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  • Protecting the Cultural Heritage of Cyprus:International Laws and Concerns
  • Müge Şevketoğlu, Riza Tuncel, and Vasıf Şahoğlu

The aim of this essay is to highlight the difficulties of doing fieldwork in North Cyprus and being subjected to sanctions, due to the problematic 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. We would like to concentrate on these difficulties and elucidate the problems we have dealt with when trying to protect the cultural heritage of the island. As will be emphasized, the ongoing political situation and the currently accepted interpretation of the Hague Convention and other international treaties make any attempt to preserve cultural heritage in contested lands or in times of conflict extremely difficult. We will also explore how the lack of research in the northern part of the island has prevented the development of a truly island-wide archaeology as well as how most accusations directed toward the northern authorities are politically biased and serve a political agenda rather than aiming to preserve the island’s rich cultural heritage. Last but not least, we will provide some examples of cooperation between the two sides of Cyprus, which have proven that changes in attitudes can be constructive and positive in the protection, preservation, and research of cultural heritage on the island.

International Law

It is not our primary aim here to discuss the legality or illegality of the de facto state in the northern part of the island, but rather to point to the challenges experienced by those working in the fields of archaeology and cultural heritage management. The current interpretation of international law and the stubborn stance of the political parties involved actually harm cultural heritage—in most instances—instead of protecting it, which is the intent of the Hague Convention.

The vast subject of the Hague Convention and its various interpretations, specifically its use and misuse of Cypriot politics to limit or justify fieldwork, have been discussed by Samuel Hardy (2011; see pp. 25–54 for a discussion of just the convention). The main problem facing the preservation, protection, and conservation of cultural heritage and archaeological fieldwork in the northern part of the island has been the political judgment of local as well as international communities concerning who the real authority is after military intervention and partitioning by Turkey in 1974.1 The northern part of the island was declared as having been “invaded” by Turkey (thus becoming “occupied territory”) through many resolutions by the United Nations (UN) Security Council.2 This matter was further complicated by the declaration of independence/secession of the northern part of Cyprus as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in 1983. The UN Security Council resolutions following this action called on the member states of the UN to not recognize this “secession,” thus categorizing the TRNC as an illegal entity.3

It may be best to examine some of the issues and problems arising from the Hague Convention as discussed in Hardy’s work (2011: 92–94), which probably remains the most balanced and objective study on this subject.

[The 1999 Second Protocol] has stated that the 1954 (Hague) Convention … required that powers “occupying territory must preserve cultural property in that territory.” Yet in the relevant clause of the 1954 Hague Convention … the Intergovernmental Conference on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict only required an occupying power to “support the competent national authorities” cultural [End Page 141] property protection, and to conserve war-damaged sites “in close co-operation with such authorities” (ICPCPEAC 1954a: Ch. I, Art. 5).4 The Convention did not explicitly allow the occupying power to work independently. So, the national authorities of an occupied territory could refuse to do any cultural heritage work in the occupied territory, and then argue that international law prohibited the occupying power from doing even emergency work. In [the] New Delhi Recommendation, UNESCO urged an occupying power to “refrain from carrying out archaeological excavations” (1956: Art. 32).5 The 1956 Recommendation explicitly banned an occupying power from conducting archaeological site preservation, which the 1954 Convention had implicitly required. So, the occupying power could not do emergency...


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pp. 141-148
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