Friday, July 24, 2009

U.S. Helsinki Commission: Cyprus' cultural heritage in peril

A Greek Cypriot friend sent me a link to a Cyprus News Agency (CNA) piece stating that a US report highlighted plundering of religious sites in north. It emphasised that 'religious artifacts in the Turkish occupied north of Cyprus are in "great peril"'. Soon, I will examine [I have now debunked] the unofficial transcript of the hearing and the full report of the commission, but for now, [here] I will review the public sources.

[The full report is a legal report on the nature of cultural crimes in northern Cyprus and Turkey's responsibility for the crimes and their prevention and punishment. I will review some of its cultural heritage claims, but I won't analyse its legal claims (now, maybe much, much later).]

(As a sample of interest, Ümit Enginsoy discussed "Greek pieces looted in Turkish Cyprus" in Hürriyet Daily News, too. It's also on bicommunal Cypriot discussion forums, on international Orthodox Christian news and the American Orthodox Institute blog, on Greek Cypriot blogs, international blogs; it's even on Twitter.)

The (Greek Cypriot) Cyprus News Agency assured that
The report is the result of a lengthy investigation by the Helsinki Commission and titled "Destruction of Cultural Property in the Northern Part of Cyprus and Violations of International Law."
The title is telling. They are not doing two reports, or a number of them, one on each aspect of the problem. The only report has automatically excluded any destruction of cultural property in the southern part of Cyprus. That can only be a deliberate bias, and proof of the untrustworthy nature of the report.

In the Cyprus Mail, Rebecca Bailey wrote a more detailed piece about the Washington Times article that publicised the U.S. Helsinki Commission report. As Bailey noted,
The Cyprus Department of Antiquities will feel vindicated; the details of the report seems [sic] to reconfirm what they claim on their website, particularly with regard to the Orthodox churches in the occupied areas....

These figures are sure to cause a vast emotional response amongst the Greek-Cypriot community, especially on the anniversary week of the 1974 Turkish Invasion.
Sadly, it is impossible not to think that is the reason why this report has been made this week. It is an abuse of the emotions of Greek Cypriot victims as much as it is a denial of the suffering of the Turkish Cypriots.

[Indeed, two Hellenist organisations, the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes (CEH) and the International Coordinating Committee "Justice for Cyprus" (PSEKA), had 'secured' the 'investigation into the destruction and desecration of Greek Orthodox churches in the occupied area of Cyprus - committed to by the Commission's Chairman, Congressman Alcee Hastings' (Greek News, 2008).]

The U.S. Helsinki Commission is an independent U.S. Government agency that supports U.S. compliance with the Helsinki Final Act, a Cold War agreement on political, military, economic, scientific and human rights affairs, which was maintained after the end of the Cold War.

Ahead of its 21st July 2009 report, on 15th July 2009, the U.S. Helsinki Commission's 15th July 2009 gave a briefing on Cyprus' religious cultural heritage in peril:
WASHINGTON—Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), announced today the U.S. Helsinki Commission will hold a briefing on:

Cyprus' Religious Cultural Heritage in Peril....

The 35-year-long artificial division of Cyprus has taken a tremendous toll on the lives of the people of that country. Despite clear international commitments on the importance of preserving religious and cultural heritage, hundreds of churches, chapels and monasteries in the northern part of Cyprus remain in peril. Thousands of icons, manuscripts, frescos, and mosaics have been looted from sites in northern Cyprus -- many ending up on international auction blocks.
That description was factually correct, but it was only half of the facts; it didn't discuss the treatment of Islamic cultural heritage throughout Cyprus since 1955, or in southern Cyprus since 1974. That half-truth can only act as propaganda.

According to the Washington Times' Julia Duin,
The report by the U.S. Helsinki Commission, which monitors compliance with agreements among members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, included this claim by Turkey. But the report also added that Cyprus, which exercises effective control over the southern two-thirds of the island, has spent about $600,000 since 2000 to renovate 17 historic mosques.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's report - which I know at least one of the U.S. Helsinki Commission's witnesses had read - clearly stated that Ktima Paphos's New Mosque 'had been entirely razed' (van der Werff, 1989: 11) and that Evdimou Mosque had to be 'virtually... rebuilt' (van der Werff, 1989: 13).

To deny that destruction, or to praise the restoration without recognising and condemning the destruction that made the restoration necessary, is a shameful historical lie. It does not only insult the memory of the communities who suffered at the time; it prevents understanding, undermines trust, and thus attacks peace.
Panelists are to include [only]:

Dr. Charalampos Chotzakoglou, Professor of Byzantine Art and Archaeology, Hellenic Open University and Museum of Kykkos Monastery; author of ["]Religious Monuments in Turkish-Occupied Cyprus: Evidence and Acts of Continuous Destruction."
Chotzakoglou is obviously a Hellenist, and the one-sided nature of his work clearly reveals him as a partial, some might say prejudicial witness.
[Chotzakoglou is a Byzantine art historian and archaeologist, so it makes sense for him to discuss destruction and looting of that cultural heritage; but the hearing has no witness to discuss destruction and/or looting of Ottoman cultural heritage.]
Dr. Klaus Gallas, Art Historian and Byzantine expert who has focused on international smuggling of religious and architectural artifacts plundered from northern Cyprus.
I do not wish to judge Gallas yet, but the one-sided focus of his work is worrying.
Michael Jansen, author of "War and Cultural Heritage: Cyprus after the 1974 Turkish Invasion."
I have exposed the problems in Michael Jansen's work before, in a paper on Representations of a suppressed UNESCO report in histories of cultural heritage destruction. Nevertheless, the best example of her scholarship may be her use of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's report.

Having claimed that 'there was massive pillage and destruction in the north and none in the south' (2005: 45), Jansen's subsequent quotation of the PACE report ended, '[s]ome damage was however clearly caused for no other purpose than destruction' (van der Werff, 1989: 11, cited in Jansen, 2005: 50), when it should have ended,
Some damage was however clearly caused for no other purpose than destruction. In the south, we visited the site of the main Paphos mosque that had been entirely razed and saw damaged graves (van der Werff, 1989: 11).
As I explained in the paper:
She had distorted a condemnation of pre-1974 Greek Cypriot destruction of Turkish Cypriot cultural heritage to make it sound like a condemnation of post-1974 Turkish Cypriot destruction of Greek Cypriot cultural heritage.
I fear she has done it again, and this time, at a dangerous stage in Cypriot efforts to achieve peace, reconciliation and reunification.

Bailey, R. 2009: "New report details ransacking says Orthodox heritage in 'great peril'". Cyprus Mail, 22nd July. Available at:
CNA (Cyprus News Agency). 2009: "US report highlights plundering of religious sites in north". Cyprus Weekly, 22nd July. Available at:,1,283,0,1971-.aspx
Duin, J. 2009: "Religious artifacts in Cyprus in 'great peril'". The Washington Times, 21st July. Available at:
Enginsoy, Ü. 2009: "Greek pieces looted in Turkish Cyprus, panel says". Hürriyet Daily News, 22nd July. Available at:
Greek News. 2008: "Members of Congress renew commitment on Greek issues". Greek News, 26th May. Available at:
Jansen, M. 2005: War and cultural heritage: Cyprus after the 1974 Turkish invasion. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Van der Werff, Y. 1989: Information report on the cultural heritage of Cyprus (Doc. 6079). Brussels: Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

[I noted CEH and PSEKA's lobbying on 27th July 2009. I explained the legal focus of the commission report on 29th July 2009. I corrected the tone of one line on 6th December 2010.]

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