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Christians & Muslims: From Conflict to Cooperation in Divided Cyprus

Cyprus, an island nation in the Mediterranean, has been a melting pot of cultures for centuries. Its strategic location has made it a coveted prize for various empires throughout history. However, the modern history of Cyprus has been marked by division, particularly between its two major communities: the Greek Cypriots (predominantly Christian) and the Turkish Cypriots (predominantly Muslim). Since 1974, the island has been divided, with the northern part being administered by Turkish Cypriots and the southern part by Greek Cypriots.

Yet, amidst the political tensions and historical grievances, there are glimmers of hope and stories of cooperation. One such story is the collaboration between the two communities in preserving their shared cultural heritage. This article delves into the journey of these two communities from conflict to cooperation, focusing on their joint efforts in cultural preservation.


A Divided Island


The division of Cyprus in 1974 was the culmination of decades of tension between the Greek and Turkish communities. The island became an independent republic in 1960, but disagreements between the two communities led to inter-communal violence, culminating in a coup d'état by Greek Cypriots in 1974 and a subsequent military intervention by Turkey. The result was a de facto partition of the island.

World Heritage Day and Cyprus


World Heritage Day, celebrated on April 18th, is a day to recognize the importance of cultural heritage and its preservation. In Cyprus, this day holds special significance. The island is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the ancient city-kingdoms of Paphos and the painted churches in the Troodos region. These sites are not just tourist attractions; they are symbols of the island's rich history and the shared heritage of its people.


The Birth of Cooperation: The Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage


In 2008, a significant step towards reconciliation was taken with the formation of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage. This bicommunal group, comprising both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, was tasked with identifying and preserving cultural heritage sites across the island. The committee's formation was a recognition that the cultural heritage of Cyprus belongs to all its people, regardless of their ethnic or religious background.

Takis Hadjidemetriou, the Greek Cypriot Co-Chairman of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage, remarked, "Our shared heritage is a bridge that can bring our communities together. By working together to preserve our past, we are building a foundation for a shared future."


His counterpart, Ali Tuncav, the Turkish Cypriot Co-Chairman, echoed these sentiments. "Our ancestors lived side by side for centuries. The monuments and sites we are preserving are testament to our shared history. This is not just about stones and buildings; it's about rebuilding trust between our communities."


Restoration Projects: Symbols of Unity


The Technical Committee has undertaken several restoration projects across the island. These projects are funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme. Some notable projects include:


- The restoration of the Apostolos Andreas Monastery, a significant pilgrimage site for Greek Cypriots.

- The conservation of the Othello Tower/Citadel in Famagusta, which is mentioned in Shakespeare's play "Othello."

- The restoration of the Agios Panteleimonas Monastery, which holds significance for both communities.



These projects are not just about preserving buildings; they are about fostering understanding and cooperation. Workers from both communities collaborate on these projects, learning from each other and sharing their skills.


The Road Ahead


While the work of the Technical Committee is commendable, it is just one step on the long road to reconciliation. Political disagreements remain, and the island's future is still uncertain. However, the cooperation between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in preserving their shared heritage offers a glimmer of hope.

As Takis Hadjidemetriou aptly put it, "Every stone we restore, every monument we save, is a step towards peace. Our heritage is a reminder that we have more in common than what divides us."


Ali Tuncav added, "Our work is a message to the world that cooperation is possible, that we can look beyond our differences and come together for a common cause."


In conclusion, the story of Cyprus is one of division but also of resilience and hope. The efforts of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage are a testament to the power of cultural heritage in bridging divides and fostering understanding. As the island nation looks to the future, its rich past may hold the key to a more united and peaceful tomorrow.


References:


- Hadjidemetriou, Takis. Interview.

- Tuncav, Ali. Interview.

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