Thursday, January 21, 2010

Limassol cemetery vandalised; Greek, Cypriot flags burned

I'm more than a week late, but this is still important: unknown persons vandalised Agios Nikolaos cemetery in Limassol; they burned its Greek and Cypriot flags. It happened soon after unknown persons took down former Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos's grave's Greek flag, and it was a similar desecration; but the police are currently claiming that the crimes are unconnected.

On 10th January, vandals removed 25 graves' Greek and Cypriot flags; Anna Hassapi (2010) said the flags were 'removed from poles at graves, thrown in the cemetery fountain and set on fire'. The first clue to the difference in the crimes is the removal of both Greek and Cypriot flags in Limassol cemetery; Papadopoulos's Cypriot flag remained untouched.

Another former president, Spyros Kyprianou's grave was also desecrated; but the vandalism of all of the other graves demonstrates that his grave was not targeted specifically or meaningfully. And the vandals removed 70 candles from the graves, which suggests the flags were not targeted as symbols of communities or states.

Hassapi (2010) reported locals' suspicion of 'teenagers' who had been 'loitering', and police apparently agree, targeting 'schools and hang-out areas'. Police spokesperson Michalis Katsounotos insisted that,
The vandalism at Ayios Nikolaos cemetery is not connected to the vandalism at Deftera cemetery. At Ayios Nikolaos a group of people with childish and sick minds wanted to commit this act without any motive or cause.
However, Hassapi noted that 'police officers will also be checking the site where EOKA leader Georgios Grivas Dighenis is buried in Limassol, as well as other monuments that may be targeted by vandals'. If this vandalism lacked 'motive or cause', why would - indeed, how could - vandals target other national monuments?

There are precedents for this kind of vandalism: in 2007, '[suspected] youths' desecrated the Catholic cemetery of the church of Saint Catherine in Limassol (Leonidou, 2007); and in 2009, 'vandals' attacked the Muslim cemetery in the Kato Polemidia suburb of Limassol (Hassapi, 2009).

Even Orthodox Christian cemeteries have been violated: in 2002, a couple vandalised Limassol's Mesa Yitonia cemetery 'under the influence of drugs' (Cyprus Mail, 2002). Yet in all of these attacks the graves themselves were damaged or destroyed (not just the objects at the graves); and, as far as I know, the police did not inspect other monuments for damage after any of these attacks.

The only notable connection between the desecrations of the entire cemeteries (Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, now Orthodox again) is that they all happened in Limassol; grave desecration is like a tradition there. At least, it is a historically established form of violence across the island, and a contemporary form of violence in Limassol.

The desecration of Agios Nikolaos cemetery does appear to be different from the desecration of both Papadopoulos's grave, and the Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim cemeteries; but the lowering of Greek and Cypriot flags does appear to resemble - to refer to - the lowering of Papadopoulos's Greek flag.

Seventy graves' vandalism seems to be too large a task to be the work of bored schoolchildren; and refraining from damaging even one of those graves seems to be too controlled an act to be the work of drunk or drugged-up youths.

Flag-burning can be an artwork, or a philosophy lesson, but it is overwhelmingly a political protest (1). Perhaps the perpetrators were Communists or anarchists replying to the desecration of ("only") one community's flag.(2) Perhaps they weren't; it just seems unlikely to be the work of inebriated imbeciles.
  1. For example, see Sarah Boxer's (1995: 14) review of flag-burning in the United States; even the 'boys accused by police of stealing hundreds of flags from veterans' graves and using them to build a bonfire' in 1963 (allegedly) did so during the Vietnam War, and it seems incredibly unlikely that their choice of bonfire fuel was apolitical.

    For a consideration of the idea of flag desecration more generally, see "Dread" Scott Tyler's (1989) art installation inquiring, "What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?"
  2. I doubt the perpetrators were anti-nationalists, as the united Cypriot flag is not ethnic; it is the bicommunal flag of united Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots (or a multicultural flag, if the other, "legally" Greek or Turkish communities are included - the Armenian Cypriots, Gypsy Cypriots, Latin Cypriots, Linobambakoi Cypriots, and Maronite Cypriots.
Boxer, S. 1995: "Word for Word/The Flag Bulletin;Two Centuries of Burning Flags, A Few Years of Blowing Smoke". The New York Times, 17th December, 14. Available at:

Cyprus Mail. 2002: "Two held over cemetery vandalism". Cyprus Mail, 25th January. Available at:

Hassapi, A. 2009: "Muslim cemetery in Limassol vandalised". Cyprus Mail, 10th February. Available at:

Hassapi, A. 2010: "Vandals hit Limassol cemetery". Cyprus Mail, 12th January. Available at:

Leonidou, L. 2007: "Youths suspected in cemetery vandalism". Cyprus Mail, 23rd March. Available at:

Tyler, S. 1989: "What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?" Installation displayed at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, USA, 17th February-17th March. Available at:

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