Symbolic Peace Effort to Restore Religious Sites Reveals Difficulties in Uniting Island

March 22, 2004

Source: The Independent

On March 22, 2004 The Independent reported on "how UN efforts to restore two historic religious sites have come to symbolise the difficulties" in uniting Cyprus: "Like its Orthodox counterpart [the Apostle Andreas monastery], the Tekke mosque is Islam's holiest site on the island and, like the monastery, it lies cut off from the bulk of the faithful on the other side of the barbed wire buffer zone. Cyprus has been divided since a short-lived Greek-Cypriot coup in 1974 aimed at union with Greece prompted Turkey to invade. The breakaway Turkish-Cypriot state in the north is only recognised by Turkey, which maintains 40,000 troops there. These two places of worship have symbolised hope and peaceful coexistence even during the darkest days of ethnic strife that followed the fighting in 1974. For years, when the north was shut off to all other Greek-Cypriots, a few pilgrims were allowed to visit the monastery to celebrate Orthodox Easter. Just as the mosque was open to Turkish Cypriots for Muslim festivals. For this reason, the two religious sites were chosen by the UN three years ago for a restoration project designed to foster rapprochement. But international efforts have stalled and, millions of pounds later, the monastery is still in danger of collapse, while work on the mosque is mired in delays. What started as a symbolic peace effort has become an ominous reminder of the difficulties that face the architects of a unified Cyprus."