A triumph of bicommunal collaboration

Stefanos Evripidou – 2/2/13

REACHING AGREEMENT on restoration work for the decaying monastery of Apostolos Andreas in the Karpas peninsular was a triumph of bicommunal collaboration and positive thinking, said Takis Hadjidemetriou, a member of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage yesterday.

“This is a watershed moment. Only through the cooperation of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots will we save our cultural heritage,” he told the Cyprus Mail.

Hadjidemetriou said the technical committee has been working on finding a solution to the Apostolos Andreas conundrum since last February.

“I tried hard not to reach deadlock, and not to see any developments from a negative perspective,” said Hadjidemetriou, who heads the committee, made up of five Greek Cypriots and five Turkish Cypriots.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) signed protocol agreements with the Church of Cyprus and Turkish Cypriot EVKAF Administration separately on Thursday for the full restoration of the dilapidated monastery after years of disagreement over who will do the work, how, for whose benefit and with whose money.

The need to prop up the historic religious site, considered of huge importance for Greek Cypriots of the Orthodox faith, first came to the foreground in 2002.

Initial plans to renovate it were rejected by the Church until 2006 when the Archbishopric gave its approval to a new renovation plan undertaken by the University of Patra in Greece.

However, after almost seven years, there was still no agreement between the Church, Turkish Cypriot authorities and the UN to go ahead with much-needed support work.

Just last month, Archbishop Chrysostomos II said he was prepared to let the monastery collapse rather than sign a plan that did not specify clearly that the Church of Cyprus owned the site.

The primate also had a dig at the bicommunal technical committee, saying it had done nothing to help.

The last twist in the saga was when the Turkish Cypriot authorities, having seemingly lost patience with the Church’s refusal to permit the start of restoration work, decided to go ahead unilaterally, starting work on cleaning up the monastery’s exterior.

“I said to the Turkish Cypriots, this will create chaos, let’s do it together. And so we came up with the idea of a common fund where everyone contributes to a common effort. The Turkish Cypriots accepted. I spoke to the priests and told them ‘if you don’t do it, the Turkish Cypriots will’ and they agreed,” said Hadjidemetriou.

On Thursday, the UN announced to a chorus of praise that the project was finally good to go.

The golden compromise was to create a “multi-donor partnership” allowing everyone to provide funding for the project.

The monastery will be restored according to the Patra University study in three phases with the first phase costing €2.5 million. The total cost is estimated at €6m.

US Ambassador to Nicosia John Koenig also played his part, recently visiting the Archbishop to discuss ways to save the historic monastery.

In a statement released yesterday, Koenig said the US plans to contribute to the multi-donor fund, in the hope this will encourage swift implementation of the restoration plan.

“There could be no better example of how cooperation can result in progress on issues of common concern,” he said.

According to Hadjidemetriou, once a call for tenders is issued, the work will be complete within 26 months.

As for the technical committee, set up in 2008, Hadjidemetriou had this to say: “We’ve been working hard the last five years.”

“You need a central goal and you need to work towards it. We wanted to take cultural heritage out of the realm of politics and conflict for the greater good. And we have succeeded, at least in the committee, in creating a climate of trust and cooperation,” he said.

When vandals recently knocked down a mosque wall under restoration in Denia, the Turkish Cypriot committee members comforted their Greek Cypriot colleagues who were appalled by the act of desecration.

“This did not create a crisis in the committee. On the contrary, our Turkish Cypriot colleagues tried to comfort us because we felt terrible about it,” said Hadjidemetriou.

So far, the committee has undertaken minor works on 15 monuments across the island, has six restoration projects now underway on churches and mosques north and south of the divide, and is preparing to issue a call for tenders for studies on restoration work for six more monuments.

Each study is prepared by a Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot architect or engineer.

Having been appointed in 2008 by President Demetris Christofias, the five Greek Cypriot committee members will offer their resignation to whoever is elected president later this month, though they will remain at his or her disposal to ensure continuity in the work of the committee.