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Cyprus vows to hunt down looters

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Cyprus will hunt down looters who stole cultural treasures from the Turkish occupied north, was the warning issued during a ceremony in which the Church received looted 18th-century doors.

On Thursday, the Antiquities Department handed over to Archbishop Chrysostomos the Royal iconostasis Doors of Ayios Anastasios stolen from Turkish occupied Peristeronopigi village.

The wooden doors dated 1778 — painted with religious scenes, carved and gilded — were discovered at Japan’s Kanazawa Art College over 20 years ago, and their return followed “long and intensive efforts.”

“It sends the message to archaeologists and the international network of crooks that no matter how many years pass, the Republic of Cyprus will hunt them, as cultural genocide cannot be accepted anywhere in the world,” said Communications Minister Yiannis Karousos.

He said the looting of Ayios Anastasios church by the Turkish occupation army and its collaborators and the sale of sacred treasures, the fate of which is still unknown, proves the catastrophic consequences of the Turkish invasion.

After extensive efforts intensified in the last two years, the Royal iconostasis doors were returned to Cyprus last month.

Archbishop Chrysostomos expressed his gratitude to all those involved in returning the Royal Doors and wished they would soon find their rightful place in the church of the saint in reunified Famagusta.

Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said: “We managed to return to our homeland these unique works of art and religious symbols of the Church of Cyprus.”

The doors are the first looted artefacts to be repatriated from Asia.

They originally stood in the central gateway of the iconostasis — the ornately decorated screen that separates the sanctuary from the rest of the Orthodox church.

It was built in 1775 atop of a cave where the saint’s grave is preserved.