The Blog

Still in Peril

Washington, D.C., remembers the occupied churches of Cyprus.

12:00 AM, Jul 29, 2009 • By KATHERINE EASTLAND
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Bain exhorted the audience to visit the TRNC, which she defended as a legitimate state, and to see for themselves that the panel was not speaking truthfully about cultural property. The second speaker accused the panel of being one-sided and having "selective amnesia," and then stated that the Republic of Cyprus was not "not as rosy" as the panel had suggested. During the event, a protestor walked in circles outside in the rain with a red-and-white flag of the TRNC draped over his shoulders. He blared a blue foghorn and made pronouncements against the Hudson Institute.

To those who allege that military occupation is not happening in Turkey, Jansen said, "It seems like occupation. It looks like occupation. It just might be occupation." To those who allege the pictures of ruined churches and looted artifacts shown at the event are fabricated, Chotzakoglou cited that they were taken by U.S. Congress members and others on the Commission panel (such as McNamara himself) when they were preparing the report. And to those, such as Kiziltan, who passionately believe that this issue of cultural property should be accurately presented, Gallas wholeheartedly agrees. As he publicly said, he welcomes the "offer to work together."

It should be stressed, however, that Greek Cypriots are not wholly innocent. During the intercommunal fighting of 1963-1974, they destroyed several Muslim mosques and shrines. (This fact is mentioned in the Commission's report.) But also, as indicated in the report, the Church of Cyprus has spent $600,000 since 2000 on renovating ruined mosques. Neither Turkey nor the so-called TRNC has given money for restoring churches. Some has been spent on making a few of the religious buildings, such as the Holy Monastery of St. Barnabas, into museums for 19th- and 20th-century icons of meager value; but this is not the same thing as taking proper care of buildings and letting them be used as they were intended: as places of worship.

Cyprus is not asking Turkey for money to go toward renovating churches. Chotzakoglou said that his concern is to "gain permission with our own money"--that is, the Church of Cyprus's--"to restore our churches."

The best hope for the remnants of Cyprus's fractured religious heritage is the reunification of the island and the end of military occupation. In the meantime, Cyprus will keep mounting pressure on Turkey to acknowledge cultural destruction and will keep pursuing the repatriation of lost art items, such as mosaics, frescoes, and icons, through courts foreign, international, and regional.

Katherine Eastland is an assistant editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.