Our Shared Heritage: bringing Cypriots across borders through cultural heritage

Messages from Agios Afksentios - Our Shared Heritage #3

Conservation projects across the island, led by the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage, with EU and UNDP support, are not only re-establishing community links between villages and their former residents, but also encouraging cross-community exchanges.This is perhaps most evident in the journey of Ismail and Christina, whose stories has become linked following the restoration of the church of their village.

Christina Pavlou Solomi Patsia is a former Greek Cypriot resident of the Komi Kebir/Buyukkonuk village, where UNDP recently finished restoring the Agios Afksentios Church.

As a child, she lived close to the church. “We used to play in the church yard when we were young; we spent most of our time here. When I come back here now, it feels like I am 13 again.”

Despite having lived most of her life in Limassol, Christina still feels strongly attached to her village. She has come back many times, even before the conservation works started. 

Before the church was restored, however, she had difficulties convincing some of her friends, also former residents, to join her in her daytrips to the village. “The restoration of the church was a turning point,” she tells us. “The ones who came told me: Christina, we were scared to come, but the repair of the church felt like an invitation.”

The conservation, supported by EU funds, was completed in June 2015, and its completion was celebrated in the presence of both the Orthodox Bishop of Karpasia Christophoros and Imam Fahretin Ogdo.

Highlights

  • Since 2012 approximately €8.1 Million of European Union funds have been provided by the European Commission through UNDP to implement the priorities of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage for the preservation of the island-wide cultural heritage in Cyprus.
  • UNDP has helped the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage to protect 13 heritage sites islandwide
  • 4 sites are currently undergoing restoration, with another 20 under study to benefit from similar interventions in the near future (September 2016)

Conservation projects across the island, led by the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage, are not only re-establishing community links between villages and their former residents, but also encouraging cross-community exchanges.

This is perhaps most evident in the journey of Ismail Cemal, a Turkish Cypriot, whose story has become linked to Christina’s following the restoration.

Ismail, originally from Paphos, relocated from south to north during the same period, and has been living in Komi Kebir/Buyukkonuk ever since.

Ismail and his wife Louise are well-known figures across the island. They have been pioneers in turning their village one of the first eco-villages in Cyprus. Their house happened to be just beside the church – and opposite to where Christina’s used to be.

Because my house is close by, I volunteered to keep the keys, so that when visitors or friends from south come, I can open and close it for them,” Ismail says. 

Christina and Ismail have since become friends. “On the side of the iero (the sacred space in the church) there used to be a large almond tree many years old,” explains Christina. “We always said it was the Saint’s almond tree because the legend goes that Agios Afksentios once tied his horse on it when he came to visit. The tree has since died, but with Ismail’s help we planted a new one there and I hope it reaches the height of the other and stays for many years.” 

The Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage is a bi-communal network of heritage experts from the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. They were appointed by the respective community leaders to help rebuild peace and trust on the island through heritage conservation initiatives. 

Working with the bi-communal team, UNDP has helped to protect 13 heritage sites islandwide. Four are currently undergoing restoration, with another 20 under study to benefit from similar interventions in the near future.

In the end, the work of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage is not only about stones and buildings. It is really about people, and their stories, and their capacity to translate it into new encounters and friendships.