The Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus, Chrysostomos II, called on the Turkish community to allow Christians to “restore our churches on our own and bring monks back to the Monastery of St. Barnabas located in the occupied zones of the north.”
In a press release issued in Rome, Chrysostomos II said, “We want to stop the degradation, sensitize the international community, recover works of art that were taken away and bring them here to restore them and conserve them. We want our civilization to be respected. For our part, if the Turks thought that here (in Cyprus) there were mosques in poor condition, they would be willing to restore them, but I don’t think that is the case because all of them are very well preserved,” he said.
A recent census revealed that there are 520 Christian buildings in the northern zone of Cyprus, including churches, chapels and monasteries. 133 buildings have been profaned, 78 have been converted in mosques, 28 are being used by the military and as guest homes and 13 are military storage facilities. Some church buildings have also been turned into discos. Some 15,000 icons have been illegally taken and are on the international black market. The destroyed cultural patrimony contains frescos that date to 500 A.D., mostly from the Byzantine era.
“What we hope is that the money that the European community has already dispensed, some 286 million euros, to the Turkish community in Cyprus, will be used to restore churches, at least those most in need, because there are many fallen churches and many are about to fall.”
Chrysostomos II also requested that the monks expelled during the occupation be allowed to return to the monastery of St. Barnabas. The same request has also been sent to the UN Security Council, but there has not been a response yet.
In his recent visit to Rome, the archbishop met with Pope Benedict XVI who said he would do everything possible to help him. Chrysostomos II demanded the European Union respect the rights of the Turks, who are seeking entry into the EU.
Last year, on the eve of the Pope’s visit to Turkey, Tassos Papadopoulos, the president of the divided island of Cyprus, which is partially occupied by the Turkish army, gave the Holy Father an impressive album with photos of 300 Orthodox churches destroyed by the Turks since the taking of the Mediterranean islands.