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…
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.