From Red Cross letters to the dress a girl wore as she fled, are just some of the most moving items in a new exhibition

With the 50th anniversary of the 1974 Turkish invasion fast approaching, a poignant new exhibition at the Cyprus Folk Art Museum in Nicosia takes visitors on a journey through some of the darkest days of the island’s history.

From clothing to letters and from photos to domestic artefacts, the exhibition leads the visitor on an emotional tour of life before the invasion, the chaos of the war and then its aftermath.

One of the curators of the exhibit Dr Yiannis Eliades told the Cyprus Mail the exhibit is centred on the “people living at the time” and does not focus on politics.

Artefacts from Akanthou including a cup to drink water, a paneri, and some lace

In the first room are items donated by the displaced municipalities of Kythrea, Lefkoniko, Karavas and Akanthou. Echoes of the lives in these villages are provided by vases from Lapithos, embroideries from Akanthou and pictures from schoolbooks in Kythrea and Lefkoniko.

Many of the items are personal belongings of the residents brought with them during the invasion or collected after the checkpoints to the north opened in 2003.

Drawing of a woman greeting her daughter after she was stuck in the north after the invasion

After exploring this section, the exhibition flows into the second room, where visitors will see pictures and paintings depicting the invasion, and the mass movement of the population.

This is the most moving part: paintings and drawings by refugees, who were children at the time and were asked in their new schools to draw their memories of those days.

The pictures show planes flying overhead and dropping bombs, and the island inundated in pain.

Drawing of a woman greeting her daughter after she was stuck in the north after the invasion

There are also pictures by artists and photographs showing the pain of having a missing person in the family, or of the men being captured by the Turkish army.

“A more mature and bitter storytelling of the facts is presented in the works of Cypriot artists from the gallery of the Archbishop Makarios III foundation, where the main story is that of the dead and missing persons,” the museum writes.

Plates, blankets, and needlepoint work saved from Akanthou

A moving piece here is the actual dress a girl from Akanthou was wearing when she fled her village, juxtaposed next to a sculpture of a ripped dress, meant to depict the sexual violence faced by so many women.

Another sculpture shows the shirt of a man with bullet holes, next to a picture of a line up of men executed by the invading forces.

The entrance to the Cyprus Folk Art Museum

Eliades said the exhibit is meant to “move people” and educate them about Cyprus before the invasion, during and after.

The third room is dedicated to life after the war for most refugees.

Pictures from children, who remember living in tents and waiting impatiently for their missing or the return of family members that remained trapped in the north after the war.

The original suitcase and clothes from a woman in Greece for a family’s child in Cyprus

There are also letters sent through the Red Cross at the time to people still stuck in the north after the invasion. The letters from concerned family members were meant to inform of the fate of their loved ones.

This section also features an entire room with furniture form a family stuck in Eptakomi, who did not come to the state-controlled areas until 1976.

They donated all the items, including clothing to the museum to show how Cypriot homes were in the past.

Traditional bedroom set from Eptakomi

Eliades pointed also to a painting showing a priest holding onto an icon, meant to represent the cultural loss as well, as many items were looted by the invading army during the war.

He said it is meant to show the “importance of finding and returning those items”.

Commenting further, Eliades explained the emotions felt by many of the clergy when some of the first religious items stolen and sold on the black market were discovered.

The exhibition will be open until January 2025 with a guide available. The exhibition is on the second floor of the old archbishopric, opposite the Pan-Cyprian gymnasium and next to the existing archbishopric in old Nicosia. It is open on Mondays from 10am-2pm, Tuesday-Friday from 9am-4pm, and Saturdays from 9am-1pm. Explanations of the exhibits are in English and Greek.