Christians and Moslems, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, worked together and delivered on Monday to the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage, Phase 1 of the work to restore the Monastery of Apostolos Andreas in the Turkish occupied Karpass peninsula.
After two years of hard work, the monastery, a haven for orthodox Christians in Cyprus, can now begin to receive the faithful as the main church and adjacent buildings have been brought back to life.
In a ceremony at the monastery, Tiziana Zennaro of UNDP Cyprus, Senior Programme Manager, said the Monastery, both a landmark and a symbol of Cyprus, today is a “symbol of perseverance, unity and peace” as Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots have made this project possible and worked together, side by side, every day, for the past two years to complete this first Phase of the project.
She said Takis Hadjidemetriou and Ali Tuncay, of the Technical Committee, recognized the value of this monastery for both communities and agreed on the collective effort needed to mobilize support and action in favor of the preservation of this shared heritage. They called on UNDP to support this project back in 2013 and she thanked them for “having entrusted us such an important initiative”.
She thanked the Church of Cyprus, the EVKAF Administration for the generous funding and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for their contribution.
Zennaro also thanked Archbishop Chrysostomos II and Karpasia Bishop Christophoros who has followed closely the restoration works. Ibrahim Benter, Director of the Evkaf Administration, who personally supported this project. The designs were prepared by the University of Patras and works were carried out by a Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot contractors’ joint venture while bi-communal teams of electricians, archaeologists and conservators worked together during the exploratory excavations of the chapel and for the restoration of the iconostasis.
She said her dearest memory of these two and half years remains the day that Father Zacharias opened the doors of the Monastery to us. Father Zacharias is the living memory of this place always available to tell us how things were before, so that the original materials and colors could be preserved, she noted.
The restoration works started in September 2014 and involved full structural and architectural restoration of the main church as well as electrical and mechanical installations. Inside the church the existing gallery for women (gynaikonitis) was extended. The altar, the ambon, the iconostasis and 58 icons were fully restored. On the back of the church, a new North Arcade was constructed.
The total cost of these works was approx. 2.23 Mln Euro.
There is still a second phase to be completed, which will include the restoration of the medieval chapel and fountain, the restoration of all adjacent buildings as well as the improvement of the exterior areas. This new phase will start in early 2017 and will be completed in a year.
Greek Cypriot Takis Hadjidemetriou, representative in the Technical Committee, said “today is a great day. We are leaving a landmark monument to Cyprus to its people and to humanity. We have the privilege of taking over this historic monument that was endangered but restored. Thus, it will have the chance to sustain its presence in the future, completed, under protection and compliant to its natural structure. Furthermore, we believe that the Technical Committee along with all its members who provided support, created a bridge of communication between time, place and people at this critical moment in the history of the island. Christians and Muslims, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, we worked together with respect and love, in a brotherly way, in order to save a cultural monument. Together, we sent out the message that culture has no political or religious borders, that it is a wind filling the spirits, something that unites and enriches people”.
“Apostolos Andreas stands here at the tip of Cyprus in order to enlighten our way just like a lighthouse. A lighthouse taking Cyprus to the future, to a new beginning by putting hatred and fanaticism, tragedy and killings aside. A lighthouse, which is a precursor of a new era in which we walk together in love and peace. It lays the foundations of a vision that is nothing but us living together peacefully on this territory”, Hadjidemetriou said.
All Cypriots together, he noted, “we can confront all provocation that awaits us, with our common characteristics that define us and by respecting each other’s different positions. Now that we already have lots of experience after what we have been through, a new opportunity offered to us by history can prepare the ground for the rebirth of our common homeland.”
“We are now standing in front of the miracle of our cooperation. This is a work of love that opens out to a new era”, he said, and thanked the University of Patras and Diomidis Miriantheas for the designs, Archbishop Chrisostomos and Bishop of Karpas Christoforos, Dr. Bender and EVKAF, UNDP-PFF, Tiziana Zennaro and Ali Çağlar, contractors Yakup and Hadjipieris and members of the Technical Committee: Ali Tuncay, Glafkos Konstantinidis, Figen Caner, Athina Papadopulu, Ali Kanlı, Sotos Ktoris, Mustafa Altan, Yannis Karis and Mehmet Kanan and members of the Advisory Board.
Concluding, he said that although they faced problems, they put forward all they had in order to overcome the difficulties. “What shines bright at Apostolos Andreas now is the glory of cooperation of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. This is a good response to fanaticism, which nowadays shakes Europe and other regions. Today, we are witnessing one of the beautiful days of Cyprus and keeping hopes alive for happier days to come. Just like Apostolos Andreas’ story, let us hope such beautiful days last through years or even centuries. For us and for our children.”
Turkish Cypriot Representative in the Technical Committee, Ali Tuncay, said the Apostolos Andreas Monastery, is one of the most meaningful projects of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage.
“While monuments of cultural heritage that represent people and their identity are being ruthlessly destroyed in Syria, here we show that cultural heritage, when used correctly, has the potential to serve for bringing different societies and cultures together,” he pointed out.
As Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, he said, “we have not considered the cultural heritage monuments representing the other community to be our shared richness for years. Cultural heritage had been used for political purposes for thousands of years and shown as if belonging to a single ethnic group and culture”.
As the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage, he said, “we followed a different path. We took big and significant steps. We did not consider cultural heritage to be a tool for blaming each other. We embraced all monuments as our shared cultural heritage regardless of their origin. We did not try to impose thing on each other. We had trust in each other. We cooperated and worked as equals.”
Cyprus, he remarked, “is an island at the crossroads of three continents at the “furthermost West of east” and “furthermost East of West”. All civilisations that have passed through the island “with a history that exceeds 10 thousand years belong to us. Traditions and customs of all these civilisations live with us in our features. We are the Mycenaean, Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman. Both the mosque and the church are ours. Both the Apostolos Andreas Monastery and the Hala Sultan Tekke belong to all of us. In short, all the monuments of all civilisations that passed through the island are our common cultural heritage and common richness. As the members of the Technical Committee we acknowledge the responsibility of preserving, sustaining this richness and handing over it to upcoming generations”, he remarked.
“We are experiencing a real miracle at the monastery since 2014”, said Tuncay and “this miracle is the restoration of this significant monument with the joint financing of Evkaf (Cyprus Evkaf Administration) and Cyprus Church, and joint work of Muslim Turkish and Christian Greek members of the Technical Committee on Technical Heritage, contractors, architects, engineers and workers. This is the real miracle and this is what must be explained to people. Language of religious leaders should not be that of politics. It should be that of peace, reconciliation and love which is the language of god. Religious leaders in particular should not discriminate between people created by the same god”.
“If we want to live in peace in Cyprus, we cannot achieve this by arguing about whose suffering is bigger. The Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage has shown that we can work for the benefit of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots without imposing things on each other, without trying to take advantage and by working based on respect, equality and mutual trust,” he concluded.
Cyprus has been divided since the 1974 Turkish invasion. Many of the island’s cultural heritage sites in occupied Cyprus have been either destroyed or abandoned to the elements and time has taken its toll on them. In the recent past efforts, from both communities, are being made to protect all cultural sites belonging to both communities.