By Emilia Christofi
The Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage, set up in 2008, is one of the most successful examples of how Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots can effectively co-exist and function together, turning its chairmen, Takis Hadjidemetriou and Ali Tuncay, into custodians of the island`s cultural heritage.
The two men, two generations apart, are at the forefront of the committee, building on experience and a drive for cooperation and are two of the winners of the European Parliament’s European Citizen Prize 2015.
In an interview with the Cyprus News Agency, the two shared their views on the reasons for the committee`s success, and their vision for the future.
“We have abandoned the climate of conflict that surrounded the cultural heritage issue and said whatever was destroyed or abandoned when we were divided we will work to save and restore,” said Hadjidemetriou.
“We also said that cultural heritage was common for all Cypriots, a part of European and world heritage and we have a duty to save it and protect it.”
Tuncay said there were “many reasons” for the committee’s success.
“The most important one is the establishment of trust and confidence between its members. Apart from that we are not trying to dominate each other or impose our wishes. And, of course, we have a common vision for those cultural heritage monuments. We regard them not just monuments of the Greek Cypriots or the Turkish Cypriots but as our common cultural heritage. We are not looking at monuments only as stones and buildings. We know that they have intrinsic value to the people. The support of the leaders and institutions of both sides should also be mentioned as another reason of our successful work in the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage”.
Asked whether working together in the committee had changed the way they see things concerning Cyprus and their view of both communities, Hadjidemetriou said they themselves had changed.
“We have changed ourselves. We have found the language of understanding, the earnest exchange of views, learning from one another on a personal level. We have found out each other`s stories and have created a climate of trust and cooperation,” he said.
“We are always looking at the next step. Whenever we located problems, we did not declare an impasse nor did we consider them insurmountable. On the contrary, we always looked for the way out for further conversations. We ascertained that some issues were above our capabilities and that is why we found alternative proposals, so the road would remain open”.
Tuncay said that as members of the Technical Committee they had visited many places and interacted with different people from the whole spectrum of society all over the island.
Through this interaction, they both learned more about the people on both sides of the divide. “I believe, through this learning process we can establish a healthier empathy with the other community,” he said.
Both men said what united Greek and Turkish Cypriots was their sense of belonging to Cyprus.
“Love for Cyprus is not anyone`s monopoly,” said Hadjidemetriou.
Their job, they said was to pave the way and save the cultural heritage. “We are trying to overcome the obstacles raised by the Cyprus problem,” said Hadjidemetriou. “When it is resolved, forces will be unleashed that will make the work we are carrying out today, greater”.
He said he hoped that through the talks that were underway and the good will that President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci had, the cultural heritage would be the first issue to benefit.
“Whatever we have achieved so far is due to the understanding and support we had from the leaders who are monitoring and supporting the work of the Technical Committee.
Tuncay said many Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot experts were helping the efforts voluntarily.
He said the committee had managed to finish 12 cultural heritage monuments all over the island and finished studies on six others, on which work will begin soon.
The finished projects include Apostolos Andreas, Denia mosque, Panagia Melandrina Church , Mustafa Pasha Mosque and the Paphos haman.
Projects that are under study or will begin soon include Ravelin (Land Gate) in Famagusta, Martinengo Bastion in Famagusta and the Venetian Walls between the Arsenal and Othello Tower/Citadel in Famagusta.
The Technical Committee has also carried out emergency low cost work at 20 more monuments.
Tuncay said: “Our working relationship in the Technical Committee is our joint message to both communities. I think we are an example how things should work between both communities. Only through cooperation on equal footing, mutual trust and working for the common good of both communities we can jointly benefit. Cooperation is the main key for coming closer”.
On being among the winners of the European Citizen Prize, Tuncay said: “this prize is not just given to Takis Hadjidemetriou and Ali Tuncay, it is given to the all the members and experts working with us”. (CNA)