Lobby for Cyprus is a non-party-political human rights organisation campaigning for a reunited Cyprus.
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26 October 2010
Turkey’s systematic destruction of Cyprus’ rich cultural heritage
Lobby appeals to UNESCO: Lobby for Cyprus was part of a delegation that recently appealed to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) to take immediate and effective steps to call upon Turkey finally to fulfil its international obligations for the protection of cultural and historical heritage in the occupied areas of Cyprus.

The delegation to UNESCO included Canadian MP Jim Karygiannis, Ayios Amvrosios Association (UK) and Free Ayios Amvrosios Association (Cyprus).

It is well established in fact and law that Turkey has been guilty of a deliberate policy of destruction of Cyprus’ Greek and Christian heritage in the occupied northern part in an attempt to ‘Turkify’ that part of the island.   

Photo: Wanton desecration: shocking scenes of the cultural genocide committed in occupied Cyprus

In their report entitled ‘Cyprus : Destruction of Cultural Property in the Northern Part of Cyprus and Violations of International Law’ the Law Library of Congress clearly set out Turkey’s continuing and systematic efforts to destroy the predominantly Greek, thousands years old heritage in the occupied areas.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court also considers the destruction of cultural property to be a war crime. It is clear that Turkey’s actions in Cyprus equate to ethnic and cultural genocide.  

Under the 1970 UNESCO convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership  (ratified by Cyprus and Turkey), its signatories are required to take steps to prevent illicit traffic of cultural property through the adoption of legal and administrative measures and the adoption of an export certificate for any cultural object that is exported. Whilst Cyprus has complied with these requirements, it is clear that for its own  political objectives Turkey has flouted this requirement and continued to allow the exportation from the occupied areas of many thousands of historic and important archaeological artefacts. Turkey wishes to eradicate the occupied areas of Cyprus of any evidence of its predominantly Greek Cypriot identity. However, it does not just relate to Cyprus’ Hellenic heritage but also to the heritage of other ethnic groups such as the Maronites, Armenians, Latins and Jews. 

UNESCO has previously evidenced the continuing devastation caused by Turkey’s military forces on the culture and heritage of the occupied areas of Cyprus, including in its 1984 report (December 1984) that:

“Unfortunately in the area occupied by the Turkish army, museums and monuments have been pillaged or destroyed.  The Government of Cyprus has repeatedly applied to UNESCO and asked the mission of observers to report on the condition of the monuments.  So far this mission has met with the refusal of Turkish ‘authorities.’” 

In contrast, the Republic of Cyprus in the free areas in the south continues to preserve mosques and the other heritage of the 
Turkish Cypriots. 

The Law Library of Congress reported that: “During 35 years of occupying the northern part of Cyprus, Turkey has engaged in acts of destruction, desecration, and pillage of religious and archaeological sites which constitute the religious and cultural heritage of the peoples of Cyprus, and the preservation of which is essential for the interests of humankind in general. The Government and The Church of Cyprus, as the claimants of ownership of cultural property located in the northern part of Cyprus, have been actively pursuing the repatriation of stolen religious objects and cultural artefacts. Under convention and customary international law, Turkey, as an occupying power, bears responsibility for acts against cultural property.  Responsibility also arises based on legal instruments addressed in the illicit export and transfer of ownership of stolen cultural objects from the occupied northern part of Cyprus.” 

Lobby demands that UNESCO, the EU and all other international authorities take steps now to stop this unacceptable situation where a prospective EU member candidate continues to deliberately destroy not just Cyprus’, but also Europe’s, rich cultural and religious heritage. 

Until Turkey complies with international norms of civilised behaviour it is not fit to be a member of UNESCO or any other international organisation, and is certainly a very long way from satisfying the criteria for EU membership. 

Take action
Sign the online petition to UNESCO on cultural destruction: