By Ralli Papageorgiou
The heads of the technical committee on cultural heritage, whose work has brought together Greek and Turkish Cypriots, have called for co-operation between the two communities and not conflict.
This year marks 10 years of co-operation in the committee on cultural heritage, with its co-chairmen Takis Hadjidemetriou and Ali Tuncay pointing out that they are proud because they have seen monuments connecting people with each other.
It was March 21, 2008, when the agreement between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot sides was reached, under the auspices of the United Nations, to establish the committee, which is committed to the recognition, promotion, and protection of the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the island.
Hadjidemetriou and Tuncay, standing in front of a monument of mecit, a small mosque without a minaret, in the centre of the old city of Nicosia, send a joint message: “Instead of conflict, choose cooperation”.
“We cannot blame each other for the situation in our common country, we are all responsible for it and we must move on to build a different future,” Hadjidemetriou has told the Cyprus News Agency during an interview.
Tuncay had never met a Greek Cypriot before 2008 and says he feels lucky that the first Greek Cypriot he met was Hadjidemetriou ten years ago.
He experienced mixed emotions since he belongs to the younger generations which had not lived with Greek Cypriots.
“Eventually cultural heritage is a common wealth and we knew that we had to cooperate,” he told CNA.
Both of them, Hadjidemetriou and Tuncay said that they concentrated on the common goal for the preservation of the island’s cultural heritage without hidden agendas and being honest with each other. “This is how we have succeeded to build trust between us,” Hadjidemetriou said.
“It’s a combination of a lot of things, it’s not a recipe, it’s not a medicine, we are trying to have a mutual understanding, this is what finally matters,” Tuncay said when asked to identify the secret of a successful and effective cooperation.
Maybe, he pointed out, “we must not forget about the things which have happened in the past but think of that in a positive way so we will take a lesson in order not to experience in the future what we lived in the past.”
“What led us to the success, above all, is our love for this island and our confidence that this common wealth of cultural heritage must be preserved for the younger generations,” he added.
Hadjidemetriou said it was a long life-journey and they are still learning a lot of things about Cyprus’ history.
“Monuments belonging to the island’s history throughout the ages talk to us, we understood better what multi-cultural Cyprus is about,” he added.
“We are Turkish Cypriots, Greek Cypriots, Armenians, Maronites, but inside all of us there is a bit of Byzantine, Ottoman, Lusignan, Venetian,” Tuncay added. “Actually, this is what unites us. This makes us richer. We must realise this. We must also realise that we must respect diversity.”
Both Hadjidemetriou and Tuncay had difficulties in choosing one of their projects as the “jewel in the crown.” Hadjidemetriou stressed that the biggest one with the biggest impact on people was the restoration of the Monastery of Apostolos Andreas in the Karpas peninsula.
Nonetheless, he said he has close to his heart the restoration of the church of Panagia Melandrina (in Kalograia village). There are monuments that brought people closer such as Archangelos Michael church in Lefkonoiko, and mosques in Agios Ioannis and Agios Nikolaos.
“We see monuments linked with the people and monuments linking people to each other,” he said.
“I agree with Takis. They are all our children, they have their own value for the people” Tuncay said explaining the value of a mosque in Deneia village or a church in Philia for those who grew up there and have memories from their childhood.
The two men provided some information about forthcoming projects. Their priorities are to call for tenders immediately for four monuments and three churches. They have 86 monuments on their list and they set as a priority 30 of them.
“What we really need is to find a solution that can be acceptable to both communities on the island. Only then the real solution will come to the problems of monuments as well,” Tuncay stressed.
Asked if the European Citizen Prize, awarded to both of them, is their own legacy to their families, the two chairmen said this prize belongs to all the members of the Committee.
«This is for all those who care for this country, those who are fighting for this place; it is the spirit we represent, of our joint vision, our peaceful and common future, a job relating to our civilisations and progress for our children. If we leave this legacy to our children, we will have achieved our life’s goal,” Hadjidemetriou said.
“The Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage must set an example. It must be understood that together we can solve problems. The most important message I would like to send is this: instead of confrontation, we need cooperation,” Ali Tuncay said.