It is absolutely lovely: the church of Limnia (in Turkish Mormenekşe): Agios Nikolaos. Built in 1863, beautiful details can be found at the walls, in the tower, at the main porch.
It has been in use as a mosque and as far as I could see also as some kind of cultural house for the village. Whether that is still the case, was not clear when I visited; in other places churches are no longer used as mosques because new mosques have been built. Everything was closed, I could not enter the church Agios Nikolaos in Limnia and there were no people around to answer questions.
On the front side of the church, both the Turkish and the Turkish Cypriot flag were present which could indicate some kind of actual use. Alternative activities are not necessarily a disadvantage for a building, although I know that it is hard for Greek Cypriots to see their heritage used for other religious or nationalist purposes. When it comes to preservation, in Northern Cyprus churches that have been used or are still used, often show a much better state of affairs than empty churches that fall into the hands (feathers and dirt) of birds, rain and wind. Empty and deserted churches (since 1974 = for decades) have step by step fallen into decay – here are some examples.
There is a house next to the church Agios Nikolaos in Limnia, most probably some kind of dwelling for priests, that looks beautiful but proves the statement: it is empty and in a bad state that will not improve just by itself. The lovely details might disappear if nobody preserves this house or restores it.
Limnia was an all-Greek Cypriot village until 1974; the Greek Cypriot inhabitants fled to the South when the Turkish army entered Cyprus. Turkish Cypriot refugees from Southern Cyprus became the new inhabitants of Limnia and named it Mormenekşe after the village in the South they came from.
After the astonishing visits to the monument for Murataga-Sandallar and the Sehitler Müzesi, a last visit in this area remained: the finding place of the bodies of the Atlilar massacre. 37 people were killed and bulldozered into their grave in such a way that bodies could not be separated any more when the massacre was uncovered.
When I walked on that specific spot, the most striking aspect was the normality, the field-like aspect of the place. That spot looks like ‘the middle of nowhere’ and everybody knows nothing happens in the middle of nowhere. So how did these heavy things occur right here? It would be reassuring if a place where very bad things happen, had some kind of special sign or mark. But there is none. Of course now there is a monument and a man made statue in the former mass grave. Information boards tell visitors that abnormal activities took place here; but this information board is broken. Somehow, remembering does not seem to be serious business. It really irritates me to find broken information boards in memorial places like this, like I wrote in the blog about Murataga-Sandallar. How serious do officials take their own history? And how come locals don’t force them to do their duties and take care of the boards?
Also, we got more here about the ‘sehit’- approach (see my blog moving memories and then the last part) on one of the remaining, non-damaged information boards: ‘this monument was erected in memory of these 37 martyrs who did not flee from their village, and defended the honor of the Turkish flag on the cost of their lives‘. I found it difficult to read this text neutrally.
How can I describe a visit to the Atlilar monument? If you go there directly without visiting other nearby places, it might be very interesting. If you come to Atlilar after Sandallar-Murataga and the Sehitler Müzesi, the question is not so much to find something ‘new’, but to honour the dead, the individuals who died here without maybe even knowing why. If you do not care at all about any interpretation of what happened, you will feel just sad, maybe even overwhelmed by the cruelty and heartlessness of the events. And your understanding of the Turkish community in Cyprus and the role of Turkey will deepen.
Davet – Nazim Hikmet
Dörtnala gelip Uzak Asya’dan
Akdeniz’e bir kısrak başı gibi uzanan
bu memleket, bizim.
Bilekler kan içinde, dişler kenetli, ayaklar çıplak
ve ipek bir halıya benziyen toprak,
bu cehennem, bu cennet bizim.
Kapansın el kapıları, bir daha açılmasın,
yok edin insanın insana kulluğunu,
bu dâvet bizim….
Yaşamak bir ağaç gibi tek ve hür
ve bir orman gibi kardeşçesine,
bu hasret bizim…
A school serves as Şehitler Müzesi, the Martyr’s Museum for Murataga, Sandallar and Atlilar where massacres took place in 1974. I passed this museum by surprise, on my way from the monument and mass grave of Murataga and Sandallar to the one in Atlilar. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a museum, maybe it is of rather recent date. It is quite small and somehow one of the saddest places I have ever been to.
The school lies in a kind of courtyard where there is enough place to put your car. I was the only visitor that day and the day before me there was also only 1 visitor. As you can see in the picture, there are information boards on the left (in Turkish) and the right (in English) along the path to the Şehitler Müzesi and they are really good. Of course the perspective of the information is the Turkish Cypriot perspective; this is not the place for an interesting two-sided history. If you go to the Şehitler Müzesi, you look through the eyes of the locals of Murataga, Sandallar and Atlilar. As their perceptions are rarely found in the news or other sources of information, I found it very enrichening for a better understanding of why things are felt the way they are in Northern Cyprus.
The school of Murataga-Sandallar was not very old. Until 1958, children used to go to the mixed school of Alaniçi (in Greek: Pigi Peristerona). There had always been some pressure on the Turkish Cypriot children but the heavy troubles of 1958 chased all Turkish Cypriot children away and forced the last Turkish Cypriot inhabitants of Pigi Peristerona to leave and move to the smaller village of Murataga (in Greek: Maratha). Murataga welcomed the ‘refugees’ and built houses for them. At that time also a school and a mosque were made. Who could imagine that on August 14, 1974, 29 children (their names are in the picture) of that school would be killed, bulldozered and buried in mass graves?
However, what affected me most, was the guide of the museum himself… At the time of the massacre, most Turkish Cypriot men were in camps where the Greek Cypriots kept them as prisoner; some young men like himself had already gone to places where the fights took place, in his case Famagusta (in Turkish: Gazimagusa). While they were absent, the women, the children and the elderly were murdered. The men who survived and returned to Murataga, Sandallar and Atlilar, found out that they lost almost everybody. For the museum guide this meant: his mother, his five sisters and his brother – you can see them in the lower row on the picture to the right – and his aunt and her seven children. Only his father who was a prisoner at the time of the massacre, survived.
Now, this man is every day in a museum that – compared to museums in Amsterdam where I live – has hardly any visitors and he stays in that school alone facing the pictures of his murdered family members and all the other victims every day…
The museum has a video (Turkish only) about the event but I didn’t watch it.
If you are interested in the history of Cyprus, I do recommend the Şehitler Müzesi even though it might cover you with a blanket of sadness; it will highly contribute to your understanding of the Turkish Cypriot soul, and why they put safety first in all the negotiations with the Greek Cypriots.
The Şehitler Müzesi has published a book under the title: 1955 – 1974 Step by Step Genocide – Murataga – Atlilar – Sandallar. I bought the book and will tell you more about it in my next blog.
Alaniçi (Pigi Peristerona) has 3 churches that are not just monuments; they happen to wear the signs of a cruel past. I went to Alaniçi to see the churches and make some pictures to describe them in a blog as I did before with many other churches. See for example my blogs about the Panagia Eleousa church or the monastery church Antiphonitis. I didn’t know it was going to be a heavy day with a confrontation of violence and murder that took place particularly in this area in the years 1963-1974 (1974 is the year the Turkish army took hold of the northern part of Cyprus to protect the Turkish Cypriots, thus ending this type of terror). In this blog I describe the three churches as I searched and found them – it will have a follow up in the next blogs.
The first church is (most probably) named Agia Marina. It is beautiful but in bad shape. The doors are closed but entering through a large window is possible. Pigeons live there in large quantities so the dirt is obvious. Most of the church’s interior is destroyed; see for example the marble altar in pieces in front of the church choir. It is possible to go upstairs to the first floor; the stairs are intact but I didn’t risk to walk on the wooden balcony though. What surprised me however, was to find the words EOKA and ENOSIS on the outer walls of the church, along with other Greek writings I could not decipher at that moment. I was surprised because during my multiple visits to Greek churches in the North all over the Island I never found these on church walls: just once, on the wall of a churchyard at Agios Prokopios church. I took some pictures but didn’t pay too much attention to it.
Agios Anastasios: two churches
Next, easy to find when you just follow the main road through the village, was the enormous Agios Anastasios church, built in 1953. It is open and also the first floor can be visited. There is still a good impression of what this church was meant to be. The state of the concrete and several details does not look attractive at this moment but my opinion can be biased because I don’t like this kind of new churches.
The old monastery church that stands nearby is also open because a door is missing. There is nothing interesting left at the interior. I could not find any history about this church, whether and how it was used after the new church opened in 1953. A short look down the stairs lead to a small cellar under the church. Some buildings next to the church could have been sleeping places for monks or stockrooms. Nothing really left there either.
Just like the Agia Marina church, these churches had the words EOKA, ENOSIS, Kupros and Ellas and other Greek texts on the walls in large quantities, mostly with blue paint. Their visibility was limited because some white paint covered it more or less, but not enough. I was surprised and also a bit shocked because churches are religious places; it is difficult to see them related to political and ethnic violence. What had been going on here? And why were signs of a cruel past found on the churches here and not in other places in Northern Cyprus? I decided not to leave Alaniçi (Pigi Peristerona) immediately but to look for a restaurant or a coffee house. Maybe it was possible to meet with locals who could tell more?
You can read that in my next blog…
Info about the Agia Marina church (with a ? behind the name).
Info about the two Agios Anastasios churches: the new and large church, and the old monastery church.
Info about the population of Alaniçi – Pigi Peristerona (displacement and resettlement).
Graveyards as symbol
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.
Read also the Alaniçi series (6 blogs), start here:
Alaniçi: churches and signs of a cruel past (1)
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 Panagia Eleousa 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 Panagia Eleousa 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 the Panagia Eleousa 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.
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. You can find it here: Panagia Eleousa church
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 the Green Line 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 at three points at the Green Line Nicosia. Parties make 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!
What to do in Nicosia as a tourist? Go to the Museum of the history of Cypriot coinage.
Want to read political stuff? Read about the so-called Freedom Day in Northern Cyprus
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…