Is there hope at last for Apostolos Andreas?

Poly Pantelides – 12/11/2012

SUCCESSIVE plans to renovate Apostolos Andreas Monastery in occupied Karpasia date back years but have all stumbled over who is to administer and fund the project.

In the meantime, one of the most important Greek Orthodox religious sites in Cyprus is quite simply crumbling, becoming more dangerous with every passing year.

Eight months after a renewed push to reach agreement on the historic building, discussions with the United Nations and the Church of Cyprus are finally drawing to a close, the co-chairman of the bi-communal technical committee on cultural heritage, Takis Hadjidemetriou, said this week. He said the United Nations, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot members of the bicommunal technical committee have all agreed and were “formulating the terms of the endeavour” with the church.

“The road is open,” the former EDEK MP said.

Built in tribute to Apostle Andrew, who was said to have set foot on Cyprus on this section of the rugged Karpasia coast, most of the monastery’s buildings hail from the 19th century but the church itself is about five centuries older. In 1966 a series of concrete-reinforced upper rooms were added to be used as guesthouses. These were too heavy for the older building beneath to support and severely weakened the overall structure. Add to that the decades of neglect since the Turkish invasion and the need to renovate is now absolutely crucial.

Getting all sides to agree to the same thing at the same time has so far been unsuccessful, however.

An early plan formulated in 2003 by UNOPS (UN office for Project Services) and to be funded by US funds aimed to demolish the 1960s upper rooms, but Greek Cypriot politicians disagreed with the plan and rejected the offer.

In 2005 and 2009, announcements that work would start following a Patras university study proved untrue when disagreements arose over who would administer the project.

Other efforts to restore the complex have also failed, sometimes because the church felt it would be forced to give up ownership.

In 2010 for example, Archbishop Chrysostomos II rejected UN suggestions to let the Turkish Cypriot religious organisation, EVKAF, to oversee the restoration of the monastery because he viewed it as tantamount to the church giving up ownership of the monastery.

“I was very categorical that I would rather see Apostolos Andreas collapse and will never accept that this monument belongs to EVKAF,” he said in November 2010.

The primate said that authorities in the north have “constantly obstructed the maintenance” of the monastery in order to destroy Greek and Christian heritage.

But in February, the technical committee announced that a restoration of the monastery based on the Patras university study would start.

The bicommunal technical committee was created in April 2008 to protect the island’s cultural heritage and has since renovated religious monuments on both sides of the divide, including the Ayios Armolaos church in Kyrenia, the Saint Mamas church in Lapithos. The Tophane Mescit mosque and the Akaki mosques in Nicosia are being fixed and 11 projects are forthcoming, said Hadjidemetriou.

“The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) asked for three things in March – a timeframe, cost estimation, and a plan – which we’ve delivered admittedly with some delay in October,” he said.

The committee is now ready to proceed with a two-year endeavour costing €1.1 million to fix the church but is waiting to see what the UN guidelines are in relation to the question of the church funding the restoration, Hadjidemetriou said.

“The UNDP Partnership for the Future is ready to proceed on the assumption that the church will provide the funds,” Hadjidemetriou said.

But even if the church decides it does not have the funds, the committee will carry on regardless, Hadjidemetriou said.

“We don’t want the project to be delayed. If the church tells us they have no money then we can include Apostolos Andreas in other projects for which we have funding or get European Union funding,” he said.

“We’ll find a way,” he said.

But are all the previous delays an ominous sign for Apostolos Andreas monastery?

“What I see is the next step,” Hadjidemetriou said. “The committee is moving forward one step at a time.”