Editors’ Page: Crossing Over on Cyprus
Can archaeology bridge the divide?
A year ago we lost two distinguished, extraordinarily knowledgeable and helpful Editorial Advisory Board members for doing what 300,000 Cypriots have recently done—cross to the other side.
In April, the gates were opened between the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and the southern part of the island ruled by the government of Cyprus. Since then, nearly one-third of the island’s population—Turkish and Greek—has visited the other side.
But last year, when I announced my intention to visit “the other side” on an archaeological tour of the island, Cypriot archaeologist Vassos Karageorghis sent me an e-mail saying that this would be “unethical,” and he resigned when I persisted. Vassos is a former director of the Cyprus Department of Antiquities, a retired professor at the University of Cyprus, and excavator of many of the most famous sites on the island. He is, so to speak, Mr. Cyprus Archaeology. Indeed, it is possible that the importance of Cyprus in antiquity has been somewhat exaggerated because of the extraordinary success of the publications generated and authored by Karageorghis. Instead of trying to bring back to Cyprus the treasures of the island that grace museums all over the world, Karageorghis, under the auspices of the Leventis Foundation, has published a series of volumes (many with superb color illustrations) about Cypriot artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, and, most recently, the Medelhavsmuseet in Stockholm.
In the wake of Vassos’s resignation, Robert Merrillees, then head of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI), wrote me that he “cannot be associated with any publication that causes offense to our Cypriot host.” He, too, resigned.
Now that 300,000 Cypriots on both sides are doing just what I did, I wonder if Vassos and Robert would reconsider. We would welcome them both back as members of Archaeology Odyssey’s Editorial Advisory Board.
Since people from both sides can now visit one another, this may also be the time for some archaeological cooperation. A Turkish excavation at Salamis—perhaps the best-known Cypriot archaeological site and one that Karageorghis spent years excavating—is considered unethical by the government of Cyprus. Wouldn’t this be something to talk about, archaeologist to archaeologist?
Enkomi, an important Late Bronze Age site, was excavated by a French team before the island was divided. The artifacts excavated at the site (now in the north) are in a locked shed, untouched since 1974. The excavators will not come back to study the finds and publish a report because the site is in “Turkish-occupied territory.” This result is an unacceptable outrage to history. We are in danger of losing the history of Enkomi. It is a 058situation that cries out for discussion and cooperation.
Instances of the need for discussion and cooperation could easily be multiplied.
I recently wrote to Sophocles Hadjisavvas, the director of the Cyprus Department of Antiquities who had cordially received us in Nicosia, and to Ahmet Erdengiz, director of political affairs of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and our host in the north, suggesting that this was the moment to initiate some archaeological interchange. I even offered to mediate such discussions, if desirable. I sent my letters to the Embassy of Cyprus and to the Washington representative of the TRNC for transmittal by diplomatic pouch. The Embassy of Cyprus did just that. So did the representative of the TRNC, but he expressed his own discouraging reservations: “It may be too early for an ‘archaeological exchange,’ but I will let our authorities decide on that.” I was sorry to hear this because when I was in Cyprus, Erdengiz told me that the north would welcome archaeological visits from the south and would be glad to cooperate on projects with archaeologists from the south, including Karageorghis.
Another possibility is a scholarly conference on the archaeology of Cyprus where papers could be presented by archaeologists from the north as well as from the south, and perhaps from elsewhere as well. Now that the gates are open, the meetings could be held on both sides of the line that runs through Nicosia.
When I was in Cyprus, I was told that it was the south that shunned and isolated the north. I was therefore surprised to learn that the recent exchange of visits began when the north relented and allowed the visits. On the issue of cooperation, I would expect the south to be more reluctant because this cooperation could somehow be interpreted as sanctioning the status quo. So far, I have again been surprised: It is the north that seems not quite ready for archaeological cooperation. But I might be wrong. We shall see.
Bringing scholars together in a nonpolitical setting is one important way to build people-to-people relations. It creates understanding, if not agreement. It is the beginning of peaceful relations. It is something that is badly needed not only for Cypriots but for many other peoples—Greeks and Turks, Israelis and Palestinians. Even where there is a formal peace agreement, relations between archaeologists are sometimes much colder than they should be—for example, between scholars from Israel and the two Arab countries that have made peace with her, Egypt and Jordan.
In short, archaeologists working together and sharing archaeological perspectives can be a significant part of the peace process. These contacts should be fostered, not neglected.
A year ago we lost two distinguished, extraordinarily knowledgeable and helpful Editorial Advisory Board members for doing what 300,000 Cypriots have recently done—cross to the other side. In April, the gates were opened between the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and the southern part of the island ruled by the government of Cyprus. Since then, nearly one-third of the island’s population—Turkish and Greek—has visited the other side. But last year, when I announced my intention to visit “the other side” on an archaeological tour of the island, Cypriot archaeologist Vassos Karageorghis sent me an e-mail saying that […]