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Media Watch 2007

01 June 2007
Source: Cyprus Weekly
Author:
Comment: The following article appeared in the Cyprus Weekly of Nicosia on 1 June 2007.
Sad return to vandalised monastery in occupied north
THE 200 Armenians returning to a Mediaeval monastery in the occupied areas were confronted with the building’s tragic decay. The walls of the Monastery of Sourp Magar echoed with prayer for the first time in the 33 years since the Turkish invasion.

"THE 200 Armenians returning to a Mediaeval monastery in the occupied areas were confronted with the building’s tragic decay.

The walls of the Monastery of Sourp Magar echoed with prayer for the first time in the 33 years since the Turkish invasion.

The pilgrims, most of whom used to spend holidays at the monastery prior to the invasion, travelled in a convoy of five buses and were escorted by the UN and Turkish Cypriot ‘police.’

On arrival, the visitors’ enthusiasm was dampened by the condition of the church. Prospective developers had also destroyed all of the holy building’s inscriptions as part of plans to turn themonastery into a casino.

The site had also been looted and is in danger, some of the pilgrims said, of collapsing completely with the next few years.

Archbishop Varoujan Hergelian led those present in a prayer of grace, Hayr Mer, in Armenian, while some of the pilgrims had brought candles with them to mark the holy day of the monastery's patron saint.

Saint Magar was a Coptic recluse who, in the 12th century, lived in the caves below where the monastery stands today.

"I held a service and performed my last christening here in 1973," said Hergelian, who had travelled in civilian clothes so as not to incite any reaction from Islamists or Turkish nationalists living in nearby villages.

"It is in a tragic condition," he said, adding that the baptisterium had been totally defaced since his last visit to the monastery three years earlier.

Although the monastery dates back to 1642, it is highly unlikely that any renovation work will be possible any time soon.

For work to take place, the UN would have to ask the occupation regime for permission, as the monastery and its surrounding land lies within a military zone and near a Turkish army camp in the Kyrenia mountain range.

"We only managed to halt the plans for development by the intervention of the Vatican," said the Armenian deputy in the House of Representatives, Vartkes Mahdessian, who organised the trip.

Previous members of the Cypriot parliament had sought the intervention of the Council of Europe when Turkish Cypriot developers allegedly won the privatisation licence for the land and announced plans to turn it into a casino, hotel and leisure venue.

"I will try to organise a similar pilgrimage next year as well, as we must remind ourselves of our heritage before the older generations start to disappear”, Mahdessian said."