Saturday, September 12, 2009

Van Coufoudakis: destruction of Cypriot cultural heritage

A few days ago, Rector Emeritus (retired chancellor) of the University of Cyprus, Professor Van Coufoudakis discussed the Cyprus Problem: the Destruction of Cypriot Cultural Heritage (PDF).

The University of Illinois(1) and the Hellenic Students' Association sponsored him to speak at the Krannert Art Museum. What did he discuss? According to them,
Professor Van Coufoudakis deal[t] with the destruction of Cypriot cultural heritage following political events on the island. He provides an insider's analysis of an international crisis whose most recent phase was created in 1974 when Turkey and Greece clashed over possession of the island.(2)
Notably (with my emphases),
His talk is seminal, especially in light of the April 2009 report by the Legal Service of the US Congress on this very issue [USLLC, 2009].

Coufoudakis's paper isn't online, so I don't know word-for-word what he said in his lecture; but Coufoudakis has discussed the same issues elsewhere, and the U.S. Legal Library of Congress report is accessible (via the American Hellenic Institute Foundation).

I have not yet read the United States Law Library of Congress' report on Cyprus: Destruction of Cultural Property in the Northern Part of Cyprus and Violations of International Law, which apparently made Coufoudakis's work so seminal.

But I have read and reviewed the unofficial transcript of the post-report, U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing on Cyprus' Religious Cultural Heritage in Peril, and it does not bode well.

Furthermore, on 10th December 2008 - the 60th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights - Coufoudakis published International Aggression and Violations of Human Rights: the Case of Turkey.

According to Coufoudakis, his book 'speaks of Turkey's continuing human rights violations in Cyprus following its 1974 invasion' (PDF), and uses sources like '[t]he victims of the Turkish invasion'; but I haven't read that yet either.

Nonetheless, I have read the section on the Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Coufoudakis's booklet, Human Rights Violations in Cyprus by Turkey.

And fortunately, according to the Republic of Cyprus Press and Information Office, Human Rights Violations in Cyprus by Turkey (PDF) was Coufoudakis's booklet 'based on a forthcoming larger study.... published by the end of 2008'. Now I don't have to trawl through the larger study.

To me, Coufoudakis's booklet is more valuable than his book, because even though the Republic of Cyprus considers him 'one of the most authoritative voices', his book could be dismissed as "the opinions of one Greek Cypriot"(3). Coufoudakis's booklet is an official document; it is the opinion of the "progressive" Greek Cypriot government of the Republic of Cyprus.


And what is the Greek Cypriot government's opinion? The Republic of Cyprus Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Minas Hadjimichael, observed that
Double standards and injustice very often characterize international relations driven by narrow national interests.

This does not mean however that we must be silent, or, what is more, be kept silent. On the contrary, we have a double duty to speak out and condemn all perpetrators and violators of human rights and fundamental freedoms (ROCPRUN, 2009).
So, allegedly, both the government and Coufoudakis are against double standards, against injustice, against sectarian nationalist politics.

Hadjimichael said Coufoudakis
maintains that human rights should not be compromised by political expediency and, therefore, argues that no solution to the Cyprus problem can be found unless it is based on the respect of human rights for all Cypriots, Greeks and Turks alike (ROCPRUN, 2009).
Apparently, his book and booklet are not driven by 'narrow national interests'; seemingly, they 'condemn all perpetrators and violators of human rights'; but their very titles show that the only identified and condemned human rights violator is Turkey.

They do not discuss Greek or Greek Cypriot human rights violations in Cyprus before and after the Turkish invasion; they do not tell the stories of the victims of the Greek Junta and EOKA B's coup, or the victims of Greek Cypriot state and paramilitary destruction of homes and villages.

In a review for the Cyprus Action Network of America, Fanoulla Argyrou (2009) argued that
It restores the realities over Cyprus to their proper prospective [sic - perspective]. It lists the robberies, looting, and wanton destruction by Turkey in the occupied part of Cyprus, rapes and forced prostitution of Greek Cypriot women, torture, inhuman treatment, assault and battery, murder, deprivation of liberty and false detention.

The book is a must for all to have and use in addressing the distortion of history, the efforts to upgrade the illegal regime in the occupied part of Cyprus and shift the responsibility to the victims themselves, the Greek Cypriots in order to help Turkey with its EU accession negotiations.
The proper perspective is that of the victims; but the Greek Cypriots are not the only victims, and the nationalists are not the victims' friends. The nationalists are the extremists who drove the violence, or their ideological allies; and this propaganda is perpetuating the victims' suffering.

Ethnic cleansing

What does Coufoudakis say in the government booklet? Suggesting its political importance, Coufoudakis (2008: 39-42) concludes the booklet with the discussion of the Destruction of Cultural Heritage:
The systematic and deliberate destruction and obliteration of the Greek Cypriot cultural heritage is the final touch in Turkey's policy of ethnic cleansing and of the colonization of occupied Cyprus (Coufoudakis, 2008: 39)....
Yet, as I explained in my review of the U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing, about 5% of churches in northern Cyprus have been demolished; but about 10% of mosques in southern Cyprus have been destroyed.

If Turkey committed ethic cleansing and colonisation, then the Greek Cypriot state committed ethnic cleansing and internal colonialism.

The destruction of the Greek Cypriot cultural heritage has been enhanced by:....
  • The unwillingness of the occupation authorities to cooperate with UNESCO
  • The attempt by the Turkish Cypriot subordinate local administration in occupied Cyprus to gain de facto recognition in return for its cooperation with international institutions (Coufoudakis, 2008: 39-40).
Yet the Republic of Cyprus has made clear to the European Parliament that they should not 'go against their own or UN resolutions by offering this recognition ['political recognition of the illegal regime'] either directly or indirectly' (cited in Jansen, 2005: 58).

Archaeological work
  • The expulsion of foreign archaeological schools working in the northern part of Cyprus until the time of the Turkish invasion (Coufoudakis, 2008: 40)....
That was wrong; but at the same time, an archaeologist (2008: Pers. Comm.) told me that the Greek Cypriot antiquities department 'made clear to all archaeologists [informally]... that if anyone of their nationality worked in the North, all projects of that nationality [in the South] would be closed', which was also wrong.

Christian historic Cyprus
The historic wealth of occupied Cyprus is shown by the presence of:
  • 31 major archaeological sites and ancient cemeteries
  • 11 major fortresses, towers and fortifications
  • 37 historic designated homes and bridges
  • 520 churches, monasteries and chapels (Coufoudakis, 2008: 41)....
Evidently, Coufoudakis did not count places like Hazreti Ömer Tekke, which was 'converted to a private vacation home by foreigners in 1968' (Goodwin, 1978: 331) - that is, under the Republic of Cyprus.

Islamic historic Cyprus

It is unclear whether Coufoudakis included listed monuments like Haydarpaşa Mosque and Selimiye Mosque in north Nicosia, or Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque and Sinam Paşa Mosque in Famagusta, since they were built as (Latin) churches under Latin rule, then converted into mosques under Ottoman rule; but obviously, if he did, he ignored the fact that they had been mosques for more than four hundred years.

Ottoman mosques were "only" converted Latin churches, not converted Orthodox churches, and at the time of the Latin churches' conversion, 'the Greeks, left alone with the Turks..., eagerly joined with them in obliterating all traces of the Latin domination' (Enlart, 1987 [1899]: 77).

However, since then, any historic Christian site has been accepted as "Cypriot" cultural heritage; but historic Islamic sites are still treated as "foreign", and often called Latin churches (even though those churches were equally negative heritage of foreign rule).

Certainly, Coufoudakis did not say any Islamic cultural heritage was part of the 'historic wealth' of the occupied areas (despite recognising every Christian site).

The black market for art objects, and the investments of the Republic of Cyprus

Perhaps most exquisitely, Coufoudakis first complained that
The destruction of the Greek Cypriot cultural heritage has been enhanced by: The lure of money in the black market for art objects (2008: 39-40),
then praised that
In cooperation with Cypriot foundations they [the Republic of Cyprus and the Church of Cyprus] have also invested in the recovery of such items from the international market (2008: 41).
The Republic of Cyprus', the Church of Cyprus', and "Cypriot foundations"' massive investments may have most 'enhanced' the destruction, either by buying illicit antiquities, or by underwriting the market (so private antiquities collectors buy illicit antiquities, knowing they can cover the cost - or even make a profit - by selling them on to Church or State).

Salvage and sacrifice

Perhaps most intriguingly, Coufoudakis noted that
Occasionally, compromises have been made in which items of secondary importance were sacrificed for the recovery of other more important historic artifacts and religious items (2008: 41).
That can only be a reference to watching minor illicit antiquities trading in the hope of catching organised criminal operations; or making deals with illicit antiquities traders in the hope of getting key artefacts; or (in Cyprus, illegal) undercover antiquities police operations.


The "progressive" Greek Cypriot government's "new" position is the old one: "Cypriot" cultural heritage is Greek Cypriot cultural heritage; Turkey was the only human rights violator; and the Greek Cypriots were the only victims.

The perpetuation of this Hellenist nationalist distortion of history is contradictory and depressing.

[Footnotes added on 16th September 2009.]
  1. When I said 'the University of Illinois', I meant the European Union Center, the Modern Greek Studies Program, the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, the Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Center, the Center for Global Studies, the Department of Political Science, and the Cline Center for Democracy, which are institutions of the University of Illinois.
  2. According to Anonymous, Coufoudakis 'disagreed with the phrase "clashed over possession of the island" but had no say in it'.
  3. Anonymous was kind enough to point out my typo. Evidently I've been writing about Cypriots so long, now everything gets that suffix.

Argyrou, F. 2009: "Review and presentation of 'International Aggression and Violations of Human Rights: the case of Turkey in Cyprus' by professor Van. Coufoudakis". Paper presented at the Cyprus Action Network of America, New York, USA, 14th April. Available at:

Coufoudakis, V. 2008: Human Rights Violations in Cyprus by Turkey. Nicosia: Republic of Cyprus Press and Information Office. Available at:$file/Human%20Rights%20Violations%20in%20Cyprus%20by%20Turkey%20(390%20KB,%202008).pdf

Coufoudakis, V. 2008: International aggression and violations of human rights: The case of Turkey in Cyprus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Coufoudakis, V. 2009: "The Cyprus Problem: The destruction of Cypriot cultural heritage". Paper presented at the University of Illinois Krannert Art Museum, Champaign, USA, 9th September.

Enlart, C. 1987 [1899]: Gothic art and the Renaissance in Cyprus. London: Trigraph Limited.

Jansen, M. 2005: War and cultural heritage: Cyprus after the 1974 Turkish invasion. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

ROCPRUN (Republic of Cyprus Permanent Representative to the United Nations). 2009: "Remarks". Paper presented at the U.S. Foreign Press Association, New York, USA, 23rd April. Available at:

USHC (United States Helsinki Commission). 2009: Briefing: Cyprus' religious cultural heritage in peril [unofficial transcript, 21st July 2009]. Washington, D.C.: United States Helsinki Commission. Available at:,B&ContentRecordType=B&CFID=15766631&CFTOKEN=41039785

USLLC (United States Law Library of Congress). 2009: Cyprus: Destruction of Cultural Property in the Northern Part of Cyprus and Violations of International Law. Washington, D.C.: United States Law Library of Congress. Available at:


  1. As someone who attended the talk that motivates this response, I find some of the underlying assumptions fascinating.

    1) The poster caption cited at the start was not written neither by the speaker nor by the organizers of the talk. It was not even written by a person of Greek descent (and, actually, the speaker himself disagreed with the phrase 'clashed over possession of the island' but had no say in it). And the sponsors of the talk were numerous but the intro to this blog cites only two (the university doesn't sponsor anyone directly, by the way).

    2) Van Coufoudakis is Greek but not of Cypriot descent. He has followed the political plight of the island over the last 45 years but has no direct stake in it (by which I mean property lost, family killed or missing and the like--sometimes such direct stakes are deemed to blur our judgement).

    3) The speaker's main point was about the continued destruction of cultural heritage today, and while he acknowledged that looting is happening on both sides of the island, only in the Republic have charges been pressed and looters put to jail. This suggests that looting in the north is happening with the tolerance, if not the consent, of the authorities today.

    4) This suggestion is supported by the systematic change of all placenames in the north. Since street and highway signs are not private property, they can only be changed as a matter of policy not as a result of private initiative. No corresponding change is happening in the south, where streets in the old Turkish neihbourhoods are preserving their Turkish names (spelled in the Greek alphabet on street signs).

    5) Destruction of cultural heritage (including tangible and intangible aspects) in northern Cyprus continues to date while the destruction of Islamic monuments referred to in the blog occurred much earlier and during turbulent times, when human rights were violated by both sides. Violations of human rights at times of war cannot be equated with continued violations of human rights at time of peace. The aggression of Turkish Cypriot authorities continued into the 1990s (see the shootings in summer 97), when no similar acts of aggression were taking place on behalf of the Cypiot government. This argument extends to both sides' treatment of cultural heritage.

    6) When asked about continued violations of human rights of Turkish Cypriots today (e.g., they also lost homes and became refugees in the north), the speaker specified that Greek Cypriot refugees never officially owned the ex-Turkish houses in which they were allowed to move after 1974 but continued to pay rent for them to a central government authority. Recently, when Turkish Cypriot families reclaimed their pre-1974 homes in the south, the Greek Cypriots that had lived there for 35 years were asked to leave and the homes were returned to their rightful owners. On the other hand, ex-Greek homes in the north were given to Turkish settlers from the mainland (according to Turkish Cypriots' accounts, the official excuse was because TC already had homes in the south, even though they couldn't access them) along with fake property titles that the new 'owners' proceeded to sell to foreign investors soon after the 2004 rejection of the Annan plan, trying to make a 'quick buck' before returning to the mainland (always according to TC accounts). There is a difference in official policy between the two sides over the last couple of decades which is important to acknowledge before dismissing anyone's account as propaganda.

    7) The most poignant questions during the talk came from people of Greek descent and the most poignant defense of the speaker by people of American descent.

    Perhaps it is our continued insistence to dismiss what people are saying because of their ethnic origins (or just their names) before properly checking the facts that is the greatest obstacle to overcome in this conflict.

  2. I just wanted immediately to thank you for commenting, and in such detail.

    I will respond today, but now I would just note I discussed Coufoudakis's ROCPIO booklet, rather than his talk.

  3. Again, thank you, especially for the information about the talk itself.

    1) I did say 'according to them [the sponsors]', rather than Coufoudakis or the organisers; but I appreciate the information about the disagreement over language.

    I just listed two because I thought 'the University of Illinois' was a simple but accurate reference to the European Union Center, the Modern Greek Studies Program, the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, the Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Center, the Center for Global Studies, the Department of Political Science, and the Cline Center for Democracy, all of which are (as far as I can tell), institutions of the University of Illinois.

    2) Sorry about the thoughtless mistake; I did know Coufoudakis was Greek.

    3) I agree that looters seem to be able to act with impunity in northern Cyprus, but I don't think 'the authorities' even tolerate the looting, but I think deep state elements within the authorities are too powerful for the authorities to control and stop.

    (One heart-rending example is the case of Stephanos Stephanou and the Syriac Bible.)

    4) I don't think we can leap from official changing of place names to official tolerance of/consent for looting.

    If nothing else, there are lots of reasons for name changes - for example, Turkish Cypriot refugee villages using the name of their old village (and community) for their new one.

    I'm not denying official, nationalistic changing of names; but I also think it's impossible to use it to corroborate an allegation of official acceptance of looting.

  4. 5) First, my informants (Cypriot and foreign) told me destruction of Turkish Cypriot/Islamic cultural heritage continued into the 1970s and 1980s, so it did continue in "peacetime", just like destruction of Greek Cypriot/Christian cultural heritage.

    Second, why can't wartime ethnic cleansing be equated with peacetime ethnic cleansing?

    Even if wartime displacement of "threatening" minorities cannot be completely equated with peacetime displacement of "undesirable" minorities, we are discussing the destruction of churches and mosques, and homes and villages.

    Obviously, buildings cannot be threatening; they cannot revolt or fight. So, the ethnic cleansing of cultural property is the same in war and peace: it is one group's deliberate attempt to destroy another community (not one group's misguided attempt to defend their own).

    6) It is true that Greek Cypriot refugees have rented abandoned Turkish Cypriot properties, while Turkish Cypriot refugees have owned abandoned Greek Cypriot properties.

    But innumerable Turkish Cypriot homes - and entire villages - were destroyed.

    I, too, object to the "sale" of abandoned Greek Cypriot properties to foreigners is objectionable; but I am not surprised it has happened, because the occupied areas were isolated and didn't have a proper economy.

    And honestly, I don't see how the existence of illegal sales of Greek Cypriot properties is relevant to the open denial or quiet omission of the destruction of Turkish Cypriot cultural heritage.

    Obviously, by definition, violations of Greek Cypriots' human rights are wrong; but so are violations of Turkish Cypriots' human rights.

    Implying that only Turkey destroyed cultural heritage, and that only Greek Cypriot cultural heritage was destroyed (as Coufoudakis's ROCPIO booklet implied) is propaganda.

    7) If you look at my other work you will see that I do judge people by what they say and do, rather than by their name or ethnic origins. Indeed, one of the propagandists I have criticised most strongly is not Cypriot, nor even Mediterranean, but American.

    Thankfully, my informants, too, judge people by what they say and do, rather than by their name or ethnic origins; if they did not, Greek Cypriot nationalists, Turkish Cypriot communists, Turkish secularists, and Kurdish Islamists would not have confided in me.

    If you're somehow under the false impression that I am anti-Hellenist, there is no way I can prove that I am not.

    Perhaps I will ask for suggestions from the Greek friend with whom I'm having lunch today, or from the Greek friends with whom I'll be meeting when I move to Greece in two weeks' time.

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