NICOSIA More than 60,000 cultural objects have been smuggled out of the occupied part of Cyprus President Christofias has said, adding that 20,000 icons , sacred vessels, and gospels have vanished and many were sold in the black market.
Speaking at a formal ceremony at the Presidential Palace, during which he received the credentials of the new Apostolic Nuncio of the Holy See, stationed in Tel Aviv, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, Christofias said the illegal Turkish occupation has severe consequences on the cultural and religious heritage in the occupied areas of Cyprus.
“The religious and archaeological monuments in the occupied part of Cyprus have been the target of an ongoing destruction. They have been left to deteriorate and many have suffered irreparable damage. Some of the churches have been turned into stables, barracks of the Turkish army, museums, cultural centers or even hotels, while others were demolished,” he noted.
The President said the Republic of Cyprus and the Holy See have established relations of concrete substance and trusting dialogue, based on our shared values of religious freedom, peace, equality, democracy and respect for Human Rights.
He noted that the excellent bilateral relations between Cyprus and the Holy See have been reaffirmed during the historic visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to Cyprus, in 2010, which apart from underlining our strong ties has marked the beginning of a new era in our relations. Moreover, it was a great honour and pleasure for me to pay two official visits to the Holy See, during my tenure, and have meetings with His Holiness, whereby we had the chance to discuss important issues of mutual interest and explore ways of promoting further our fruitful cooperation, he added.
Furthermore he thanked the Holy See for embracing and supporting the Dialogue among Civilizations and Religions and reiterated “our strong determination to contribute to this Intercultural and Inter-religious process.”
Referring to efforts to solve the problem of Cyprus, divided since the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974, Christofias said that “unfortunately the direct talks between the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot community, launched in September 2008 under UN auspices, have not borne the fruits we expected,” adding that the new Turkish Cypriot leadership failed to honour the agreed basis of the talks and has reneged on the convergences reached with former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat.
“It has also gradually become clear that Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership have shifted away from a solution on the agreed basis. They have engaged in threats against the Cyprus Presidency of the European Union and against Cyprus’ sovereign rights in its Exclusive Economic Zone. A policy is now in effect to upgrade the illegal entity of the so-called ‘trnc’ and to promote a two-state solution,” Christofias noted.
He said that such actions are a threat not only vis-à-vis Cyprus, but also to regional peace and stability. “I once again reiterate my strong belief that the exploitation of hydrocarbons has the potential to contribute to peace, stability and prosperity in Cyprus and the entire region of the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as being beneficial for both communities of Cyprus in the context of a solution to the Cyprus problem,” he noted.
Furthermore he stressed that “a solution to the Cyprus problem must guarantee a peaceful and prosperous future for all Cypriots. The way forward comes under the UN Secretary General’s auspices and good offices mission, in line with relevant UN Resolutions and in accordance with the agreed basis. Within this framework, both sides need to fulfill all commitment to continue the negotiations,” he said
Presenting his credentials Archbishop Lazzarotto said that “unfortunately, on its own land, and still today, Cyprus continues to experience the hardships of unresolved issues that leave open wounds and cause suffering.”
“The Holy See is well aware that your country is committed to the search for a peaceful and just solution through dialogue and negotiations. We all know that, on this island and beyond, it is the ardent wish of many men and women of good will that no effort is spared towards achieving this goal. I wish and pray that before long we will be able to witness a significant breakthrough in the present stalemate,” he added.
He also referred to the Cyprus Presidency of the Council of the EU and noted that by acceding to the European Union, Cyprus opened a new way of interpreting more effectively its role within the context of Europe. This also offered an opportunity to bring Cyprus’ action beyond the European borders towards the international community and add its qualified contribution for development, peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding among the nations, he said.