EUROPE AND THE CYPRUS CULTURE AND HISTORY
I. ELEMENTS OF THE HISTORY AND CULTURE OF CYPRUS
Cyprus has many centuries of long history and has always been a point of both conflict and cooperation of various civilizations. The first historic signs of its cultural activity date back in the 8th millennium B.C. during the neolithic period.
The big deposits of copper in Cyprus contributed later on in the great cultural developments of the island. It has been proved that in the bronze age Cyprus had intense commercial relations with the big cultural centres of that time. Curing that period metallurgy and pottery flaurished while close relations particularly developed with Crete, relations which are impressed in the "Cypro-Minoan" system of writing which appeared in Cyprus in 1500 B.C.
The important geographical location of Cyprus naturally became the main reason the country was occupied by big powers at various times. Of special importance for the future of Cyprus was its colonization by the Achaeans around 1600 B.C. who brought with them the Hellenic culture and language. Legend has it that the first Hellenes who settled in Cyprus were heroes of the Trojan war. The arrival of the Achaeans greatly influenced town planning, architecture, metallurgy and pottery.
The arrival of the Achaean Greeks had a profound and lasting influence on the culture of the island. Ever since Cyprus has remained predominantly Greek in culture, language and population despite various influences resulting from successive occupations.
This led Cyprus to new orientations. While until then Cyprus was oriented towards the East, with the arrival of the Greeks, Cyprus turned towards Europe.
However, Cyprus continued to be the field of confrontation between the cultures of the East and the West. Cyprus became part of the Empire of Alexander the Great and part of the Hellenistic world until its integration with the Roman Empire.
In this period, Cyprus developed a significant cultural activity and close contacts with the civilization of the Hellenic world. Cypriot athletes took part in the Olympic and the Panathenaic games and the names of Cypriot sculptors are referred to at Delphi and Lemnos. The worship of Aphrodite in Cyprus was known throughout the world and at the temple of the Goddess of love and beauty at Palepaphos, gathered pilgrims from all over the ancient world.
Cyprus was the first country to become Christian after Palestine and was converted by Apostle Paul and the Cypriot Apostle Barnabas who is also the founder of the autocephalus church of the island. The Christian civilization spread in Cyprus which played an important role as a part of the Byzantine Empire. Wonderful churches, and monasteries containing fine wall paintings and mosaics survive from the early Byzantine period and are an indication of the important part played by Cyprus at the time.
With the emergence of Islam, in the 6th and 7th centuries A.D. Cyprus became again a field of conflict between Christendom and Islam. The Arabs with their repeated incursions tried to occupy Cyprus which was finally liberated in 965 A.D. when Emperor Nicephorous Phocas again turned the island into a province of the Byzantine state.
The Crusades influenced the development of the history of Cyprus when during the third Crusade, the king of England, Richard the Lionheart in 1191 occupied the island, defeating the ruler Isaakios Comnenus. Richard tried to sell the Cyprus to the Templars, who nevertheless were not able to resist the revolt of the people of Cyprus. Thus, the island went back to Richard, who sold it to the Frankish king of Jerusalem Guy de Lusignan.
The rule of the Franks in Cyprus lasted till 1489 and during that period life on the island was organized on the basis of the feudal models of the West. The French rulers were able kings and cared for the defence, the economy, the letters and the arts.
During the 14th century Cyprus managed to become one of the most important centres of contact between East and West. At the same time Cyprus in the years of Frankish rule constituted the bridge of the western civilization with the Byzantine tradition. It was the meeting point of chivalry with Byzantine frontier fighters, of the western romanticism with eastern mysticism, of the Gothic style with Byzantine plasticity, of the monumental character and formalism with incorporealism and spiritualism, of with orthodoxy. Within the network of these contradictions a complex cultural creation took shape developing both in letters and in the arts with the stressed seal of twin influences.
The end of the Latin period of Cyprus is the Venetian rule from 1489 to 1571. The Venetians held the island for its strategic position in the area of the Eastern Mediterranean in order to strengthen their commercial activity.
The Ottoman occupation of Cyprus in 1571 brought about a radical result in the history of the island. The Turkish minority of Cyprus dates back to that period when the Turkish colonists and Ottoman soldiers settled on the island. Cyprus remained under Ottoman rule until 1878 when with the Treaty of Berlin the Sultan, in his effort to secure British support in his conflict with Russia leased Cyprus to Great Britain. Then in 1914, following the entry of Turkey into the first World War on the side of Germany the British Government annexed Cyprus and turned it into a Crown Colony in 1925. The demands of the people of Cyprus for national restoration were maintained throughout this period and was intensified after World War II when during the '50s the armed struggle against British colonial rule started with the claim for self-determination and union of Cyprus with Greece.
This struggle ended with the compromise of the Independence of Cyprus in 1960. The British rule was a period of conflict and developments which nevertheless helped modernize Cyprus and put her into the European orbit. With her independence, Cyprus oriented itself towards Europe by becoming a member of the Council of Europe and by signing an Association Agreement with the EEC. On the 4th of July 1990, Cyprus submitted an application for full membership in the Community and expects that the relevant negotiations will start soon.
Since its independence, Cyprus has exerted considerable efforts to develop and modernize its economy, its institutions and its society. It has attributed great importance to the creation of a cultural environment in Cyprus and for that reason it has promoted the development of education and culture on the island.
In 1974 the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus by Turkey and the occupation of almost 38% of the island have created a tragic situation for the cultural treasures of the island. The occupation forces have undertook a deliberate policy directed against the cultural heritage of Cyprus and have tried to eradicate and destroy all proof of the 9000 year of Cyprus history.
Important archaeological sites in the occupied part of Cyprus have been neglected and have sustained constant damage and plunder. Severe destruction has been suffered by the churches all over the occupied areas where precious wall paintings and mosaics have been removed illegally exported and sold abroad. The case of the mosaics of the Church of Panayia Kanakaria is well known. These mosaics were illegally sold to a U.S. private collector and after a legal claim put forward by the Church of Cyprus, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (decision of 24.10.90) decided that the mosaics must be returned to the Church of Cyprus which has been has been held to be their sole rightful owner.
Evidence has also been received that the Monastic Church of Panayia Argasida, a 14th Century Byzantine Church has been demolished.
International Organizations such as UNESCO, the Council of Europe and others have been concerned with the situation in Cyprus but unfortunately so far the conduct of the occupation forces in the occupied areas has remained unchanged and the valuable historical and cultural heritage of Cyprus which is a common European heritage has suffered from continuous acts of vandalism, pillage and plunder.
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II. THE CULTURAL ASPECT OF CYPRUS TODAY
Since its independence Cyprus has developed institutions and structures similar to those of Western Europe. The democratic, pluralist system of government in Cyprus, its developed economy and the principle of respect of human rights constitute elements which shape today's European outlook of the island.
Within this framework, it is widely held in Cyprus that one of the main targets to be pursued should be to the enhancement and strengthening of the cultural identity of the country.
For this reason, the government of the Republic of Cyprus gives special importance to the strengthening of cultural activities in all fields.
Special emphasis is given to the field of education. It is not accidental that Cyprus today has the lowest percentage of illiteracy while the number of University graduates is among the highest by international standards.
Intellectual and artistic creation in Cyprus has grown considerably in recent years, a fact which is reflected in the plethora of cultural centres and the large number of museums and art galleries which have been established in various parts of the country.
The Government promotes systematically these activities with grants, organization of manifestations, artistic competitions etc.
Activities in the field of theatre are noteworthy including presentation of high quality theatrical works of international repertory. Such activities are supported by the strengthening of the relevant infrastructure throughout Cyprus as well as by improved technology and economic assistance provided to theatrical groups.
In the field of antiquities of Cyprus, a systematic effort is being pursued to strengthen archaeological research, maintenance and protection of archaeological sites and findings as well as the more intensive projection and evaluation both internally and internationally of this significant heritage of the country.
The ratification of the convention for the Protection of the Cultural Heritage of Europe, reflects the importance attributed by the Government of Cyprus to the protection, maintenance and renovation of significant architectural buildings.
Its multiform and complex cultural tradition which couples its rich historical heritage, gives Cyprus an entirely special character, which at the same time constitutes part of the larger European tradition.
Cyprus, placed at the easternmost extremity of Europe can and must promote even further its cultural exchanges with the rest of Europe and constitutes a cultural springboard of Europe in the Eastern Mediterranean.
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The cultural cooperation within the framework of the European Community has much to benefit from its contact with Cypriot culture.
It is true, that the cultural cooperation of the Community is relatively new. The Treaty of Establishment of the Community, the Treaty of Rome, did not envisage the development of a common policy in this field.
Despite this, for quite some time now, is widely held among all those taking part in the procedure of European integration, that culture constitutes one of the basic elements of European identity. The European integration, having as a goal the strengthening of the bonds among its constituent nations, may not be content only with the economic and social subjects in which the provisions of the Treaty had originally limited.
The preservation of the cultural heritage of the peoples participating in the European integration and in the renovation of this heritage through creation and exchanges cannot but constitute also an issue of this integration.
Thus, in the Treaty for the European Union adopted by the 12 in December 1991 at Maastricht in Holland, the cooperation in the cultural filed was institutionalized as a target of the Community's activities.
Today, the policy of the Community, in the field of culture, is articulated around five axes.
The first regards the creation of a European Cultural Area. With the perspective of the integration of the greater internal market, the creation of a European cultural area aims at securing with priority, the free movement of cultural goods and services, the improvement of the living conditions and work of the artists and the creation of new employment places in the cultural field, in relation on the one hand with the regional, tourist and technological development, and on the other the development of a competitive cultural industry at Community and world level.
The second axis regards the promotion of the European audio-visual industry. The European Community becomes a society of communication. Both the professional circles and the politicians realize that frontiers have no importance any more and for this they recognize and support all the efforts at developing a European audio-visual industry.
Access to the cultural sources is the third axis of cultural cooperation at Community level. This big sector of activity has great priority in the measure of offering the possibility to utilize the cultural force in all its aspects including the linguistic one too.
The fourth axis is the promotion of the cultural preparation. It aims at the available possibilities to become accessible to all and for all the sectors of cultural activity.
Finally, the trans-cultural dialogue with the rest of the world constitutes the fifth axis. This dialogue is a necessity which results from the time-long cultural traditions of Europe which is based on the fact that the great civilizations of the world have deep relations with the main European civilizations. This need also responds to the expectation of third countries, of Europe, Asia, Africa, or Latin America not to identify the Community as a simple trade or economic associate but to be themselves recognized by the Community as cultural associates.
Next to these five axes, the institution of the cultural capital of Europe or the organization of the European cultural month, constitute events with a strong effect on the public at large while at the same time they contribute to promoting and strengthening the more generalized European cultural identity.
Finally, the activity in the field of the book with the setting up among other things of a European award for letters, an award for translation, or the organization of the European cultural movement and the campaigns for the promotion of books and reading conclude the Community activity in the area of culture, an activity which aims at bringing closer to the European citizen, the common cultural tradition of Europe.
Copied by Nicos Nicolaou, December 1994.
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