkish Cyprus helps them out. The Greek Cypriot Government has accepted that, but the Greek Cypriot Church has heavily criticized this acceptance, as in their views anything from the North of Cyprus must be boycotted.
However unique the frescoes are, they will not be saved as long as this kind of discussions continue. Where people fight, heritage is suffering.
Who is responsible for the heritage of buildings like churches and monasteries in Northern Cyprus? It is not that there is no money to preserve these monuments. Recent times have shown the construction of a number of new monuments showing the greatness of the Turkish state, celebrating the so-called freedom and peace operation of 1974 or setting Atatürk as a symbol for the Turkish Cypriots. However, churches and monasteries are left in a very poor state, falling in decline and subject to vandalism and the expression of frustrations. The coming days I will show some examples.
This blogs shows you the Sourp Magar monastery, started as a Coptic monastery in the 11th century and in the 15th century taken over by the Armenians, see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sourp_Magar . It was an important pilgrimage destination until 1974 (when the Turks took hold of Northern Cyprus). Now the monastery is in serious decline and needs immediate restauration if any of the beautiful parts are to be preserved for future generations.
It is such a pity that no responsability is felt for heritage within Turkish Cypriot borders. There is money here, and even a lot more than 10 years ago, that is visible everywhere.
However, monuments from Christian traditions are left to fall apart; the picture of the destroyed cross above this blog, taken in the Armenian Chapel is meaningful for the underlying feeling: that the fight is not just about human rights but also religious.
Today I met with an old Cypriot friend. He sees his identity in the first place as Cypriot, then also as Turkish Cypriot. We saw each other in the center of Girne (Kyrenia) in the very North of Cyprus where the celebrations for the freedom of Northern Cyprus, the Turkish side of Cyprus were fully happening. 20th July 1974 the Turkish army started their action to take over charge of this part of the island, a peace operation in the eyes of some, an illegal invasion in the eyes of others.
Many people came today to the harbour of Girne to see the military flight show that was indeed impressive. I tried to take some photographs but the jets should have slowed down a bit for more succesfull pictures – you see some poor results above this blog, couldn’t do any better. Discussion was heard whether showing freedom by military force was:
1. a male expression of freedom – women would show it otherwise
2. a middle eastern way of expressing – western europe would show it otherwise
3. a way to impress and frigthen the Greeks – in this version, the jets first made a tour around the green line to make the Greeks nervous before arriving in Girne for the show
4. just fun – it was indeed a perfect and exciting show
5. a way to make the Turkish Cypriots feel safe: look how much power we have, and we protect you
My friend as well as many other Cypriots was desillusioned when there was a referendum for the unification of Cyprus in 2004 and the Turkish Cypriots said yes while the Greek Cypriots said no. Strange enough the Greek Cypriots were consequently rewarded by EU membership and the Turkish Cypriots were left out. Time will show whether this was the last (spoiled) opportunity for the Greek Cypriots to restore a common Cypriot identity, above national ‘homeland’ feelings and group identities. The North of Cyprus is now developping as a more independant Turkish identity, mainlanders start to live there and bring an ‘all Turkish’ culture in – the Turkish Cypriot identity is hardly surviving in these circumstances.
When I met my friend earlier today he asked me ‘did you really come over to see this event?’. I said in a joking tune, I wouldn’t miss any opportunity to celebrate Freedom Day on Northern Cyprus. ‘Oh, I feel so free’ he said. He didn’t travel for many years because the Turkish Cypriot passport would not be recognized by any country but Turkey. The Greek Cypriot passport does not apply. And he refuses to ask for a Turkish one that indeed he can obtain and that will be recognized. His identity does not formally exist.
The Turkish army, I do believe that, has guaranteed safety for the Turkish Cypriot community here. But after 37 years they are still on this island because the necessary followup – the political and economical support for Turkish Cypriots – was never realized. So the question is not: why are there military flight shows? But the question is: which politicians and entrepreneurs will bring better alternatives for Cyprus?!