HERITAGE: Pieces of looted frescoes repatriated to Cyprus

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Communications Minister Vassiliki Anastasiadou handed over to Cyprus Archbishop Chrysostomos II four fragments of looted frescoes which she brought back home from the Hague.

Two of the pieces identified are 12th century frescoes belonging to the church of Panagia Apsinthiotissa, a Greek Orthodox monastery situated in Turkish occupied Kyrenia.

The third fragment is from the 15th century Church of the Virgin Mary in the occupied village of Assia, in the Famagusta District. Despite confirming the fourth fresco is Cypriot, its precise provenance is still unknown.

Archbishop Chrysostomos congratulated everyone involved in the repatriation of the frescoes, including the Antiquities Department Director and the police officer who handled the case.

He said the frescoes will initially be showcased at the Archbishop Makarios Foundation, in Nicosia, before been transported to the Antiquities Department for conservation purposes.

He also expressed the wish that they eventually return to the churches they belong to, once Cyprus is reunited.

He spoke of the Church’s determination to cooperate with the government, the antiquities department and other actors so that all looted religious artefacts can be repatriated.

Anastasiadou thanked Cyprus Ambassador in the Hague Elpidoforos Economou for his efforts and praised the cooperation between Church, government and the police which led to this outcome, noting that “the looting of our cultural heritage which has been extensive, constitutes a blow to our human rights.” 

She praised the Antiquities Department which will undertake the conservation of the frescoes and thanked NGO Walk of Truth for handing over the frescoes in the Hague.

Head of the Antiquities Department Marina Solomidou – Ieronymidou said efforts must be coordinated. 

“It is necessary to have a lot of persistence, patience, devotion and professionalism.”

 “I believe we have all the above; We have very capable people and we will be able to see through other repatriations.”

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.

With the encouragement and help of the Turkish army, the trade in illicit antiquities has brought great profit to those involved, and Cypriot treasures already adorn private collections in  including; Turkey, Russia, Switzerland, Holland and the UK, the US, Australia and Japan. 

More than 500 churches situated in the areas under Turkish occupation since 1974 have been destroyed, plundered and looted.