Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides on Friday condemned the islamisation of Christian churches and the building of huge mosques in the north, saying the government is making every effort to protect Cyprus’ cultural heritage.
“That the gradual islamisation through the conversion of Christian churches into mosques and the continued building of new huge mosques that are completely unrelated to the traditional Turkish Cypriot architecture is an indisputable reality,” he told the 120 delegates at the third International Conference on Byzantine and Medieval studies in Nicosia.
“With over one third of our territory under occupation, we are unfortunately faced with an effort to alter the religious character and distort the cultural identity of our Turkish Cypriot compatriots in the northern part of the island in particular.”
He referred to studies, according to which at least 74 Greek Orthodox churches have been converted to mosques while he claimed that over 520 churches, monasteries and old Greek Cypriot cemeteries have been plundered and looted to entirely erase the Christian cultural identity.
“We are making every possible effort to protect our cultural heritage, our strongest link with our roots.”
Christodoulides also referred to the conventions for the protection of religious freedom and cultural property including the European Convention of Human Rights and the Hague Convention, adding that “our international actions to protect our religious and cultural heritage is a top priority of our foreign policy.”
He added he also considers “important the work of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage whose main concern is the protection and restoration of religious and cultural monuments throughout Cyprus.”
In an address delivered by his representative Dean Kyprianos Koundouris, Archbishop Chrysostomos also referred to the monuments in the north, claiming that they are completely neglected and are in danger of collapse while invaluable religious treasures have been plundered, trafficked and sold abroad.
A network of dealers in illicit antiquities has developed over the years, and Cyprus treasures have found ways into private collections in a number of countries, including Turkey, Russia, Switzerland, Holland and the UK, and even as far away as the US, Australia and Japan.