Europe should take action on destruction of Cyprus’ cultural heritage, MEP says

Chairwoman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions Cecilia Wikstrom stressed on Monday that Europe needs to take further action to protect Cyprus’ cultural heritage in the Turkish occupied part of the island.

She was addressing an event at the House of Representatives, in Nicosia, marking the European Year of Cultural Heritage, in the context of which a photography exhibition entitled Cyprus: A European culture in peril also opened.

I in my capacity as Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions I am bringing colleagues on a fact finding visit to Cyprus on the issue of Famagusta and tomorrow we are aiming at reaching as closely as we possibly can to Famagusta, Wikstrom said.

Cyprus, she continued, in the crossroads of civilizations this has been a blessing and a curse; a blessing since the development of culture is very rich but on the other hand a curse since the island has been exposed to invasions throughout the history.

Every invader though has left cultural traces, what is today the cultural heritage of this beautiful island, she noted.

If that history, the MEP added, is systematically looted it’s a loss of civilization since the cultural heritage shape who we are our identities and our everyday lives. It also defines the future for us.

That’s why we need to work together to protect the cultural heritage, she stressed.

Cecilia Wikstrom continued pointing out that the destruction of the cultural heritage in Cyprus is therefore an extremely serious and important issue.

Hundreds – and I have seen this – hundreds of churches, monasteries are being vandalised, desecrated, demolished during the past forty plus years.

As a Christian and a fellow human being, she said, it breaks my heart to see these monuments being torn down.

According to Wikstrom we can no longer be bystanders and just watch as European history is erased right in front of our eyes.

Enough is enough, she said, expressing the belief that this is something that Europe should take even further action on. Especially, she pointed out, this year it becomes slightly ironic if we speak about it and take no action.

The MEP continued noting that it’s our obligation to remind the young generation that is now growing up that this is their history.

She also noted that the protection of the cultural heritage of Cyprus is not only a matter for the people of Cyprus, as it affects the entire European community, each and every one.

So, Wikstrom said, protecting this heritage is essential for defining our own selves, and for teaching the next generation about our history so that they can shape the future much better than we have managed to.

Without the past there is no future, she pointed out, calling on all to raise awareness regarding the destruction of the European heritage in the occupied area of Cyprus. It must come to an end, she stressed.

According to the European Parliament official it is intolerable that as an EU member state Cyprus is still under occupation more than 40 years.

Decades in which our historical monuments are falling apart in front of our eyes, she said.

At this time, she added, when a border exists within a member state of the EU as it does in Cyprus it is of outmost importance that we fight for the freedom of movement and that we protect civil liberties which lay the foundation in itself for European integration.

We need to work together to find a common European solution to the destruction of cultural and religious sites as it is not only a matter for the occupied area of Cyprus but for the Union as a whole, the MEP said.

On his part, House of Representatives President Demetris Syllouris stressed that the exhibition shows the scale of Cypriot cultural heritage destruction in the Turkish occupied part of Cyprus.

Through research, the exchange of good practices and the promotion of synergies between relevant actors, in the context of this initiative for the protection of cultural heritage the EU aspires not just to act as the protector of this heritage but also to show case it as an element of European identity, a key ingredient of which is diversity, since it is constituted by all the different national traditions, Syllouris said in his address.

One of this initiative’s goals is to combat the illicit trafficking of cultural goods and dealing with the dangers threatening cultural heritage, he added.

Unfortunately, he continued, due to conflict and the illicit trade in antiquities important cultural work is in danger of being destroyed or it has already been destroyed. He referred to the Nicosia Convention which is the first international convention which has included offences which have to do with the illicit trade of cultural goods as criminal offences, while at the same time promoting international cooperation on cultural heritage protection.

However, our island continues to be a sad example of a culture in peril, he said. Cyprus, as a geographical crossroads and a bridge of civilisations, has a long and multicultural history, he explained.

Historic and religious monuments of different eras and philosophy can be found throughout the island, he added.

Unfortunately, he stressed, for some forty four years a large part of the cultural heritage in the Turkish occupied part of the island has been destroyed or is in peril.

The Republic of Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. The latest round of UN-peace talks ended last July without an agreement. Talks held under the auspices of the UN aim at reunifying Cyprus under a federal roof.

Source: Cyprus News Agency