Ambassador to UN says Cyprus cultural heritage destruction by Turkey is systematic and widespread
Cyprus, he said is fortunate to have 9,000 years of recorded civilization, and has therefore an obligation to protect its cultural stock and bequeath it to future generations.
He added that the islands cultural heritage has been continuously enriched through the millennia, while many of the artefacts of this rich cultural history can be viewed in museums throughout the world.
Many more, unfortunately, have become the objects of illicit trafficking, especially those removed illegally from the territory of the island under occupation since 1974, Emiliou noted. He added that many churches, chapels, monasteries, cemeteries, libraries, museums and private collections of religious art and antiquities were destroyed and looted.
Emiliou also said that illicit trade operated from the occupied areas of Cyprus has been illustrated by a number of cases, brought to courts around the world by the Church of Cyprus, who is the rightful owner of many of those artefacts.
He referred to the case of the Kanakaria church mosaics, a rare work of 6th century art, which were removed and illegally exported abroad. A lawsuit filed by the Orthodox Church of Cyprus in the United States District Court of Indianapolis resulted in a judgment in 1989, whereby the mosaics were returned to their rightful owner two years later.
The Ambassador added that in a relevant case filed before a German court, the court decision in 2010 opened the way for the repatriation to Cyprus of artefacts looted from Kanakaria and other churches and monasteries.
Emiliou further said that Cyprus follows with interest the work undertaken to address the illicit sale of cultural objects on the Internet and the need for Member States to adopt appropriate international legislation in the field.
He underlined the efforts of the United Nations and of UNESCO in particular, while adding that Cyprus is a State party to the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 1954, and a signatory of its Second Protocol.
As the Ambassador pointed out, combating of illicit trafficking in cultural property is a task that requires perseverance and multifaceted collaborative efforts. In order to stop illicit trafficking, he went on, States should ensure that customs and border control officials should be fully trained in their duties to apply the rules of the relevant UNESCO Convention, and to report any cases of illicit activity to the appropriate authorities of the State party concerned.
He reiterated finally Cyprus unwavering determination to use all the necessary legal and political means to repatriate illegally obtained cultural treasures, adding that the country expects the solidarity and support of the international community in order to protect an invaluable part of the cultural heritage of humanity.