Talking Statues: How do monuments speak to us? (part 2)
Everywhere we look there’s something to remind us of who we are, or who we’re meant to be.
There are flags, writing on the walls and writing on the hills and mountains. There are monuments, statues and even postal stamps that remind us of who we are or who we’re meant to be (the stamp with the refugee on it, sitting behind barbed wire). They remind us of a past that many of us don’t know; a past that we have never lived. The information and stories were passed on to us second hand by our grandparents, our parents and even our teachers.
I’ve written about the importance of monuments before [here] and their importance in our history and how we look at history. For the purposes of these two blog posts I am grouping together monuments, statues, and paint on mountains and hills. And with a settlement currently under negotiation, we have begun to think about how we will deal with the existence of these monuments; whatever they may be.
I went on a guided tour last week of Ayios Panteleimonas monastery in Myrtou (Çamlıbel), organised by UNDP as part the celebrations for International Day of Monuments and Sites. We took the old road to Kyrenia passing villages that I’d never heard of, such as Skylloura (Yılmazköy). I hadn’t heard of many of them either in Greek or Turkish. On our way we also passed a small hill with a crescent on it and another small hill with the infamous slogan of ‘Ne mutlu Turkum diyene’ (‘How happy is the one who says he is a Turk’).
This is one mighty motto of the Republic of Turkey. This phrase was first used by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in a speech he delivered on the 10th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey, on October 29, 1933. The phrase was then introduced into the student oath in 1972.
As anyone who has even just visited Nicosia knows, the painted Turkish Cypriot flag on the Kyrenia range of mountains along with the phrase ‘Ne mutlu Turkum diyene’, and the crescent, is the biggest bone of contention among Greek Cypriots. Yet this is a monument of sorts; a monument that represents, for some, the conquest of part of the island.
Coming back to my trip to Ayios Panteleimonas Monastery, what struck me was the fact that I had no idea that this phrase, along with the crescent, had been painted in many more places than I had imagined; even anticipated. As it was once etched onto a hill or a mountain, its presence is also etched into our minds.
Can we ever imagine the Kyrenia mountains without that flag and motto? And even if we can, how long will it take to remove it from our minds is the real question?
- An eye opener
- Hitting the pause button
South Africa had to struggle with this question after the end of Apartheid in the early 90s. For the most part they decided to leave the monuments but give attention to interpreting them in light of the struggle to bring South Africans together as equals in a new republic. And, of course, they sought to construct new monuments, holidays, a national anthem and the like—not to mention the famous flag!— to promote a new sense of national unity. Ib Cyprus as in South Africa, this will take imagination, artistic creativity, and profound public dialogue. I hope that this will someday be possible and stand as an inspiration to others.
Dear Bill, we have a long way to go unfortunately but we can hope 🙂 I don’t think we can have a complete do-over but even the thought of new monuments depicting a new Cyprus is exciting!