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

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!

 

Istanbul: mysterious tickets after Süleymaniye Mosque donation

              On leaving the beautiful Süleymaniye Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque) I gave a donation to a guy sitting at the exit of the Mosque with a sign ‘donations for the Mosque’. As the entrance was free and usually the maintenance of this kind of buildings is enormous in costs, it seemed reasonable to have some contribution. I gave money and got a few blue tickets in return for that. I looked at them and thought, why do I get this kind of tickets? I gave a donation, but what is this for?
As my brains couldn’t find a solution, I started to think the Dutch way. This must be a proof for tax administration that a donation was made, I thought. In the Netherlands this exists; for income that is spent in gifts to good aims, citizens don’t need to pay taxes. But you must be able to proof that you gave away that money. I suggested the Turks might have the same system and that the tickets I got at the Süleymaniye Mosque served to prove to Turkish taxes that this money was really spent as a gift. But I also know that perspectives can be coloured too much by national perspective. The reason why I got the tickets could be completely different.
So in the restaurant, close to Süleymaniye, where we had dinner after visiting the Mosque, I showed my newly acquired tickets to the staff and asked them for the meaning of them. The staff was very surprised about it: ‘we have never seen these tickets before’. They started to question me ‘the Mosque is free to visit, why did you give them money?’.  I tried to explain to them the idea, or should I say idealism, of donations but my table company destroyed it all by saying ‘she wanted to feel good about herself’, making everybody burst out in laughter as if I were the kind of fool that was hardly seen in this part of Istanbul.
The restaurant staff explained to me ‘the government takes care of the Mosque, they don’t need your money’. Hey, I don’t give up that easily so I responded in an utmost surprised way ‘ah, I thought Turkey has a separation of state and religion’. ‘Well yes’, they replied, ‘the state doesn’t pay any money but local government does, the city of Istanbul is taking care of the Mosque’. I thought that the separation of state and religion also involved local government as well as national government but they thought that local was completely different from national and showed surprise that the City of Amsterdam is not giving money to churches or mosques ‘Istanbul is very social but Amsterdam is not’.
Soon enough, we started to talk Turkish instead of English and we jumped from the way Christians were treated in the South-East of Turkey to the way Muslems were treated in Greece and Bulgaria. I got a bit upset and so did they, and they had the superiority of language, meaningful in situations like the moment where I said that the monasteries in the North (güney) had a hard time under Turkish government when they declared there were no monasteries in the North – like I usually do, I mixed the words South and North (kuzey versus güney); a problem of mastering a language that weakened my arguments because they wouldn’t notice that I was not telling an ‘untruth’ but making a language mistake.
We didn’t really find a solution for Muslems in Greece and Bulgaria or for Christians in South East Turkey but we had a drink together to close the discussion. The only problem that lasts now is that my question about the tickets was left unanswered: why does a tourist who gives a donation to the Süleymaniye Mosque get tickets showing the period, the amount and the purpose of the donation? If you, reader, know the answer, please send me a message because I really like to know after all…

 

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…

Queen’s visit to Oman and UAE: veil or economy?

  The discussion about the veil has re-entered the Dutch political scene on the event of a visit and trade mission of our Queen Beatrix, Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Máxima to the United Arab Emirates and to Oman. This is a very succesfull visit with warm relationships between our countries and very good business contracts being signed these days (see also: http://www.nu.nl/binnenland/2710537/koningin-onderstreept-belang-handel-met-vae.html).
However, the Dutch political PVV-leader Wilders has drawn the attention of the public to the great debate of the VEIL again, by criticising Queen Beatrix and indirectly Princess Máxima for wearing a veil when entering mosques as he thinks the veil is a means of women oppression and our Queen should never wear it, not even in a mosque.
At the moment of this debate, the Netherlands like many countries are still in the midst of a severe economic crisis. Nevertheless journalists follow massively the discussion about the VEIL much more than the economic results of the trade mission. During the last years, the quality level of journalism has gone down in the Netherlands. They have chosen to report about easy-to-report riots and disputes like the one mentioned above rather than giving an indepth insight in more complex subjects. They have their own concept of the notion ‘news’ and like this they create their own truth and it has empoverished journalistic approaches in the Netherlands.
As for the debate about the veil itself, I have published a blog about it some time ago: http://grethevangeffen.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/veilophobia-veilophilia-the-great-debate-about-the-muslim-veil/. Women were known to wear veils already in Assyria in the 7th century BC and they should choose themselves if and when they want to wear them. And for the rest, we still have an economic crisis to solve…

White anger

  It was friday afternoon on a road from a popular neighbourhood into the park and I think a mosque had just finished prayer because many traditionally dressed Moroccans were there and so was I, dressed in business style on my way to a business appointment. A white Dutch woman came along on her bike, with a dog attached to the side of her bike on a one meter leash. Usually dog owners on a bike keep their dog on a leash that they hold in their hand, to be more flexible in Amsterdam’s dense traffic.
At the entrance of the parc stood some poles on the road (see the photograph), meant to keep cars out of the parc. The woman biked into the parc on one side of the pole, her dog took the other side but the leash attached to the bike was in between. So the dog was stopped and almost thrown against the pole and the bike was also stopped abruptly, the woman almost fell, just almost: bikers in Amsterdam have incredible skills for all kinds of situations.
A Moroccan guy wanted to help her to get herself upright and the dog past the pole but she started to shout in anger. This happened to her, she said, because on the left side a young guy was walking on the biking path and on the right side there was also a couple walking. They left her no space to go and that is why she and her dog ran into the pole. It is one of those irrational situations that can easily go out of hand. The woman had enough space and she had no damage. Her behaviour was very injust and impolite, even agressive and I couldn’t ignore the impression that she was shouting because they were Moroccans. This was the hidden white anger that people say and know is there, but you don’t see or hear it except in moments like this. Also I had the impression that the woman was waiting for a fight, scolding at random, hoping to be a victim and see her prejudices confirmed. Interesting were the doubts of the Moroccans around, I think they had the same impression: so should they take the scolding and get hurt, or defend themselves and get the blame?
The funny thing of appearances is that they can work for you. I was wearing business clothes for a completely different reason, but I could use it to have authority at that moment and solve some things. I took the attitude of a person in charge and told the woman that the men she was shouting at had nothing to do with her nearby accident – and that she had to be more aware herself of the dog stuck on a leash to the bike. That solved it, not for the woman who didn’t stop shouting out her anger but for the men who were shouted at. We continued our walk and when the woman was out of sight, we laughed about it together because it was also funny, the way she and her dog got stuck on a pole, blaming the rest of the world for it. Still, this type of everyday situations worry me: the step to a situation that runs out of hand is all too small. White anger, directed to innocent passengers, seems to lie just below the surface in Amsterdam 2011.

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!