The eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus has been dealing with a recent colonial past for the last decades where in terms of official heritage in the Republic of Cyprus the past is distributed/spread within the landscape which is by 46% occupied by the Turkish and the rest by the Greeks. The invasion of the Turkish in 1974, moulded the identities of both sides and transformed the heritage of the island into a contested place.
The past in Cyprus has clearly taken a political role due to the fact that heritage has the ability to imbue places with certain values, especially the complex landscape of Cyprus that encompasses a blending of different pasts of religious cultures, ideologies and nations. Heritage of the two dominant communities is used as a way to build up ethno-cultural identity of each community. For the Greek part, identity is associated with Christianity and Hellenic civilization while for the Turkish one ,identity is closely linked to Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
1 There is a lot of discussion around ownership of heritage as well as destruction and reconstruction in Cyprus, but the dominant discourse as Constantinou refers to it: ”we” protect, ”others” destroy!” (Costantinou ) When Turkish settlers, after 1974, came to inhabit the northern part of the island, along with the Turkish-Cypriots, a number of churches became heritage or museums in order to promote the tolerance against other faiths as well as tourism. Most of them were emptied from their Christian symbols and re-used as religious spaces of Islam. Decorated with Muslim symbols and an added minaret, the refurbished buildings would serve another religion under the same roof that the old was worshiped.2Before the departure of the Turkish Cypriots from their villages, during the conflict of 1960s and after 1974, there were 102 mosque in the south. A 2006 report by the Turkish government claims that 16 of these mosques were destroyed and only 25 of them were maintained in a good condition. The rest were abandoned and neglected or ruined.
Since the island’s division these properties have been managed under the Turkish Cypriot Properties Management. 3 In the present, only five mosques are in use in the south and these are where Muslim immigrants have been established. These mosques are in Nicosia, Larnaca and Limassol and they are maintained and used by the Islamic Call Society of Libya.4 With the opening of the checkpoints, and the entrance of the old inhabitants and pilgrims of these churches were reclaimed, as many pilgrims would put candles on their entrances or place icons wherever was possible. These actions, according to many Turkish-Cypriots, brought a lot of tension and anxiety in the locals that were living around these sites.
As a result, after pressures on the administration, the old churches-mosques stopped function and new mosques for the worship of Islam were build. 5 Consequently, the old churches were emptied once again and are left in the present as a landmark and a reminder of the existence of another religion in the past. The building of new mosques was interpreted by the Greek-Cypriot administration as an ”Islamization” process coming from the Turkish-Cypriot state. It is very possible that the current Turkish government’s intentions were to legitimise the Turkish presence in the north by building Mosques and establishing the Islamic religion, however, if it was not for the Greek-Cypriot and 1 Eide 20072 Constantinou, Demetriou & Hatay 20123 Day?o?lu & Hatay 2010: 1304 Day?o?lu & Hatay 2010: 1315 Constantinou, Demetriou & Hatay 2012: 181