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Repairs begin to vandalised Denia mosque as condemnation grows (Update 2: adds Mufti’s comments)

Photo: Christos Theodorides

The damage caused to the roof of the restored mosque in Denia from an arson attack on Saturday afternoon will be repaired within the week, the Greek Cypriot joint head of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage said on Monday.

Takis Hadjidemetriou, who went to the site on Monday morning, told the Cyprus News Agency the damage was limited to the wooden roof of the stone building. Work had already begun on the repairs, he said. It is expected to cost €5,000 to €6,000, he added.

The arson attack has been widely condemned by the government, some of the political parties, and the Turkish Cypriot side.

The repairs are being carried out at cost to the government and under the supervision of the contractor who was responsible for the initial restoration work, while the Technical Committee and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are assisting with advice from their experts.

Hadjidemetriou said it was important that the culprits be caught as this was the third time the same mosque was targeted. The only thing he wanted to hear from the police was that the culprits had been caught and would be punished, he added.  Doing this would consolidate a sense of cooperation and mutual respect between the two sides. “If there is no punishment for this crime, this will be tantamount to a cover-up, something we are not ready to tolerate as members of the Technical Committee and as a society,” he said.

“For so many years we have been making huge efforts to create a climate of cooperation and destroying this effort is criminal not only the efforts of the Technical Committee but to all of the people of Cyprus.” Built in the mid 19th century, the restored Denia mosque project was delivered in December 2014.

The Turkish Cypriot joint head of the committee Ali Tuncay also called for the culprits to be caught, saying the attack was “regrettable”. “Cultural heritage should be an area of ​​cooperation, not conflict,” he said. “Bad habits must be left in the past.”

Tuncay said that monuments, irrespective of their origins, “are our common cultural heritage”.

President Nicos Anastasiades on Sunday said the government “condemns in the strongest terms” the arson attack. “Such criminal acts, from wherever they come from and whatever the aim have only succeeded in causing problems to efforts to end the occupation and reunite our country,” Anastasiades said in a written statement.

The statement said the president had given instructions to the minister of justice and the chief of police to find the culprits as soon as possible. The interior ministry was instructed to arrange for repairs to be carried out immediately, it added.

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci also condemned the arson attack on Sunday describing it as “an unacceptable incident”, and called on Anastasiades to do everything possible to find those responsible, and to punish them.

In a written statement, Akinci says the attack on the mosque could not only be seen as something that targeted a Muslim place of worship. The historic mosque actually “belongs to all Cypriots and to humanity as a whole”, he said.

“The culprits have carried out a crime against humanity and therefore should be punished in the most severe manner,” he added.

Akinci also said that as long as he and Anastasiades were doing all they could to solve the Cyprus problem, there was no doubt that there would be people who would do everything they can to hurt the settlement process.

“It is obvious that those who are responsible for this crime do not want to see our island experience peaceful times,” Akinci said. “We cannot let them rule this country.”

Archbishop Chrysostomos also weighed in on Monday. “Such acts against places of worship, whether they are Christian, or Muslim or other do not characterize the people of our land, neither do they relate to our culture and our civilization,” he said.

According to a statement, issued by the Church, Chrysostomos “unreservedly reaffirms that the Church of Cyprus, in its long history, has always been, and still is, a preacher of love, solidarity and conciliation”.

The Church of Cyprus, “as a victim itself of acts of discourtesy, can only be a guardian of respect for differentiation,” the statement adds.
“The Church strongly disapproves and condemns any acts which are directed against places of worship, which restrict religious freedom and which are used to create a climate of discord, mistrust and tension.” it said.

Turkish Cypriot Mufti Dr Talip Atalay said such acts were designed to “extinguish hopes for peace”, in Cyprus.
In a written statement he said: “We hope that the Greek Cypriot authorities will involve themselves in the issue and they will be attentive in the arrest and punishment of the perpetrators.”

The Mufti said he would be sending a delegation to Denia to inspect the damage.

“The statement of the Greek Cypriot leader Anastasiades that the perpetrators will be found and be punished is pleasing. We expect the necessary sensitivity from the authorities in order to prevent recurrence of such actions against places of worship wherever and whatever the faith is and I strongly condemn this heinous attack,” he added.

Ombudswoman Eliza Savvidou, in a written statement said the attack was “a racist act with clear motives” and said it demanded a “zero tolerance” response.

“With ongoing Cyprus settlement talks, such hate crimes undermine the efforts to reach a solution and create tensions among the two communities,” Savvidou said.

She called on the authorities to find and punish the culprits, and when they do so to also take into account the racism and not just the vandalism involved.

“Such criminal activities emanating from the hostility and prejudice against the Turkish Cypriot community and their religious identity undermines the principles of an open, multi-religious and multicultural society,” she added.

“With the talks to solve the Cyprus problem underway, such hate crimes undermine the efforts to achieve a solution and they create tensions between the two communities, reminiscent of the painful memories of the past. Cyprus has already paid dearly enough  for the price of reckless bigotry to turn a blind eye to such criminal phenomena.”

Greek Cypriot political parties all condemned the incident. The Greens and EDEK qualified their condemnation by pointing out that the criticism from the Turkish Cypriot side was unwarranted considering the untold damage that has been done to the Greek Cypriot cultural heritage in the north since 1974.


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