The continued plundering of the cultural heritage of Cyprus
In1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus and occupied 37% of its territory, while forcing 200,000 Cypriots to leave their ancestral homes. The policy of Turkey and the occupying regime is to alter the demography of the area by the mass establishment of settlers from Anatolia and the replacement of the ancient place names with Turkish ones and generally to eradicate all elements suggestive of the Greek cultural identity of the island. For this reason, from very early on, the occupying regime has made a concerted and organised effort to loot and plunder archaeological sites, museums and libraries. Over five hundred churches have been looted and vandalised and put to all sorts of inappropriate uses. 15-20,000 icons, sacred vessels, vestments, manuscripts, and scores of wall paintings were stolen, as well as mosaics which were broken up and sold abroad, while others, such as the portrayal of the Holy Virgin near the village of Livadia in Famagusta, were utterly destroyed. The destruction is not limited to Orthodox churches, but extends to the temples of all the religious denominations of the island, such as the Maronites, Armenians, Roman Catholics, Protestants and Jews. Many places of worship of particular archaeological value have disappeared either because of lack of protection or as a result of human intervention. An example is Panagia Avgasida at Milia which contained 15th century wall paintings and was demolished by the occupying regime fifteen years after the invasion. Another example is the church of St Catherine at Gerani, which was knocked down just recently. An important part of the world cultural heritage is vanishing and alarms bells are sounding internationally.