It is a widely accepted fact that a country’s cultural heritage is severely affected by military invasion, occupation and any kind of armed conflict in general. In recent years the images of the looting of Baghdad museum have demonstrated the immeasurable damages that still occur today to a country’s cultural heritage. Today, the objects that were looted from the Bagdad museum are most likely making their way into the worldwide circles of the illegal antiquities trade.
In occupied Cyprus 197 ancient monuments are registered based on the Cyprus Antiquities Law. Hundreds of other monuments and archaeological sites were about to be registered but the 1974 Turkish invasion left the procedure incomplete.
The 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the subsequent occupation of the island, has heavily affected Cyprus’ cultural heritage and despite existing internationally binding treaties regarding the protection of cultural heritage, Turkey chooses to ignore the treaties and continues its destructive agenda. The damages are grave and in many cases, irreversible. The occupied museums have been looted and so have many private collections of antiquities. Churches have been vandalized; ecclesiastical icons and vessels stolen, church frescoes and mosaics have been removed and in many cases have been traced in Europe’s illegal antiquities trade markets and in auctions around the world. The most serious and large-scale damage has been noted on the islands’ occupied churches. Some of the churches have even been demolished, others have been vandalized and some are currently being used as stables, mosques or as part of military camps.
Following the Turkish invasion every legal archaeological investigation by the Cyprus Department of Antiquities and by foreign archaeological missions was put to a halt. When Ankara invited the foreign missions to continue their excavations in the occupied part of the island, the latter stood by the Cypriot Government’s side and refused the invitation. Appreciating this gesture of solidarity, the Cyprus Department of Antiquities offered the foreign archaeological missions new locations for excavation in the unoccupied areas.
The Cyprus Department of Antiquities continuously keeps an eye on the world trade of antiquities so that any Cypriot object on sale is located and repatriated. This is made possible with the assistance and support of Museum directors internationally.
The salvation and protection of Cyprus’ cultural heritage and of the cultural heritage of any country or people concerns the international community which has expressed itself through explicit conventions that are binding and are meant to help towards the protection and preservation of world cultural heritage.
Internationally binding treaties:
1. The Hague Convention of May 1954, “for the protection of cultural property in the event of an armed conflict”. This Convention is accompanied by an “Execution of the Convention” and a “Protocol” that aims towards its realization.
2. The UNESCO General Conference of November 19th 1964, “on the means prohibiting and preventing the illicit export, import and transfer of ownership of cultural property”.
3. The European Convention “for the protection of archaeological heritage” adopted in London on the 6th of May 1969, by the members of the Council of Europe.
4. The International Convention of Paris, November 1972 concerning “the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage”.
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Hadjisavvas, S. 2004: “The Heritage of Cyprus Under Siege”, in Proceedings of the ICOMOS workshop Cultural Heritage at Risk in the Event of Armed Conflicts 20-24 February 2002. Skopje. 75-77.
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