An important conciliatory step took place in Cyprus on Monday evening, offering a rare chance for a joint Greek and Turkish Cypriot exhibition to take place in Nicosia, showcasing invaluable artworks which had been considered lost or stolen after the Turkish invasion of 1974.
A stunning total of 219 paintings are now exhibited in a hotel just inside Nicosia’s United Nations buffer zone which divides the Greek area from the Turkish-occupied part of the capital.
The collection, with artworks which are believed by experts to be worth well above six figures, includes some of Cyprus’ most iconic paintings, which were thought for decades to have been tragically lost forever.
Nicos Anastasiades, the President of Cyprus, and Mustafa Akinci, the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, were present at the opening of the exhibition, an act which itself sent a message of peace through art.
Glimpses of yesterday's exhibition #InCultureWeTrust organised by the Bi-Communal Technical Committee on Culture, supported by @UNDPCY and EU; and hosted by SRSG/DSASG Elizabeth Spehar at Ledra Palace Hotel last night. #Cyprus pic.twitter.com/tNUy2NjhzE
— UN Cyprus (@UN_CYPRUS) February 4, 2020
All of the paintings are the work of Greek Cypriot artists. Most of them had been stored for decades in basements somewhere in the occupied third of the island.
Most of these paintings had been taken by private and public collectors during the turbulent days of the Turkish occupation, and were swiftly spirited away, then stored in basements to protect them from any damage.
But somehow over the years, their location had been forgotten by almost everyone, and the artworks were believed to have been stolen or simply lost forever.
A wonderful exhibition of artworks and audiovisual material organised by the Bi-Communal Technical Committee on Culture this evening, and a gift for all Cypriots. Congratulations @VassiliouEU, @kanikanol, @UN_CYPRUS & other Committee members for organising #Inculturewetrust pic.twitter.com/JcqHOQ0jk5
— UK in Cyprus (@UKinCyprus) February 3, 2020
Last year, an arrangement was made between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in an attempt to improve the relations between the two opposing sides, and the paintings were suddenly brought back to light from where they had been secreted, most likely by someone who knew exactly where they had been kept all these years.
President Anastasiades noted to reporters at the show opening that ”Art and cultural activities can tangibly contribute to efforts of achieving peace and reconciliation,” while Akinci declared that the event was a ”manifestation of the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots’ respect for each other’s artistic and cultural values.”
In addition to the exhibition of the paintings, the Greek Cypriot side also returned audiovisual recordings of Turkish Cypriot artists from the archives of the Cypriot Broadcasting Corporation (CyBC) showing Turkish Cypriot groups participating in cultural events in the 1950s and 1960s.
Both of these important cultural events were part of the “Bi-Communal Technical Committees Support Facility” Project, which was fully funded by the European Union.