SECURITY & COOPERATION IN EUROPE:
U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION
CYPRUS’ RELIGIOUS CULTURAL HERITAGE IN PERIL
DR. CHARALAMPOS CHOTZAKOGLOU,
PROFESSOR OF BYZANTINE ART AND ARCHAEOLOGY, HELLENIC OPEN UNIVERSITY AND MUSEUM
OF KYKKOS MONASTERY
DR. KLAUS GALLAS,
ART HISTORIAN AND BYZANTINE EXPERT
“WAR AND CULTURAL HERITAGE:
CYPRUS AFTER THE 1974 TURKISH INVASION”
THE HEARING WAS HELD FROM 2:02 P.M. TO 3:02 P.M. IN B-318 RAYBURN HOUSE OFFICE
BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C., [RONALD J. MCNAMARA, POLICY ADVISOR, CSCE],
TUESDAY, JULY 21, 2009
RONALD MCNAMARA: Great, if you could take your seats, please. Welcome to this
briefing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. My name is
Ron McNamara and I’ll be serving as the moderator for this afternoon’s briefing
At the outset, let me express apologies because the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee is having a business meeting right now which requires our chairman,
Senator Cardin’s participation. And then, as things go on Capitol Hill, the
House of Representatives has scheduled the official photograph of the members
of the 111th Congress to be taken just prior to the briefing. So there may be
a number of members and commission members coming in and out and we certainly
will accommodate them when they appear.
I’m pleased to welcome you to this commission briefing on “Cyprus’ Religious
Cultural Heritage in Peril.” Today’s session is part of the commission’s
ongoing efforts to assess implementation of OSCE commitments by participating
states. In 1991, those states gathered in Cracow, Poland, for the Symposium on
the Cultural Heritage. The document agreed to by all countries at that meeting
included language particularly relevant to the issue before us this afternoon.
The OSCE acknowledged the important contribution of religious faiths,
institutions and organizations to the cultural heritage and committed
themselves to cooperate closely with such groups regarding the preservation of
the cultural heritage, paying due attention to monuments and objects of
religious origin whose original communities no longer use them or no longer
exist in the particular region.
Given its particular applicability to the situation in northern Cyprus, I would
repeat that last part of the text: “whose original communities no longer use
them or no longer exist in the particular region.”
In stark contrast to the situation in the North, which I recently had an
opportunity to visit, scores of mosques and other Islamic places of worship are
maintained by the Cypriot government in the southern part of the country.
Against this backdrop, the commission requested that the law Library of
Congress prepare a report on relevant international law governing protection
and preservation of religious cultural heritage. We appreciate the assistance
that was rendered by the library’s staff and I’m pleased to make that report
available via the commission’s Web site. So if you visit our Web site after
the conclusion of the briefing and click on www.csce.gov you should be able to
access that particular report prepared by the law Library of Congress. As part
of the commission’s investigation into these matters, I also, as I mentioned,
had an opportunity to recently visit that part of Cyprus.
Earlier this month, the OSCE parliamentary assembly adopted a series of
resolutions by one of our commission members, Senator Wicker, that called upon
all participating states: to implement their OSCE commitments and international
obligations; to ensure the preservation and protection of religious cultural
heritage sites including churches, chapels and monasteries as well as monuments
and objects of religious origin; to prevent the theft, clandestine excavation
and illicit export, import or transfer of ownership of cultural property; to
enhance their cooperation in efforts to prevent the illicit international
trafficking in objects of religious origin and other cultural property; and to
facilitate the restitution of illicitly exported cultural property; to help us
focus attention on the scope of the damage and destruction to Cyprus’ rich
religious cultural heritage in the northern part of the country.
I’m pleased to introduce our panelists (sic) of experts this afternoon. We’ll
start with Ms. Michael Jansen, an author and veteran journalist who has written
extensively on the destruction of cultural heritage in northern Cyprus. She is
the author of “War and Cultural Heritage: Cyprus after the 1974 Turkish
Next we’ll here from Dr. Chotzakoglou, professor of Byzantine art and
archeology at the Hellenic Open University and the Museum of Kykkos Monastery.
He is the author of, “Religious Monuments in Turkish-Occupied Cyprus: Evidence
and Acts of Continuous Destruction.”
And, finally, we will hear from Dr. Klaus Gallas, an art historian and
Byzantine expert who has focused international attention on international art
smuggling of icons and other religious and archeological artifacts plundered
from northern Cyprus.
At the conclusion of the formal presentations and our briefing, I will invite
members of the audience who are interested and have time to be present for the
screening of an 18-minute video produced by Dr. Gallas entitled, “Where Heaven
Falls Prey to Thieves.”
Thank you for your presence this afternoon and I turn the floor over to Ms.
MICHAEL JANSEN: Thank you, Mr. McNamara. I am very pleased to be here and
very honored to speak to the Helsinki Commission. The looting of Cyprus’
cultural heritage is not only a crime against Cyprus but a crime against
humanity. We all are diminished by cultural loss of any kind. As a journalist
based in the Eastern Mediterranean, I have seen a great deal of war, the
scourge of the world’s cultural heritage.
Indeed, we are just picking up the pieces of the wanton destruction of Europe’s
heritage during World War II. What has happened since Turkey occupied northern
Cyprus 35 years ago has been even more dramatic than what took place in Europe.
The devastation is comprehensive and has taken place in a small area.
Churches, chapels, monasteries, libraries, museums and private collections of
religious art and antiquities were looted. Religious and historical sites have
been damaged, ravaged and destroyed. While the focus of this meeting is on the
island’s religious heritage, this is rooted in 12,000 years of history which
came before St. Paul and St. Barnabas brought Christianity to Cyprus.
The cleansing of religious and historical sites began as soon as Turkish troops
set foot in northern Cyprus on July 20, 1974, and continues until today.
Cultural cleansing proceeded in parallel with the ethnic cleansing of 162,000
Greek Cypriots living in the area occupied by Turkey. When the first phase of
the cleansing process ended in 1976, 158,000 Greek Cypriots had been driven
into the government-controlled south. Pillage was both random and conducted by
professional thieves and smugglers.
While gathering material for my book, “War and Cultural Heritage,” I
interviewed Dutch icon dealer Michel Van Rijn, who was in the North during July
1974. As he made his way to Nicosia along roads clogged with refugees, he saw
Turkish soldiers throwing icons from looted churches onto burning pyres. My
husband, a correspondent for The Economist of London, visited the area in
September 1974 and found that churches were open to both looters and vandals.
Nothing had been done to secure the churches when I went there in February
1975. Looters not only ravaged art but also, in the process of plundering,
destroyed religious buildings and archaeological sites.
During the second phase of the cultural cleansing of Cyprus, from 1977 through
1979, the number of Greek Cypriots residing in the North was reduced from 3,600
to 200 – 2,000, while specific treasures were targeted by local networks of
icons and antiquities smugglers.
The pillage was directed by Aydin Dikmen, a major Turkish black market dealer
in Munich. He had developed close connections with Turkish Cypriot looters and
smugglers well before 1974. The third phase began in 1980 and is ongoing.
Today fewer than 500 Greek Cypriots, most of them elderly, remain in enclaves
in the occupied North.
Theft continues from known and newly discovered archaeological sites and
illegal excavations are being conducted by Turkish archaeologists. Both church
buildings and historical sites are falling into rack and ruin due to neglect or
being exploited or bulldozed by developers.
Turkey is directly responsible for whatever takes place in northern Cyprus.
The cultural cleansing of the area could have been averted or curbed if Ankara
had honored its signature on the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of
cultural heritage during war and occupation. But Turkey did not meet its
There were several opportunities for the international community to press
Turkey to do so. The first came in 1974, ’75, before looting had become
widespread or focused on specific treasures. In mid-September 1974, less than
a month after the ceasefire, a Turkish team of experts visited northern Cyprus
and recommended that an inventory be made of both archaeological and church
treasures and that a senior archaeologist should be appointed to protect and
preserve cultural property.
In early October of that year, two experts from UNESCO toured sites in both
north and south and found war damage was slight. They called for the
appointment of a counselor for cultural heritage to supervise conservation and
restoration. UNESCO sent Canadian scholar, Jacques Dalibard, to Cyprus in
February 1975. He concluded that the establishment – uh, sorry. He concluded
that Cyprus should be regarded as “one huge monument” and called for the
establishment of a permanent presence in the North to supervise the protection
and restoration of antiquities and churches.
UNESCO suppressed the report, his life was threatened and nothing was done.
Between 1982 and 1989, European initiatives provided fresh opportunities to
halt depredation and destruction. These were undertaken by a subcommittee of
the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe and Europa Nostra. The
former dispatched a mission to Cyprus. It reported that most of the damage has
occurred in the North and is the result of looting evidently linked with a
highly professional international market in illegally exported art. Nothing
An opportunity also presented itself in 1989. This was the landmark trial in
Indianapolis where a judge ordered a local art dealer to return to Cyprus four
segments of an early 6th-century mosaic composition. These had been stripped
by Dikmen’s agents from a church in northern Cyprus.
The judge awarded the mosaics to Cyprus on the ground that, quote, “a thief
obtains no title or right of possession of stolen items,” unquote. Therefore,
quote, “a thief cannot pass on any right of ownership to subsequent
purchasers,” unquote. Nothing was done about Dikmen or continuing pillage and
destruction of the cultural heritage of Cyprus.
An opportunity to put Dikmen out of business was presented to Germany in 1970 –
1997 when the Munich police helped Van Rijn, poacher turned game keeper by this
time, to mount a sting operation designed to return stolen icons and
antiquities to Cyprus. Dikmen’s hoard of 8,000 items was seized; hundreds of
Cypriot artifacts were identified. Dikmen was put in prison.
He was released after a year and the treasures remain in Munich. Turkey may
not have set out to pillage and destroy the cultural heritage of northern
Cyprus, but Ankara did set out to change the area’s identity. Ankara cleansed
the Greek Cypriots and erased the Hellenic character of the North by replacing
Greek place names with Turkish names.
Turkey also collaborated in the destruction of the North’s dominant Christian
culture by allowing churches to collapse due to neglect or to be looted and to
be used as cinemas, restaurants, store houses and goat pens
Hundreds of churches and chapels, frescoes and icons had survived in the North
until the last quarter of the 20th century and provided spiritual uplift to
local Christian communities. Finally, I would like to suggest that the CSCE
has some responsibility for the division and ethnic and cultural cleansing of
Cyprus. As the Helsinki Accord was being negotiated, the Greek military junta
made a coup against the legitimate Cyprus government. Turkey occupied more
than 36 percent of island and Britain did nothing.
These three countries were guarantors of the island’s independence and
sovereignty. The OSCE also did nothing. The least the OSCE can do today is to
press Ankara to halt the destruction of Christian sites and illegal
archaeological excavations and stop traffic in icons and antiquities. Turkey
should also allow for the preservation and restoration of religious and
cultural sites. The OSCE should ensure that member states do not receive
stolen Cypriot art and antiquities. Thank you very much.
MR. MCNAMARA: Thank you very much. Our next speaker will be Dr. Chotzakoglou.
On the monitor to your right will be an ongoing slide presentation of images
that he has brought for this afternoon’s briefing.
CHARALAMPOS CHOTZAKOGLOU: I too would like to thank the Helsinki Commission
for inviting me to testify on an issue which I believe is of great importance.
Your decision to hold this briefing clearly indicates the seriousness and
concern of the issue under discussion.
Yesterday, in fact, marked 35 years since the Turkish invasion and occupation
of Cyprus which forcibly separated Greek and Turkish Cypriots along ethnic
lines and resulted in the destruction and desecration of Cyprus’ religious
cultural heritage in the occupied area.
In April 2003, the Turkish forces partially lifted the restrictions imposed on
crossings to and from the occupied area. This was the first time since 1974
that it was possible for Greek Cypriots to visit there. At that time I was
teaching at the University of Cyprus as visiting professor of medieval
Byzantine art, archaeology and architecture.
In cooperation with the nongovernmental Kykkos Museum, I recruited a team of
experts and proceeded to the detailed examination and photographic
documentation of every accessible religious monument in the occupied area. I
also sought to describe the state of conservation of the buildings,
mural/mosaic decoration and movable property.
Today the project is completed – after I was arrested twice by the Turkish
military police – and I can report to you that we possess a database of
approximately 20,000 photographs as well as a collection of photographic and
archive material of the monuments before 1974.
In some of these photographs you are going to see there, you can see the same
monument before 1974 and today, the situation today after the invasion. A
comparison of the monuments before and after the Turkish invasion easily shows
the scope of destruction and desecration.
Around 500 churches and religious sites belonging to the Greek-Orthodox
Autocephalous Church of Cyprus, the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem,
the Holy Monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai, the Roman Catholic Church, the
Catholic-Armenian Church, the Catholic-Maronite Church, the Jewish community,
as well as the Protestant Church, along with their cemeteries have been
willfully desecrated, pillaged, looted and destroyed.
Furthermore, a considerable number of Christian churches have been converted
into military camps, mosques, stables, hencoops, ox and sheep stalls. In
addition, some are being used today as wheat chambers, storerooms and granaries
while a number were rented or sold to private individuals, who use them as art
studios, carpentry workshops, parking stations, coffee shops, residences,
cultural centers, gym centers, ceramic workshops, hotels, pubs, theaters,
nightclubs, museums, ottoman baths – hamam, sport clubs and dancing schools.
The Church of the Savior in the Chrysiliou village is used today as a mortuary.
UNESCO Report 25 of December 1984 states that “The Republic of Cyprus had
repeatedly applied to UNESCO and asked the mission of observers to report on
the condition of the monuments. So far the mission has met with the refusal of
the Turkish occupation regime.
Similarly, the Council of Europe, after a strict inspection of some occupied
churches, highlighted in a 1989 report the severe condition of the buildings
and requested their immediate conservation. The Church of Cyprus and the
government as well as societies, institutions, foundations, church committees
and individuals have tried unsuccessfully to get permission to restore, repair
and maintain their churches.
The archbishop of Cyprus proposed repeatedly to fund any needed restoration of
Muslim religious places in the North in addition to the funds provided by the
government. A mutual reaction regarding the permission of similar restoration
of the Christian monuments in the North never came.
Also, a commission of the Church of Cyprus for the religious heritage in Cyprus
was founded in 2008 where I am taking also part as an expert. But there was
again no response from the Turkish side.
Similarly, the declaration of the European parliament on September 5, 2006, on
the obligation of protection and conservation of the religious heritage in the
occupied area of Cyprus along with funding amounting to half-a-million euro for
that purpose met again with the Turkish refusal.
The direct responsibility of Turkey concerning the occupied area is clearly
stated in the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the Fourth
Interstate Application of Cyprus against Turkey of May 10, 2001. Its decision
– in its decision, the European Court of Human Rights stated inter alia that
Turkey, quote “having effective overall control over northern Cyprus, its
responsibility cannot be confined to the acts of its own soldiers or officials
in northern Cyprus but must be also engaged by virtue of the acts of the local
administration which survives by virtue of Turkey’s military and other support.
The movable property of almost every church was looted. Most of the mural or
mosaic decorations were stripped away and a considerable number were located in
international art markets abroad. Some well-known legal cases, as the
Kanakaria case, Indianapolis court; the Antiphonitis case, Rotterdam court; the
Dikmen case, Munich court, as well as the published study of Ms. Jansen
demonstrate and prove the involvement and activity of Turkish looters in the
Furthermore, cases as the stripped away of 13th-century frescos of the Lysi
chapel – now in Houston – and icons of the Koutzoventis monastery demonstrate
in the most obvious way the cooperation and involvement of the Turkish armed
forces in the illicit trade. Both the above-mentioned churches were situated
in areas under the direct control of the Turkish military. And the icons and
frescos were located later in the United States, Germany and in Holland.
There is no religious freedom in the Turkish-occupied areas of Cyprus for
non-Muslims since all of the communities I referred to earlier are either not
free or severely restricted in their exercise of religious services, praying
and maintaining the graves of their ancestors.
They do not have the right of staying in their monasteries and convents nor the
rights to have free religious elections, ordination of priests, building or
repairing their churches or administrating their religious property. Even in
the cases of a handful of churches operating in the occupied eastern Karpas
Peninsula where the remaining Greek Cypriots enclaved are, the illegal regime
confiscated icons and still collects all donations and offerings of the
pilgrims who, since 2003, can only visit these churches.
The clergy and particularly the bishops are not allowed to hold services, a
fact proven also by the two, three exceptions after the invention mainly of the
United States Embassy in Nicosia and UNFICYP.
Even four days ago on July 17th, after repeated intervention of UNFICYP,
permission was granted only to Greek Cypriot refugees of the occupied village
of Kythrea to hold a service in their desecrated church – but only for 50
persons and one priest whose names had to be sent in advance and approved by
the illegal regime and only under the presence and surveillance of the Turkish
Bishops, as the metropolitans of Carpasia, Famagusta, Tamasos, Kykkos or the
Armenian archbishop have been repeatedly prevented by the Turkish army from
holding religious services in occupied churches although they had previously
received permission from the illegal regime through UNFICYP.
Therefore I was surprised to read the 2008 International Religious Freedom
Report of the U.S. Department of State that, quote, “However, the politically
divisive environment on Cyprus engendered some restrictions on religious
freedom, particularly for Greek Cypriots, Armenians and Maronites,” the report
added that “the Turkish Cypriot authorities generally respected religious
freedom in practice.”
This blatantly ignores the inaccessibility for religious services to both the
Greek Orthodox churches and to the other faiths that I had mentioned above,
including a Jewish cemetery and synagogue situated in the Turkish military camp
The religious culture of the northern part of the island is changing because of
the importation of over 160,000 mainland Turkish settlers who are
overwhelmingly more conservative than the Turkish Cypriots.
This is the reality of the situation in the Turkish-occupied area. In total
contrast, the government of the Republic of Cyprus, through the Turkish Cypriot
Properties Management Service and the Department of Antiquities repairs and
maintains mosques and Muslim places of Worship in the government-controlled
area, 17 of which, have been declared as “ancient monuments,” allowing the free
exercise of their religious services.
Though a technical committee composed of members of both communities was
established a year ago, in the framework of the current negotiations for a
Cyprus solution to work jointly on restoration and preservation issues, there
have been no tangible results to date.
On the contrary, during this period of the negotiations of this committee, the
18th-century church of St. Catherine in the occupied village of Gerani was
demolished. By accident we had this church on the front piece of our book.
Allow me to thank you again for your invitation to speak on the religious
cultural heritage of Cyprus in peril and I am at your disposal for any
questions on the issue.
MR. MCNAMARA: Thank you very much. Dr. Gallas?
KLAUS GALLAS: First, I would like to thank the members of the commission for
allowing me to testify before you on the use of Cyprus’ religious cultural
heritage in peril. There is still no complete case-by-case documentation of
the art thefts that have been growing catastrophically in both number and
seriousness ever since the start of the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus.
But there is no question that since the day of the invasion, July 20, 1974,
such internationally organized thefts and the accompanying illegal trade in
works of art plundered from churches in the Turkish-occupied sector – some of
which form part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage – have multiplied to a
One shocking instance that typifies this plundering and illegal trading is the
Dikmen case, the most spectacular example of international theft recorded by
the Bavarian central department of crime. It culminated in a court case in
Indianapolis in 1989 against the American art dealer Peggy Goldberg which was
successfully pursued by the Church of Cyprus and the government of Cyprus.
It concerned the 6th century mosaics in the apse of the Panagia Kanakari Church
on the Karpasia Peninsula. Parts of these are now in the Byzantine museum in
Nicosia. Probably the first major account of the barbaric desecration and
destruction of Christian heritage within the Turkish occupied area was the one
by myself that appeared in the German national newspaper, the Frankfurter
Allgemeine on March 30, 1990.
A striking example of this desecration is the Ajios Euphemianos Church about a
mile outside the old center of Lysi, to the west of Famagusta. When I first
visited the little church prior to 1974, I was overwhelmed by the glowing
colors and expressive features of the Byzantine murals dating from the 14th
century. But when I returned to Lysi in 1989, long after the start of the
Turkish occupation in northern Cyprus, I found that things in the village were
completely changed. Even the altered name of the place, the Turkish
designation “Akdogan” clearly indicated the intention of the Turkish occupying
powers: eradication of every cultural reminder of established historical
structures on the island.
The little church of Agios Euphemianos was difficult to locate it because it
was enveloped now by the Turkish barracks. How was it possible for this jewel
of Byzantine creativity to have fallen victim to international art thieves
under the very noses of the watchful Turkish soldiers?
The removal of all the precious frescoes from the walls and ceiling-domes in a
professional manner and their transportation abroad in an undamaged state is
something that would have taken the robbers days, if not weeks.
Scaffolding would have had to be erected; tools and materials would have had to
be carried to the church through or around the outside of the barracks. And
then there would have been the whole business of exporting the works of art.
This, too, would have meant having the right contacts and connections. Nothing
could have been done without the permission of the Turkish occupation forces.
In this context, there is also a mystery concerning the export license by the
so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus for the 6th century Golden
Mosaics of the Panagia Church on the Karpas Peninsula, which was signed at the
time by Osman Orek. Until 1963, he was defense minister in the Makarios
government. And from 1974 onwards, the right-hand man of Rauf Denktash, the
leader of the Turkish Cypriot community.
Later on, Orek declared the documents to have been a forgery. In 1988, Peggy
Goldberg, a U.S. citizen, had acquired these mosaics and attempted to market
them illegally for US$1.2 million. What followed was the celebrated court case
in Indianapolis that ended in the autumn of 1989 with the decision by Federal
Judge Noland in favor of the Republic of Cyprus and the Church of Cyprus. This
was a uniquely important decision by the U.S. court.
This case is symptomatic of the organized crime of ripping items of cultural
heritage out of their context and, by doing so, destroying them forever. Only
in rare instances has the government of Cyprus and the Church of Cyprus
succeeded up to now in securing the return of stolen artworks to Cyprus, either
through court dispensations or by buying them back. The route taken by the
works of art is usually from the Turkish occupied part of Cyprus to either
Munich or Amsterdam, then from there to Zurich and on to the USA.
Following a house search of Aydin Dikmen’s premises and subsequent
confiscation, the police in Munich is certainly holding Byzantine mosaics,
frescoes and icons, presumed to be from the Turkish occupied part of Cyprus, to
the value of more than 30 million euros.
Meanwhile the legal proceedings against Aydin Dikmen have been dragging on for
more than 10 years without a conclusion. For mosaics and frescoes,
identification is less of a problem. They are usually quite easy to ascribe to
a particular historical monument. Icons, on the other hand, are hard to pin
The Republic of Cyprus may have secured the judgment in Indianapolis but it was
less successful in its efforts to secure the return of the Lysi frescos,
notwithstanding the fact that they could not now be sold to unscrupulous
It was Aydin Dikmen who, in 1985, also sold the Lysi frescoes to America. The
De Menil Foundation in Houston, Texas, acquired these immensely valuable 13th
century frescoes for just 850,000 U.S. dollars. The interior of the Lysi
chapel was then reconstructed true to the original within the halls of the
foundation’s museum so as to allow the frescoes to be displayed exactly as they
had appeared in situ.
The De Menil Foundation broke new ground in the details of this arrangement.
When it was offered the frescoes, it side-stepped all the importation rules,
negotiated directly with the Church of Cyprus, made an agreement for a
long-term assignment until 2012, bought the frescoes, had them restored and in
effect rescued this entire endangered piece of cultural heritage.
All the same, there are also some hidden dangers in this modus operandi. It
lends strength and encouragement to unprincipled art thieves by signaling to
them that they will always be able to make a profit, one way or the other, from
their stolen goods. Maybe what is needed here to nip thieves in the bud is an
international certificate for the buying and selling of works of art, complete
with details of provenance.
I wish to bring in another example to support the view that art theft in the
Turkish-occupied part of the Republic of Cyprus was usually only possible when
it was tolerated or happened under the watchful eye of the Turkish military.
On the south coast of the island, only a mile from Kyrenia, stands the
Acheiropiitos Monastery, a dignified complex dating from the 11th century that
was erected on the foundations of an early Christian settlement including a
basilica. The monastery used to be a treasure house of Byzantine icons dating
from a variety of centuries – but what has become of these treasures?
During a visit that I paid recently, gaining access to the monastery looked as
if it would be impossible. Just as in the autumn of 1989, the Turkish forces
were still ensconced in its handsome rooms. But after repeated attempts on my
part to be allowed in, the officers and men suddenly appeared helpful and I was
permitted to enter.
Of the once-magnificent display of icons there was nothing to be seen. Only
the richly carved pulpit from 1819, with its touches of gold leaf, and the
remains of the Ikonostase, bereft of all icons, gave a faint indication of the
former glories of this empty chamber. How could this desecration of Christian
cultural heritage have come about right in the middle of the Turkish military
camp? How could all these precious icons have been taken down and carried off
from a monastery that was actually occupied by Turkish officers and men?
The loss to Cyprus and to UNESCO's World Cultural Heritage is unimaginable. It
can be assumed that the amount of booty we are aware of is only a fraction of
the material that has actually been stolen from the Orthodox churches of
Cyprus, which begs the question: how many treasures altogether have actually
been taken between 1974 and 2009 and are now lost to us forever through having
already been sold to collectors in all corners of the world? How many fortunes
have the art thieves amassed for themselves in the meantime through these
outrageous acts? They must amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. None of
the plundered churches will ever sparkle again as they did in the light of days
My greatest wish, which ties in with the appeal of the Helsinki Commission, is
that in the very near future, the many works of art that they have stolen, and
in part still remain missing, should be restored to Cyprus. Only through
solidarity and joint action against worldwide art theft, as well as against the
barbaric destruction and desecration of examples of UNESCO’s World Heritage,
can we keep alive our historical roots and our cultural identity.
I thank the commission for my speaking.
MR. MCNAMARA: Thank you very much, Dr. Gallas. And I would want to
acknowledge the presence of Senator Sarbanes, who has joined us this afternoon.
I thought perhaps another member of the family might be stopping by. But I do
have a number of questions that I’d like to pose. And just for your
information, the still photographs displayed are ones that I took during my
recent trip. I had an opportunity to spend two days in the northern part of
the country and, driving around, just asked the driver to pull over to a
village quite randomly – that I determined – and these were some of the many
photographs that I was able to take during that time, including this one of a
church near the Karpas region, used obviously as a storage facility. Of the 20
or so churches that I stopped into randomly in villages and so forth, none of
them were intact. Most of them were populated by pigeons, with pigeon
droppings that would be unimaginable, actually, and probably quite unhealthy.
But I did have a number of questions. Obviously the destruction has taken
place over a period of time. And you did mention the church on the cover of
your book as a recent example. But I wonder if you could cite any additional
examples just to underscore the fact that this is an activity that’s ongoing
and not one that may have taken place 35 years ago in the immediate aftermath
of the military activity, but is, again, something that’s a current issue as
MR. CHOTZAKOGLOU: In the book, there’s a reference of more than 15 churches
which were pulled down recently. I say “recently” – in the last five years.
And there are the names, also, of the churches. And in most cases, we have the
possibility to have photographs before they were destroyed. And also, we have
cases that, after 2003, it was possible to enter and to see the icon museum in
Kyrenia. The Turks made an icon museum in Kyrenia to demonstrate that they
respect the monuments and the icons. But I have to say that most of the icons
there are of the 20th century.
On the first day, we saw three or four icons of the 16th century. Today, these
icons are not there. And two of these icons were located in Zurich, in
MR. MCNAMARA: This recent case, yes?
MR. CHOTZAKOGLOU: This recent case. And we tried, now, with Interpol to –
they confiscated – the police authorities in Switzerland – they confiscated
these icons. And we hope to get them back.
MR. MCNAMARA: Any other – okay. There were a number of – a couple of you,
excuse me – referenced military installations and, certainly, a number of the
churches and monasteries I visited were in close proximity, certainly within
easy distance of the Turkish forces. So I wondered if you could discuss the
question of the inclusion of religious sites within military exclusion zones in
the region. Or whoever wishes to –
MS. JANSEN: I’d just like to say one thing. The point is that a great deal of
the territory of the northern part of Cyprus has been taken up with military
bases. And it’s very difficult to travel around that area without noting that
you pass a great many military bases. And some major Greek Cypriot Orthodox
churches were in these military bases. And some were looted by the soldiery
soon after the north was taken over.
And then, Aydin Dikmen, who claimed to have close connections with the Turkish
military, he was also allowed in to do some of the looting there – in the
military areas, which shows that there was collusion between Dikmen and the
There was also collusion in the sense that he was allowed to take his large
crates of icons and other material – archeological material – out of the area
without hindrance. And at one point, he was actually arrested and held by the
Turkish authorities in northern Cyprus. But as a friend of mine says, his wife
turned up with a big bag of money and he was out the next day.
So this was the problem: There was collusion on one hand and then there was
exoneration on the other. So Dikmen was able to proceed with his looting of
northern Cyprus without any kind of obstruction from the authorities which were
governing the area.
MR. GALLAS: I will speak in German and we have a translator. My English is
not so good.
MR.: Dr. Gallas would like to say that it is important to him to note that
he’s not attacking, if I may use that word, the Turkish government, but that it
is important to preserve and protect the theft. He believes that nothing could
take place without the supervision and eyes of the Turkish military.
The problem with the Dikmen case is following the evidence. And he has been
researching the case for the last 10 years. As he has referred to previously,
it’s easy to identify a fresco in a certain church. The difficulty is with the
icons because the school of icon painting exported them to many different
countries. And Dikmen says it’s hard to say which came from where. And Dikmen
claims that all those icons that can definitely be identified will be returned,
but he gets all the others that are not definitely identified. And we’re
talking about artifacts that are the value of 30 million euro.
MR. CHOTZAKOGLOU: I’d like just to make a statement. I read today, in the
Washington Times, an article on our hearing today. And there is a statement
that these things which were stolen with the help of the Turkish military
troops or with the help of other authorities in northern Cyprus, have been
smuggled out of Cyprus mostly through the southern part of the island.
We have to underline that in that case, we have a lot of cases, we have a lot
of icons, which were smuggled out of the port of Kyrenia and Mrs. Jansen can
describe, also, the whole thing from eyewitnesses, but that icons which were
smuggled out of Cyprus from the southern part of the island were not smuggled
out in a – in a bigger export – because already in 1976, the high commissioner
for the refugees, the Austrian, Alfred Seglipe (ph). He was also arrested by
the police. He was there to protect the refugees and he was taking part in
illicit trade of antiquities.
So in such cases, we know from other eyewitnesses that with the help of the
Finnish United Nations peacekeeping force, a lot of icons were smuggled out of
the Larnaca port and were sent to Germany. So these cases that are known were
not, of course, smuggled out to these things legally, but illegally, without,
of course, the knowledge of the legitimate authorities of the Republic of
Cyprus. Thank you.
MR. MCNAMARA: Sure. There has been some reference to UNESCO, which obviously
has a unique mission throughout the world for protection of cultural heritage.
And I wondered if anyone could elaborate a little further. I know that there
was a mention regarding an early-on assessment or study by UNESCO. But I
wonder to the extent that this issue is actively pursued within the context of
MS. JANSEN: UNESCO, as I said earlier, suppressed the report, which was
written by Jacques Dalibard. This report was 120 pages long and quite
detailed. He wasn’t allowed to go to all of the monuments, all of the churches
or all of the archeological sites. He was only allowed to go to a certain
number. And his report was actually kept under wraps until about two years
ago. UNESCO really did nothing about this situation at all.
And this whole business was repeated. In the aftermath of the invasion and
occupation of Iraq in 2003, UNESCO sent a mission to Baghdad. And they
reported on the same sort of activity – dealing with the Iraq museum and also
some of the sites. And I attended – I went with the mission to Baghdad. And
UNESCO has done nothing about getting things back to Iraq, which were stolen
during this period. And in fact, Iraq is being plundered as we speak. And
whole sites are being destroyed by people who are actually doing industrial
farming of archeological sites.
The main problem is that whenever there is war or civil war or some kind of
unrest or even natural disaster, the cultural heritage of countries which
suffer these situations gets destroyed and also looted and exported. The
United States has done some good things. It has signed a memorandum of
understanding with Cyprus and with Iraq. And material is being returned.
Also, one must take into account the effect of the case in Indianapolis. That
case produced a very important judgment: that the thief doesn’t have any right
to what he has stolen. And that case has a tremendous impact on museums around
the world and on countries which are seeking to repatriate their cultural
Italy has very aggressively pursued its stolen cultural heritage. It has
received back some very important items. The Getty Museum in California has
had to give back items. And Greece is pursuing its stolen heritage.
So the case in Indianapolis has changed the picture for museums and for
collectors who are trying to look legitimate. Now it is no longer possible to
buy stolen antiquities, art, icons, whatever, and claim that we bought this in
good faith; we didn’t know it was stolen. This good faith clause is now out of
So what the illicit dealers do now, of course, is they manufacture provenance,
which is creating some kind of false document so that they can sell the
material to museums or to auction houses or to private collectors. And of
course, this is a growing industry. But people who are really seriously
interested in pursuing stolen items can prove that these documents are not
legal and reclaim the items.
One of the cases – the important case in this particular example, which I can
think of, is the case of a Greek crater for mixing wine, which was given false
provenance by the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It belonged to Greece, and
they gave it the provenance of another piece, which had been sitting in a bank
in Beirut for many years, which was not the complete one, whereas the one that
the Metropolitan Museum had was a beautifully restored, complete, very large
wine jug. So as I say, you must never underestimate the importance of that
decision in Indianapolis on the Cypriot mosaics. Thank you.
MR. MCNAMARA: Thank you. There was a reference made to the technical group
that’s supporting the talks between President Christofias and Mr. Talat. And I
just wondered, because I know that there is some description of sort of the
mandate that they’re supposed to undertake – identification of sites and so
forth – and I wonder, has anything happened – obviously, there is a large array
of issues that the leaders and their colleagues are trying to grapple with, but
I just wondered if you could give us any information on that aspect of the
MR. CHOTZAKOGLOU: I do know the activity of this committee, because before
they began, they were founded one year ago. Turkish Cypriots and Greek
Cypriots are taking part, and they visited also the Kykkos Museum in order to
get information on the work we have done and also other institutions. And
after one year of cooperation and meetings, unfortunately, there was no result,
because every time, they had to postpone and postpone all the activities they
had. They decided to begin a pilot project to restore one church – Saint
Michael in the occupied village of Leonarisso and on the other hand, a Muslim
mosque in Limassol.
Of course, you can imagine that on the one side, you have more than 500
churches, and on the other hand, you have just some of the mosques, so it’s not
the same – one-to-one. Anyway, until now, there was no progress on that. They
said that the problem would be the financial one. And in that case, we came
and we asked the committee to do something which they don’t need money to do –
to allow the church communities of the Greeks to go and restore the cemeteries
with their own monies – just to put the crosses there, to have the possibility
to visit the graves of their ancestors and to light a candle there.
They refused it, which means that it’s not that they don’t have the money to go
on with the restoration; they are not willing to do that. And they say, when
it comes to such a decision, we have to wait for the political decision of the
matter. So we hoped a lot on this committee that we could have, after one
year, a result. But we didn’t. On the contrary, during the negotiations and
the meetings of this committee, the church that I showed you was willfully
destroyed and pulled down. It was a church – this one! This was the church
before, and now. So there’s nothing of the church and this is how it was in
2008 – just some months before this committee was grounded. And now, there is
nothing there. Thank you.
MR. MCNAMARA: Thank you. The U.S. Agency for International Development has
supported a number of restoration projects in the North, including work at the
Agios Mamas Church in Morphu, mainly operated as an icon museum. I wonder what
your assessment regarding these projects, and then I guess another thing that
strikes me is that there are this limited number – I think it was in Kyrenia as
well that I saw this very prominent steeple of a church that also serves as an
icon museum and attracts, apparently, a lot of foreign tourists.
And I wondered if there’s been some investigation – I think you alluded to it a
little bit – regarding the contents of these museums. Are they materials that
were original to the church, or is it a collection from various of the
destroyed churches, or has anybody been able to trace that aspect of it?
MR. CHOTZAKOGLOU: Because of the accusations of the destruction of the
churches and the illicit trade, they made two icon museums – the one you have
visited in Kyrenia or, I suppose you didn’t visit – excuse me.
MR. MCNAMARA: I didn’t visit, but I saw it from a distance. It was very
prominent. I was paying attention to the information office that’s located in
a little chapel right on the harbor center.
MR. CHOTZAKOGLOU: And also another one in the Holy Virgin Church in Trikomo.
It’s also in the Famagusta region. If not all the icons that are inside, they
do not belong to the church, but they were brought there. And all of them are
dated into the 20th and 19th centuries. You have to imagine that we have, in
Cyprus, icons from the 11th, 12th and 13th century which are missing, and not
one of them are there. So they’re just new icons, which were painted some
decades ago or even 100 years – so for Cyprus, 100 years ago is not a great
The second thing: We have – with the help of the United States, we had the
restoration of some monuments, as, for example, we had the Hala Sultan Tekke –
this is – a tekke is a kind of monastery for the Muslims – in Larnaca. And on
the other hand, we could restore a church in the occupied areas. This would be
Saint Andrew in the Karpas Peninsula. What happened was the tactic which we
now know happens all the time. Unfortunately, when the Turkish committee
begins with the restoration of the mosque in the South, they could proceed.
There was no problem. They had their archeologists, architects and the workers
and they went on, and if you go now to Cyprus, if you land in the Larnaca
airport, the first thing you can see is this mosque. It’s very, very beautiful
and it’s good that it was restored.
On the other hand, when we tried to go on with the restoration of Saint Andrew,
which is a very big pilgrimage for the Cypriots because most of them have been
baptized there, every time that we were trying to go on, there were problems.
We wanted to have material for the restoration. We could not bring the
material from the Republic of Cyprus, but we had to import it from Turkey.
Then we had to wait for months. These materials could not be found in Turkey;
we had to import it, for example, from Germany. No, we had to wait.
And after – during this time, the tekke in Larnaca was already restored, and
after it was restored, they said, so the time is out; you don’t have any more
possibility to restore the church. So it remains like that. So you can still
see the Saint Andrew Church, which is falling down. The other case you
mentioned – Saint Mamas in Morphu – it’s a recent case. And it was allowed to
restore the icon screen – actually the wooden parts of the church – not the
building. And this is – you have to imagine, this was a very good thing that
was made and we’re happy for that, but that’s one case in 500.
And I’d like to stress here that it’s not only the Greek Orthodox churches
which were looted or destroyed. We have Catholic churches; we have Armenian
churches; Maronite churches; we have Jewish cemeteries; we have so many, which
are not only the Greek Orthodox monuments. So we have also to pay attention
MS. JANSEN: Could I make one –
MR. MCNAMARA: Please.
MS. JANSEN: I just wanted to mention that there is a Web site which one can
consult. It was put up jointly by Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot engineers
and architects. It’s called cyprustemples.com and it has on it 505 churches
and 111 mosques and Muslim sites. It gives the state of each one and what is
recommended to repair it or replace it or whatever. And it is a very valuable
site. It shows a lot.
These people spent quite a lot of time; they have plenty of photographs. And
buildings which have been completely destroyed or are in very bad states, there
are, of course, no photographs of them. But it is, as I say, a very valuable
source on what exactly has gone on. It needs to be updated, but otherwise, it
is a very good effort.
MR. MCNAMARA: Thank you very much. I have one additional question and then a
number of questions very quickly pertaining to – one of you referred to the
2008 international religious freedom report. The question I had is, besides
the storage facility in this particular church near the Karpas region, I did
pass by another church that was part – clearly, a monastery that was part of a
sort of hilltop resort in the Kyrenia area.
And I wondered if there’s been any attempt to identify the commercial backers
of those religious sites that have been converted into commercial purposes,
particularly like hotels and things of this nature? Are they investors from
the North, from Turkey, from the U.S., from other EU countries? Or has that
been looked into at all?
MS. JANSEN: Not that I know of.
MR. CHOTZAKOGLOU: The case you mentioned is a hotel now. It was a convent and
it was converted into a hotel. You can go there. I have met the owner. He is
from Turkey. And what has happened is that, against the constitution of
Cyprus, they confiscated all the religious property, which, according to the
constitution of Cyprus, the religious property of every religious community is
indisputable. And they gave it to the Muslim administration commission, named
FCAF (sp). And these are the persons who are selling or renting churches.
It was very interesting – I don’t have the photograph there, but it’s an
English-speaking newspaper from – (inaudible) – Smith Real Estate agents where
you can see here, there is a church for sale. “Lease for church, fully
restored and used as a picture gallery/craft center. Lovely position below
Adramit village. £32,500.” So we have a lot of such cases. We have, also,
American citizens. We have mainly English. We have also Germans – persons who
bought or rented such churches in order to use them for restaurants, for pubs,
for nightclubs and so on. Or they rented to Turks to use them as I told you.
Even a gym – you can go to a gym and you have the apse and the church inside
and it’s unbelievable for us.
The most impressive case was a church which was converted into a mortuary. So
I went inside and I found the coffins of the dead. And you can – they put them
on the altar, they wash them and then they bury them in the cemetery that’s
near to the church. So we have a lot of such cases, recently also. It happens
every day. So the last time I was in Famagusta, there was a photograph – you
can see there – it was the medieval Gothic church of the 13th century in
Famagusta of the Templars, and now it’s a nightclub. You can have your drink
there, and it’s unbelievable for us, for such a desecration of a holy place,
whatever the beliefs of your own are. Thank you.
MR. MCNAMARA: Sure. Just to wrap up this portion of the briefing, the
international religious freedom report of 2008 says that Orthodox and Maronites
are, quote, “allowed to conduct mass on a regular basis without prior
permission at seven sites in the occupied area.”
Does this conform with your observations regarding the situation with
believers, because I had an opportunity to meet with the bishop of the Karpas
region, for example, and it seemed like he has many restraints placed upon him
in terms of his ability to go to his region of the country, and then certainly
in terms of the question of conducting religious services.
And that, I guess, I must say I found tremendously ironic, having visited the
region and gone by many villages and stopped in about 20 or so. But then the
report goes on to say prior permission was required to conduct mass at the
other estimated 500 religious sites in the area administered by Turkish
Cypriots. I mean, these are the images of some of those 500 sites.
So to someone who may not have followed the developments as closely, in my
first reading, I would say, oh wow, there must be 500 churches, chapels and
monasteries that can still be used for the conducting of religious services of
various nature. So I just –a gain, I scratched my head after I read that
portion of the report because it seemed, certainly, highly misleading.
MS. JANSEN: I would just like to say one thing on this. I checked exactly
this question out before I left Cyprus. There are three churches which are
designated as possible sites for services. And services are not held
regularly. The church has to apply for permission to hold a service and it may
or may not be granted. It is rarely granted. It is sometimes granted on
saints’ days. And last week, one service was held at Ayia Marina and only 50
people were allowed to attend.
And at some of these services, even though permission was given, the police
which operate in the northern part of Cyprus came and told the congregations to
disband and to leave. Now, this particular situation must be compared to what
is going on in the government-controlled areas, where there is complete freedom
of religion for everyone. And I consulted someone who is connected with the
mosque in Nicosia and I said, what is the situation there?
He said there are three congregations in Cyprus in established mosques, which
have been restored and repaired, and there is a fourth congregation in Paphos.
The three established mosques are in Nicosia, Larnaca and Limassol. There is a
fourth congregation in a hall in Paphos. They haven’t yet managed to work out
some sort of arrangement for being placed in the mosque there. Anyway, they
meet every week. They have congregations of, sometimes, two or three thousand
on Muslim feast days in all three of these areas – in Limassol, Nicosia and
And most of the people who are in the congregations are people who came to
Cyprus in the past decade, two decades. They are of Arab origin or Bangladeshi
origin or Pakistani origin. Apparently, Turkish Cypriots don’t attend the
mosques. So the mosques are maintained. The government of Cyprus provides a
salary for the imam and the congregations take up collections to pay the water
bill, the electricity bill and for small repairs. And that is the situation on
the two sides; it’s quite different. Thank you.
MR. CHOTZAKOGLOU: I’d just like to add something, that according to the
constitution in Cyprus, all religious institutions – they do not have to pay
taxes. And that’s what happens also with the Muslim institutions in the
Republic of Cyprus or with the Jewish ones or with others. And I was very
surprised, actually, to read the international religious freedom report of the
United States Department of State because they write here that “there are some
restrictions religious freedom” – some restrictions, which means that the rule
is that you can go there without any problem, you can have your religious
service and leave.
But that’s not the case; that’s not the rule; that’s not how it happens. It’s
the opposite. Every time that a priest of a bishop wants to have a religious
service, we have to fight, actually, for months with the United States Embassy,
with the British embassy, with the country who is maybe the president of the
European Union, with friends or personal contacts of every person in order to
get the permission to go there and to have, under the surveillance of the
police with our names written and given before, to have a religious service.
So under this situation, I don’t think that what is written here represents
today’s situation of the region, especially when they write that the Turkish
Cypriot authorities generally respected the religious freedom in practice. I
think that everyone can go there and see it also for himself, what we’re
seeing. We have a lot of cases where, as Ms. Jansen said, we were granted such
permission from the Turkish Cypriot authorities, and when the bishops,
recently, some months ago, during the Holy Communion service with the Holy
Communion in his hands, the police came in – the police which is controlled by
the Turkish military – came in and they throw them away.
He presented the papers he had. He had to go to Famagusta where the military
officer was there. He said, I do not accept these papers. If you want, you
can go to the United Nations to have your religious service or in the southern
part, but not here. So they had to leave. That’s what happens all day. It’s
very, very difficult to have – there are only some cases on the Karpas
Peninsula where some Greeks there – and only from a local priest – that they
can have a religious service there. And also the case for some Maronite
churches on the western part of the occupied areas. These are the only
No Armenian, no Maronite, no Jews – no one can go on with their religious
service and have religious freedom in practice. And religious freedom is not
only to have a religious service in the church. It is to have the ordination
of the priests. It is to have the possibility to administer the religious
property. There is a lot of things. If you don’t have a single cemetery which
still can be seen – you can go there to see the situation of the cemeteries –
there is not a single cemetery which still stands there; how is there religious
freedom? That was my surprise when I read the report of the commission.
MR. MCNAMARA: Thank you very much. Just because you were mentioning
cemeteries, one of the ironies I found was, this is a little shed in the corner
of one of the little churches in a village in the North. And then I actually
did, of course, visit this cemetery here. And actually on the other side of
the wall, I found ironic that there was a Muslim burial place that was
meticulously maintained. I’m not sure when it dated from and so forth, but I
just felt like there was sort of a bit of irony there, given the nature of
these cemeteries and the other ones that I went to during my time there.
Our time is up for this portion of the briefing. We’ll take probably about a
five-minute break and then, for those who have time and are interested, we’ll
have the showing of this short film – 18 minutes long – by Dr. Gallas. Let me
just make sure I get the correct title: “Where Heaven Falls Prey – P-R-E-Y –
to Thieves.” For those who are not able to stay for the presentation, it is
available – I hope this isn’t a bootleg or something like that, but my
erstwhile intern that was working with me did find it in two parts on YouTube,
so you can view it via that means.
We will have a complete transcription of today’s briefing available on the
commission’s Web site tomorrow – within 24 hours we try to get it. There are a
lot of foreign names and so forth, so we’ll have to help the transcriber here.
But we do very much appreciate your presence here this afternoon on an issue
that, again – when we look at a situation, we go back and try to see if there’s
a relevant commitment that the OSCE-participating states have undertaken.
And when we looked at the situation in terms of religious cultural heritage in
this part of Cyprus, it just struck me as so tailor-made, if you will, where it
talks about the importance of preservation and protection of sites even if the
original community does not use them, or is even located – I did get a chance
to go to the Karpas region to the very tip of northeastern Cyprus and to be
able to sit down and to talk to some elderly Greek Cypriots – I think 228 in
the particular village.
And unfortunately, the main service that they seem to be conducting in the sole
church there is funerals. But that’s part of the reality as well. Thank you
again for coming and we appreciate your attention. The restrooms are just
outside of the room and to the right. And again, we’ll resume at about 25 past.