Monday, 17 November 2014

Turkish and Greek Cypriots join forces to save Greek Orthodox monastery

Work commences to save historic Apostalas Andreas monastry in Karpaz. Photo: Clarissa Bell

By John Oakes

As Greek Cypriots boycott the UN Talks in protest at "provocative" Turkish naval action, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) begins to rescue Apostolas Andreas, a decaying Greek Orthodox monastery on the TRNC's Karpaz panhandle, which is venerated by both communities.

The €6.23 million refurbishment will be overseen by the bi-communal Technical Committee on Joint Heritage, also set up by the UN. Significantly, it will be jointly financed by Evkaf, the Muslim charitable trust in the north, and the Greek Orthodox Church in the south.

Archbishop Chrysostomos
Apostolas Andreas is one of several UNDP projects in the north, and possibly the most significant to date: previous attempts to restore the sacred site have been sabotaged by the Greek Cypriot Archbishop Chrysostomos’ refusals to co-operate. In 2010, the Archbishop told reporters, “I would rather see the monastery collapse than Evkaf undertaking its coordination.”

According to REUTERS, "On a remote outcrop in divided Cyprus, Greeks and Turks have put aside decades of enmity to restore their shared cultural heritage, battered by war and neglect."

"Over the next 16 months, Greek and Turkish Cypriots will be working to restore the Apostolas Andreas monastery, said to be built on the very spot where the saint's boat ran aground during a missionary journey to Rome."

A spring now flows there, and St Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland, whose flag bears his cross.

Amazingly, Cypriots from both main communities have been making their pilgrimage to Apostolas Andreas for centuries. The Greek Orthodox faithful bring "tamata" to the shrine – wax statues offered up to reinforce prayers for the sick.  

But the shrine is also venerated by Turkish Cypriot Muslims. Says Ali Tuncay, joint head of the UN Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage: "Apostolas Andreas is very important to us. Many Turkish Cypriots come here to make a wish." 

Greek Orthodox pilgrims from the south have had access to Christian shrines in the north since the opening of the borders by former TRNC President Rauf Denktaş in April 2003. Tensions have arisen at major festival times – Christmas and Easter – when Greek Cypriot organisers failed to give basic tour details requested in advance by the TRNC Border Control.
Close-up of the monastry's sandstone bell tower, which has been weakened over the centuries through earthquakes. Photo by Clarissa Bell
The size and scope of the Apostolas Andreas project – very much the largest cultural initiative undertaken jointly by Greek and Turkish Cypriots so far – make it a trailblazer. Initially the two communities carried out joint visits throughout the island resulting in a list of over 2,300 cultural heritage sites, from which they chose 26 located in the north and 14 in the south that most required attention.

“At the beginning we only selected religious heritage sites,” said Ali Tuncay. “This project is a testament to what Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots can accomplish when working together. Apostolas Andreas isn’t just culturally important for Greek Cypriots. It’s equally important for Turkish Cypriots and the rest of the world,” he added.

Takis Hadjidemetriou, the Greek Cypriot head of the Technical Committee, told reporters that the project was only made possible through a “common struggle and mutual respect.”

“Through culture we can lay a sturdy foundation for the island’s future and show everyone what Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots can accomplish,” he said.

The Committee is now carrying out work on secular sites, such as Famagusta’s perimeter walls, including the famous Othello Tower.

“This type of intervention can contribute even more to uniting people,” said Tuncay, noting that “for decades the protection of Cyprus’ cultural heritage was an issue of division, often used for propaganda reasons.”

He also stressed that restoration is bringing to light forgotten works and structures, such as a fresco discovered in a church of the Büyükkonuk/Kom Kebir village, and a water cistern in the Othello Tower.
The UK is among the countries financing the UNDP work in Cyprus.
Photo by Clarissa Bell
The Apostolas Andreas restoration is being overseen by architect and restoration expert Diomidis Miriantheas of Patra University. The UN has awarded the tender for restoring the monastery to Greek Cypriot company Fixico Constructions and Turkish Cypriot Yakup’s Company, Tel-Za Construction Ltd.

1 comment:

  1. Scotland's Patron Saint helps unite feuding factions in Cyprus.....