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!
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 Northern Cyprus 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 Northern Cyprus 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 Northern Cyprus heritage, 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 Northern Cyprus heritage, 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 Maronites 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 of Northern 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 the Riverside Holiday 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 the Riverside 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 gives 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 the 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. Pigeons 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.
There are several sites describing the beauty of the Mavi Kösk Blue House between Camlibell and Sadrazam Köy. Although it is recent heritage (built in 1956) and most probably some army propaganda (see: http://www.cyprus44.com/forums/48200.asp), worth a visit everybody said. Info sites mention large opening hours so what could go wrong? But when I arrived, I was not rewarded by an entrance ticket but by learning more about car diversity.
The Mavi Kösk Blue House lies in a military camp so you pass along a soldiers barrier before approaching it. It is close to the monastery Agios Pandeleimon that I also visited. But I couldn’t pass, the guy said, because my car was a rental car from the South of Cyprus. First I thought he made a joke, but he was serious. Here I am, a Dutch person speaking quite some Turkish and visiting Northern Cyprus since many years and I was left out while others entered because I had the wrong car. Being discriminated because of your car only, I really never heard about that kind of ‘ayrimcilik’ before. Neither is it mentioned on any site about the Blue House, but the guy seriously told me ‘go change your car’, these were the rules. My offer to park the car and walk to the Mavi Kösk Blue House (only 500-1000 meters) was fiercely rejected because civilians can’t walk on a military site. Could have known that, Turks never walk anyway.
They didn’t offer me a hike to make the bridge between these few meters, they really sent me off. I think it was my first time in thirty years meeting with Turks that hospitality was denied. My experience so far was: they always find a solution, especially when you speak the language and know the culture. So they left me in shock.
It made me think of Germany some time ago. In the Netherlands, we used to drive the car we want. One could see a millionaire in a Fiat (a former Prime Minister was known for that) and a poor man in a BMW. In Germany this was not possible at that time. Every class had its car and everybody sticked with the rules and that made the world orderly and predictable. Germany changed, and so will hopefully one day the Turkish army. It is not the car that is the enemy, but the person inside it. The next spy might show up in a Turkish car….or in a car rented in the North of Cyprus. Hope Turkish soldiers will learn to see the difference 🙂
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 the 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!
This piece was written July 2011. For update after visit December 2018, see below.
The neolithic site of Vrysi (ca. 4000BC) is an important site where many artefacts were found – to be seen in Girne’s museum. It is located inside the Acapulco Resort close to Catalköy, between the new restaurant and the sea and can only be reached via a ‘staff only’ backpath along the kitchens. However, all of the staff will be happy to help you out for a visit (just don’t ask for Vrysi cause they wouldn’t know but for ‘old houses’ and ‘history’) and with the purpose of visiting Vrysi, one has free entrance (checked that 🙂 to the Acapulco resort where every other thing has its price.
Vrysi is in a very bad state, apparently nobody is looking after this site. Of course it is difficult (see this book page) to preserve a site built of rubble and mud. Well, as far as I can see neither the Acapulco resort nor the Turkish Cypriot government give it even a try.
Some walls crumble down, others are invaded by the anemons that won’t do them any good, for sure. Maybe it is the site’s luck and survival that so few people visit Vrysi that Acapulco just built a new restaurant in front of it and that the staff doesn’t even know it’s name. However if this situation lasts another ten years, Vrysi might be lost.
Update after visit December 2018 I tried to visit the Vrysi site again through the backpath along the kitchens. A member of the kitchen staff stopped me in a rather intimidating way, an unusual way. There were no historical remains there, he shouted, there had never been a site like I described: ‘did I understand or what?’
I left surprised but decided not to be sent off just like that. I entered the restaurant and spoke to two staff members who also denied the existence of a neolithic site. One of them called the manager. That manager was absolutely not happy but he did know what I talked about and said he would show me the remains of Vrysi. We went to the terrace outside where men were working to renew the terrace. From this spot I could take some pictures. Then the manager led me outside and waited until I left. He was polite and very unfriendly in the same time.
vrysi beach view
Acapulco is developing on all sides (hotel, casino, spa, beach, restaurant) and it is a beautiful place. Nothing wrong with this complex, their only bad luck is that they have Vrysi on their site that possibly hampers their ambitions. On the other hand, they could do something for it. Acapulco clearly thrives; why not spend a little bit of money and care to neolithic heritage? Think of the way Hotel Derlon in Maastricht has integrated Roman findings in their concept.
The church of Agios 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. Agios 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 Greek Cypriot 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.