Europa Nostra Recognizes Wonderful Feat of Architectural Restoration

Oct 27, 2015

Address by Christopher Louise, UNDP-ACT Programme Manager, at the local Europa Nostra  award ceremony for the Armenian Church Restoration project  

Tuesday, October 27

Your Excellencies, Your Grace(s) Ladies and Gentlemen…

I am one of 3 UNDP programme managers that have shared the honour and the responsibility of ensuring this site was restored to standards which would do justice to the memory of the communities which have called this place home.

My predecessors, Andrew Russell and Jaco Cilliers, did much of the heavy lifting to get this project off the ground and to build the relationships which allowed the local communities to collaborate and establish lasting bonds of trust and mutual respect. I arrived to this project relatively late but I had the pleasure of overseeing the final act in the restoration process.

I will admit when I first took over the mantle of this project I had my doubts about the role of cultural heritage as a tool for reconciliation and peace building. I was a skeptic. But over time I began to see first-hand, how tangible cooperation on a historic monument, can have the most profound effect on inter-personal relationships.

The trust which was built through the encounters of people who worked on the project, helped the communities to re-imagine the physical spaces which define people’s lives, and provided a meaningful context for inter-communal contact.

The departure points for these journeys of discovery were often professional – architects, engineers, planners, experts of all kinds – but through the process of collaboration these people soon became partners and friends dedicated to a shared vision and a new sense of pride in improving their community. I am convinced that there are many people who worked on or were associated with the Armenian Church and Monastery restoration project who have revisited their own attitudes to the other community and the past.

There was one other essential factor which extinguished my doubts. This ingredient was the power of participation in the process of change, which this project at the Armenian Church site represented. The UNDP-ACT programme and our partners have consistently advocated for greater people participation in the process of reconciliation and reaching a political settlement. In the past 24 months we have worked with political parties, leaders in business, trade unions and civil society to establish a high level dialogue of civic leaders on the future of the island.

A dialogue which has the potential to complement and strengthen the momentum towards a solution.

This principle of participation and inclusion underpinned our best cultural heritage projects. This one was no exception. The experience taught us and our Cypriot partners that working beyond the experts and technicians to involve the people of the community is critical for the sustainability of the project outcome. It allows people to have a hand in the decisions which affect the physical spaces which they cherish. The result is that people then take full ownership of the process and some gratification from the results. And when that process is geared towards building inter-communal trust through cultural heritage, then people take ownership of the cycle of reconciliation which emerges.

Today we celebrate a wonderful feat of architectural restoration, but I would say that the lessons of the project we honour, call for an approach to reconciliation in Cyprus which demands the inclusion of all Cypriots. Being the keeper of someone else’s culture is a huge responsibility and the many Cypriots who have made this project a success deserve our gratitude and highest recognition.

I would like to thank Europa Nostra for their recognition of the Armenian Church and Monastery project. I also want to thank USAID for the financial support which made the project possible. The number of people who worked on the project and who deserve to be acknowledged are too numerous to mention by name. But they know who they are, and they should be justly proud of their achievement.

This is probably the last time I will speak publicly as the UNDP -ACT programme Manager in Cyprus as our work comes to an end in December. And so I would like to share this thought. Hundreds of years ago this Church was a symbol of the cooperation between the communities of the island. I very much hope that very soon the symbolism of this event, and of this place, which lies on the edge of the Buffer Zone, will be translated into action that reconnects this beating heart of the cultural life of this city.

Finally, I want to congratulate all the Cypriots who believed in this project. If at times it seemed a challenge to reach the end, let us recall the words of Nelson Mandela:

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”