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Almost two quarters of a century have already passed since July 20, 1974 when Turkey invaded Cyprus, occupied 40% of its territory and used all possible means to force the 200 000 Christian inhabitants of the occupied area to flee their ancestral homes and settle in the free southern part of the island as refugees.

More than 7 000 Cypriots of Greek origin were murdered by the invaders and around 2000 were held hostages, the fate of most of them still remaining unknown.

Christian cemeteries in the Turkish – occupied northern part of Cyprus were destroyed, despoiled and plundered, crosses were broken, graves were opened and the bones of the deceased were removed.

Christian churches, chapels, monasteries, places of martyrdom and pilgrimage in the occupied area, 520 in total, were pillaged and desecrated. Many of them were demolished or converted into Muslim mosques, horse stables and barns and grazing land for animals. The holy icons and the ecclesiastical vessels were removed and/or destroyed or sold and today adorn public foundations or private collections abroad.

‘‘… The vandalism and desecration are so methodical and so widespread that they amount to institutionalized obliteration of everything sacred to a Greek. Overtly or covertly the process must have been perceived and approved by (a Turkish) administration that only a fortnight ago was mobilizing international Moslem opinion over the burning down of a mosque that is in fact still standing intact. We filmed it.’’ John Lindsay Opie

On the contrary and despite all that, ‘‘… there are no parallel developments in the southern part of the Republic of Cyprus. There, Moslem places of worship are not only kept closed as a protective measure by the Greek Cypriots, but they are also looked after. The cemeteries on the other hand are mostly in the same state as when the Turkish Cypriots left their villages after 1974’’. Klaus Gallas.

Together with our voice of protest against the unaccepted extent of the desecration and destruction by the Turkish occupation forces and settlers, and looking forward to put an end to the atrocities against the sanctities of Christian faith, the government of the Republic of Cyprus takes all measures necessary to protect and restore all mosques, minarets, graveyards, community centres and schools. The Cyprus Government is concerned about the protection and proper maintenance of all places of worship and monuments, of all religions and creeds in the free areas of Cyprus.

The Government of the Republic of Cyprus and more specifically, the Guardian for the Turkish Cypriot properties, which is the competent authority, provides unwavering support and funding for the maintenance and protection of the mosques, minarets, graveyards, community centers and schools situated in areas under the effective control of the Government. The Cyprus Government bares this cost voluntarily and is based on a relevant decision of the Guardian. The total cost for the purpose of maintenance and protection of mosques in the Government – controlled areas is approximately € 400.000 on an annual basis (till now €12m.) and it concerns all mosques, irrespective of whether they are declared or not as an ancient monument. As far as the Annual Budget for 2019 is concerned, the amount already approved by the Council of Ministers and the Parliament is €391.000. Added to that, a respective equal amount of money is annually transmitted for the same purpose by the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus.

Under the initiative of the Cyprus Government, the European Union has long ago been involved in this noble cause, providing an additional amount of €3 million in support of the work of the bicommunal Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage in Cyprus, via an agreement between the European Commission and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). With European Union funding and UNDP support, 23 heritage conservation projects were till now proceeded all through the island, including churches, mosques, fortifications and hamams.

Never with the consent of the Turkish Cypriot Property Management Service of the Ministry of Interior, anybody used relevant monument or place for other purposes or unrelated with the relevant community and religion persons. Our main priority is to provide by all means continuous protection and conservation.

However, the Government of the Republic of Cyprus does not cover the utility costs for the consumption of electricity and water. The utility bills are to be paid by the ones using the mosques, as is the case for all religious monuments in the Government – controlled areas. This requirement applies to all establishments used as places of worship by all religions in Cyprus, including the Church of Cyprus.

In the case of mosques, having in mind the status quo due to the ongoing Turkish occupation, the utility bills are temporarily under the name of the Guardian for the Turkish Cypriot properties. However, the responsibility for paying the monthly utility bills, according to the recorded consumption, lies separately with each mosque, and more specifically, with an informal committee of individuals of the Muslim community formed and assigned with this task by each mosque.

The access by all people to cultural heritage sites, in dignity, without any impediments and with simplifying processes, with all essential facilities is a main and continuous concern. Whenever groups of pilgrims appeal for visits in mosques, even during national holidays, the Cyprus Government responds accordingly, even covering quite a huge amount of money for overtime presence of personnel.

Hundreds of thousands of people are visiting the above mentioned mosques, not only from Cyprus but also from all Moslem areas of the world.

  • 24th January 2019

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