Divided Cypriots unite over heritage

FAMAGUSTA, Cyprus, Residents from both sides of Cyprus are coming together to restore their ancient heritage and mend ties away from politics even as peace talks remain stalled.

Over the past decade Greek and Turkish Cypriots have joined forces to

rebuild and restore dozens of churches, mosques and historical monuments on

the Mediterranean island, after they were damaged by conflict or neglect.

We are cooperating, we are working together and we are bringing new hope

to the people living on this island for a better future, said Turkish

Cypriot Ali Tuncay, who sits on a bicommunal body that oversees the work.

Some of our friends are saying that we are a minimodel for the future of

Cyprus, added the member of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage.

John Karis, the Greek Cypriot secretary of the committee, agreed.

He said the project was vital because it brings people together.

Alongside restoring the buildings, we also restore our history, he said.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied

the northern third of the island in response to an Athensengineered military

coup, after a decade of intercommunal tension and violence between the Greek

majority and the Turkish minority.

The last talks to reunify the island collapsed last year.

A 12member team oversees the conservation project that was launched in

2008, sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Six were picked by the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus, and

the other six by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, an entity still

only recognised by Ankara.

Church and Tanners' mosque

This is a tangible example of the important role cultural heritage can

play in reinforcing a shared identity and contributing to peace and

confidence building, said Tiziana Zennaro, who heads the UNDP's Cyprus


Zennaro spoke this week during a presentation on ruins that have been

restored on both sides of a UNpatrolled buffer zone which slices through

Cyprus, and conservation work that is still underway.

The city of Famagusta which boasts an ancient walled city and

breathtaking medieval ruins, abutting the buffer zone in north Cyprus is

at the heart of the joint restoration initiative.

Landmarks in old Famagusta including Saint Anne's Church and Tanners'

mosque have had a makeover.

Historians believe the church was built in the 4th century as part of a

monastic complex, initially for the Catholic order before being given to the

Maronite sect in the 14th century.

A peek through the metal barriers surrounding the construction reveal the

freshly painted wooden frames of stained glass windows boasting French Gothic


Tanners' mosque, named after tanners who worked nearby, lies across the

street and was originally a small church, before the Ottomans laid siege to


Tanners reputedly went there to avoid going to larger mosques where they

feared the smell that stuck to their skin and clothes would offend other


'Hatred is my only enemy'

Famagusta's Land Gate the walled city's main entrance and the

towering Ravelin Bastion that protected it from attack have also been


The bastion was originally built into natural rock by the Lusignans, before

being fortified by the Venetians and later modified by the Ottomans. It

reopened in June.

This project creates communication and communication means

understanding each other, said Turkish Cypriot poet and Famagusta resident

Ruhsan Iskifoglu.

A mosque in Deneia, inside the UNpatrolled buffer zone, is also being


Residents say it was originally built using stones from a church that was

destroyed in 1571 during an Ottoman military campaign.

Traces of an Islamic mural can be seen on a wall in the oneroom house of

worship, while on another wall hangs a frame inscribed with the words Hatred

is my only enemy the words of the Turkish poet Yunus Emre.

Christakis Panayiotou, who heads Deneia council, is proud of the

conservation work and the cooperation that gave rise to it.

The most important thing is to be able to show and to tell the world

that we Greek Cypriots and Turk Cypriots must live together.

For Meltem Onurkan Samani a political advisor to northern Cyprus'

president Mustafa Akinci the restorations seek to heal historical


The EU has so far provided 14.7 million euros ($13 million) for the

project, while funds have also come from local associations and NGOs.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)