and#8217;Reluctant Museumsand#8217;

Theopisti Stylianou-Lambert
Cyprus University of Technology, Cyprus

Alexandra Bounia
University of the Aegean, Greece

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Ingår i: National Museums and the Negotiation of Difficult Pasts: Conference Proceedings from EuNaMus; European National Museums: Identity Politics; the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen; Brussels 26-27 January 2012

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 82:4, s. 61-76

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Publicerad: 2012-01-17


ISSN: 1650-3686 (tryckt), 1650-3740 (online)


In the 1990’s a new kind of museum appeared in the North; mainly Muslim; part of Cyprus: Orthodox Christian churches that have been dis-used after the events of 1974; were turned into icon museums. In these museums; religious objects (mainly icons) have been displaced; ironically not from their natural place; which is the church; but from their original function; which is that of worship. Furthermore; the administration and ownership changed from their legal owners (the church of Cyprus and the Greek Orthodox people) to that of an occupying force of a different religion of the self-declared “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC).

After briefly presenting the on-going claims made by both Greek and Turkish Cypriot authorities regarding the destruction of religious sites and the illegal trafficking of religious objects; this paper will examine issues of cultural ownership and “heritage wars” as these are exemplified in the the five icon museums; currently under the supervision of TRNC’s “Department of Antiquities and Museums”. These museums seem to take different forms depending on the national claims of the two communities. For the Republic of Cyprus; they are either seen as proof of the purposeful and continuous cultural destruction of Christian religious sites or as spaces which are temporarily «out of order» due to the Turkish occupation and which will resume their normal function as soon as a solution is found. On the other hand; for the TRNC; icon museums are the answer to Greek Cypriot accusations for cultural destruction and a public display of respect and religious tolerance. As a result; these museums are in limbo between permanent; neutral institutions (as museums are supposed to be) and temporary; emotional ones. These ‘reluctant museums’ bring to the forefront issues of ownership and purpose; of religious and national representation; of restitution of cultural property and peaceful cultural co-existence.


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