Before 1974, 575 churches and orthodox monuments operated to the occupied areas of Cyprus. Due to the Turkish invasion and the continuous illegal possession of the northern part of Cyprus, many churches were destroyed. Others were converted to animal buildings, and others were looted. About 80 churches were converted into mosques.
Among the 575 monuments, 20 thousand icons dated from the 12th to the 20th century such as sanctuary utensils and mosaics were stolen. After pressures exercised from foreign initiatives, countries and the United Nations, the situation regarding the condition of churches was improved although that, time worsens the situation of churches, especially those that were not preserved or supported from 1974 until today.
In order to find answers for todays’ condition of the monuments and that of 1974 we applied to the Church of Cyprus, which is the mainly responsible for the religious monuments through out the Republic of Cyprus. We spoke with Fr. Savvas Hadjionas, secretary of the Synodical Committee of the Church of Cyprus, in regards to churches in the occupied northern area, to whom we express our appreciation for the help he provided us with.
When we asked fr. Savvas Hadjionas how many churches existed to the occupied areas before the Turkish invasion, he responded: ‘’There were listed at least 575 orthodox monuments (Monasteries, local churches, chapels) without taking in consideration the religious monuments that belong to the religious communities of Cyprus (Maronites, Armenians and Latins)’’. Furthermore, he informed us that there are:
- 255 monuments to the occupied part of the Archbishopric:
- 156 to the Metropolis of Kyrenia
- 44 to the Metropolis of Morfou
- 95 to the Metropolis of Constantia and Ammochostos
- 3 to the Metropolis of Kykkos
- 13 to the Metropolis of Trimithountos
- Except the above mentioned, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Monastery of Saint Catherine of the Monastery of Sina have their property (metochia) in the occupied part.
Our next question focused on the number of churches destroyed by the occupying regime, fr. Savvas replied that this is something an answer can not be given with an absolute accuracy because from the total number of 575 about 50 churches are situated inside military campus or military zones thus, the Church and in general no one has access. In addition, bulldozers destroyed an important number of religious monuments, as fr. Savvas told us. In these monuments are included the following churches: of Panagias Avgasidas (12thcent.) at the monastery of Milia in Ammochostos, the of Saint Catherine in Gerani village, of Prophet Elias in the village of Vouno, of Saint Avvakoum and Andreas in Rizokarpaso, of Saint Spyridon in Marathovounos village, of Saint Thomas and Demetrios in Trikomo village, of Saint George in Prasteio of Mesaorias, of Saint George in Ftericha village, of Saint Mamas and Prophet Elias in Lysi village, of Panagias in Kythrea village, of Archaggelos Michael in Leonarisso village, of Saint Demetrios in Agia Triada village, of Saint John the Theologian in Flamoudi village, of Saint Mamas in Trikomo village and many more.
Fr. Savvas stressed that almost all churches and the cemeteries were looted, except 8 monasteries and churches that were converted into museums for propaganda reasons and also because some are situated in the areas of the enclaved Greek-Cypriots (Karpasia penisula) as well as of Maronites (Kormakitis village).
We also asked if they were lost religious artifacts due to the desecration of the churches and monasteries. Fr. Savvas mentioned that the number of the religious treasures that were lost and illegally exported from the occupied area of Cyprus is of great value and importance, which cannot be estimated.
From all of the 575 religious monuments, they were stolen more than 20 thousand icons, dated from the period of 12th-19th century such as mosaics, murals, icons, parts of the iconostasis, sacred utensils, gospels etc. Fr. Savvas mentions indicatively the repatriation (February 2012) of the murals from the chapel of Saint Efimianos in Lysi village of the 13th century from Houston, Texas. (USA).
Furthermore, he adds that many religious artifacts were repatriated from Munich, which the Church of Cyprus claimed through a court trial and which lasted for near a decade (2004 – 2013). These had been confiscated in November 1997 from the premises of Turkish looter, A. Dikmen. When the appeal process will end in the courts of Munich, we hope that another 80 unique artifacts will be also repatriated.
In November 1998, the icon of Panagia Vrefokratousa (Virgin Mary, 16thcent.) was repatriated from Athens. This icon comes from the monastery of Christ Antifonitis (Kalogrea village). According to fr. Savvas, some days ago they spotted in an auction-house the icon of Christ (16th century) from the exact same monastery and iconostasis and thus we claimed for its repatriation from Zurich.
The efforts of the Church of Cyprus of tracking down and to repatriate stolen artifacts it is continues effort, according to what fr. Savvas says. He adds that we are situated in a very good cooperation with the governmental services, the Police, the General Prosecutor and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.