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Repatriation of 18th century icon that had been illegally taken to the UK in 1974

An 18th century icon depicting Ayios Ioannis Prodromos that was illegally transferred from Cyprus to the UK in 1974, was delivered on Wednesday, during a ceremony in Geneva, to a representative of Archbishop Chrysostomos II, and is expected to be repatriated within the coming days.

According to a press release by the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, the icon was illegally transferred by a pilot of the Royal Air Force who was serving in Cyprus in 1974, during the Turkish invasion.

The son of the late officer, who wants to remain anonymous, deemed it right to return this icon to its place of origin, the Academy said, adding that he did not for ask any monetary compensation. He has, however, set two terms, namely the return of the icon to its legal owner, which is the Church of Cyprus, and that no one is to benefit financially from its repatriation.

For the return of the icon, The British owner, cooperated with Marc-André Renold, professor of Art and Cultural Heritage at the University of Geneva Law School and holder of the UNESCO Chair in International Law for the Protection of Cultural Property.

The icon was delivered on Wednesday to a representative of Cyprus’ Archbishop Chrysostomos II, by professor Renold, on behalf of the son of the British officer, during a ceremony at Villa Moynier in Geneva, where the Academy is housed.

If this icon could talk, the anonymous donor said, it would tell a great story about its creation, the joy it has offered to many generations of worshipers, the conflict, and its relocation to another country for many years.

He also said that the icon had remained hidden in a box for many years which seemed to him that it was going to waste.
Its reunion with the people who truly appreciate what it represents, is the best for everyone concerned, he said, according to the press release.

Professor Renold had contacted art historian Maria Paphitis, who is known for her involvement in several cases of repatriation of looted art from Cyprus, among them, a 6th century mosaic of Ayios Andreas from the church of Panayia Kanakaria.

Paphitis informed Archbishop Chrysostomos II and coordinated the return of the icon, the press release says.

Renold said that it was wonderful that they were starting with such a nice case the work of a new platform for the diplomacy of cultural heritage of the University of Geneva.

He said that the process was smooth and transparent, thanks to the desire of the donor to “do the right thing” and the efficiency and know-how of Paphitis, without which this restoration would not have been possible.

He also expressed hope that this case will be the first of many, whether it is a project of high or medium value, but in any case, of great importance to the communities and the people with whom it relates.

Paphitis said she felt privileged to have participated in the repatriation of this icon, which is of Cypriot origin, but it is part of the collective world heritage. She said its repatriation is a celebration, but also a reflection on the thousands of works of art that are being trafficked.

She said that everyone can help stop this great, global crime.

The 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the subsequent occupation of the island, has heavily affected Cyprus’ cultural heritage and despite existing internationally binding treaties regarding the protection of cultural heritage, Turkey chooses to ignore the treaties and continues its destructive agenda.

The damages are grave and in many cases, irreversible. The occupied museums have been looted and so have many private collections of antiquities. Churches have been vandalised; ecclesiastical icons and vessels stolen, church frescoes and mosaics have been removed and in many cases have been traced in Europe’s illegal antiquities trade markets and in auctions around the world.

The Church of Cyprus and the government of the Republic of Cyprus have made and are making great efforts to locate and repatriate such relics.

(CNA)

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