Yuceer, Hulya, “The Future of Religious Heritage in Conflict Areas: The case of abandoned churches in Northern Cyprus”

Religious buildings generally represent a community’s common spiritual values. In the case of armed conflict between people of different religious affiliations, their places of worship can become targets of destruction or, in the case of displacement of communities due to conflict, they can eventually become abandoned. In the case of the Cyprus conflict however, there are some differences. Although there was no deliberate destruction of heritage sites, the nature of the conflict resulted in community displacement and subsequent neglect of religious buildings, many of which are now in ruin.

The Cyprus conflict has its roots in the inter-communal dispute between Greek and Turkish Cypriots; affiliated to Christian and Muslim religions. The conflict led to the displacement of the communities in 1974 and has not yet been resolved. Thus, the places of worship not used by the other community became obsolete as the community that previously used them were relocated. Currently there is little indication of a solution that would allow them to re-settle in their original villages. Thirty-eight years have led to the oblivion of memories and have given rise to a new generation who have not witnessed these events. The religious heritage sites in the absence of their original owners or communities were affected by the conflict either by being left to deteriorate and falling into ruin or by being appropriated for another purpose. Today, on both sides, there are many churches and mosques that are examples of this (Figure 1 and 2).

In view of the problematic economic situation of Northern Cyprus, and the number of churches, monasteries and chapels, the conservation of heritage sites is not at the top of the priority list regardless of ethnic affiliations. The conservation projects chosen to be supported by international organizations are mostly those which are seen as «significant» heritage sites which can attract more attention and form part of a larger agenda. In the case of Cyprus, the community has been seen to play an important role in heritage protection as has been proved by the churches that have been assigned new uses such as cultural centres, handcraft ateliers for women and folkloric dance centres (Figure 3,4,5). With the mandate of the community, a maintenance process with minor alterations has been undertaken, thus showing their sensitivity towards the churches, even though the community is well aware that these churches may be returned to their rightful owners, should there be a unification in future, and that they are merely acting as custodians of these churches until that time.

Rather than allowing them to deteriorate, these modest adaptive re-use projects offer a temporary but pragmatic solution for their maintenance and safeguarding.

Hülya Yüceer
Architect PhD-Conservation Specialist
Department of Architecture
Adana Science and Technology University, Turkey
hulyayuceer@gmail.com

For further information please see:
ß Yüceer, H. (2012) “Protection of abandoned churches in Northern Cyprus: challenges for reuse”. In S. Lambert, & C. Rockwell (Eds.) Protecting Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict (pp.60-66). Rome: ICCROM.
http://www.iccrom.org/pdf/iccrom_18_protectingheritageconflict_en.pdf
ß Saifi Y., Yüceer H. (2012). “Maintaining the absent other: the re-use of religious
heritage sites in conflicts”, International Journal of Heritage Studies, (Available online since 27 July 2012)
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13527258.2012.709192
ß Yüceer H. (2012). “The effects of conflict on religious heritage sites in Northern
Cyprus”, Economia della Cultura, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 279-286.
http://www.rivisteweb.it/doi/10.1446/38897