By Ralli Papageorgiou
A BI-COMMUNAL committee established five years ago to protect and preserve the rich cultural heritage of Cyprus has already restored several places of worship and monuments on both sides of the divide.
Dozens more projects are in the pipeline.
The team of 10 Greek and Turkish Cypriots deliberately started with two small and manageable schemes – the restoration of a mosque in Denia and the Profitis Elias church in Philia, both now saved for future generations. Also completed is the Panagia church in Trachoni and work on the Turkish baths in Kato Paphos is nearly finished.
All this has helped build vital trust and co-operation for more ambitious plans, including the urgent restoration of Apostolos Andreas monastery in the Karpas peninsula and work on the OthelloTower in the walled city of Famagusta.
“The road to where we are now has not been a bed of roses,” said Takis Hadjidemetriou, the head of the Greek Cypriot half of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage in Cyprus. “We started by accusing each other and using propaganda against each other. At the end of the day all this evolved into cooperation, a joint effort, common heritage and culture and of course looking ahead to our shared future.”
The Technical Committee, formed under UN auspices in 2008, is supported by EU funds and help from the UNDP. But both Hadjidemetriou and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, Ali Tuncay, stress they are ready to respond to any individual or organisation that wants to contribute.
Christakis Panayiotou, the head of Denia’s community council, said locals are delighted that the dilapidated mosque in their once mixed village has been restored. Many volunteered to build a pavement and plant flower beds around the place of worship, which was built in the mid-19th century. Expressing his wish for reunification, Panayiotou said: “We don’t want to be at odds with the Turkish Cypriots. We want peace and friendship with them.”
Equally successful has been the restoration of the 17th Century Panagia church in Trachoni, a small but beautiful place of worship, which is now just waiting for return of its celebrated iconostasis which is currently under reconstruction.
EU experts have so far identified some 140 monuments in Cyprus in need of support, repair and restoration. The Technical Committee is focused on the 40 most in need of “immediate intervention”, 26 of them in the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus and 14 in the government-controlled areas.
Preserving Cyprus’s cultural heritage is an endless job, “a matter of cooperation and understanding between the two communities”, Hadjidemetriou said. Neither he nor Tuncay see the monuments as mere old rocks or stones: rather they are the building blocks of a common future based on peace, tolerance and mutual respect.