Two hundred Armenians returned to the abandoned medieaval monastery of Saint Magar in the Turkish-occupied northern part of Cyprus Sunday where prayers were said for the first time in 33 years.
The pilgrims, most of whom used to spend holidays at the monastery up until the Turkish invasion in 1974, traveled in a convoy of five buses escorted by a United Nations patrol and Turkish Cypriot police.
But despite the anticipation of return, the enthusiasm of many was dashed by the poor state of the church and the destruction of all inscriptions by prospective developers who had earlier set their sights on transforming the monastery to a casino.
The looting of the site since the war that divided the island, had also taken its toll on the buildings, many of which had no roof and could fall within a few years, some bystanders said.
Archbishop Varoujan Hergelian led those present in a prayer of grace, 'Hayr Mer' in Armenian, while some had brought candles with them to mark the holy day of the monastery's saint, a Coptic recluse named Makarius, who had lived in the caves below the present site of the monastery in the twelfth century.
“I held service and performed my last christening here in 1973,” added Hergelian, who had traveled in civilian clothes so as not to incite any reaction from Islamists or Turkish nationalists living in nearby villages.
“It is in a tragic condition,” he said, adding that the baptismal was totally defaced from his last visit to the derelict monastery three years ago.
But the issue of reconstruction of the monastery dating back to 1642 is highly unlikely as the U.N. must ask the Turkish forces for permission since the buildings and the 9,000-acre estate of olive, citrus and carob trees that leads down to the northern sea shore, lies within a military zone and near a Turkish Army camp near Halefka in the Kyrenia mountain range.
“We only managed to halt the plans for development by the intervention of the Vatican,” said the Armenian deputy in the House of Representatives, Vartkes Mahdessian, who had organised the trip.
Previous members of the Cypriot parliament had sought the intervention of the Council of Europe when Turkish Cypriot developers allegedly won the privatisation license for the land and advertised plans for a casino, hotel and leisure cafeterias.
“I remember coming here with the scouts from the Armenian AYMA club and we used to meet scouts from the Melkonian school,” Mahdessian said, adding that other youth groups also camped at the monastery during weekends and summer holidays, often accompanied by the then pastor of the community, Father Vazken Sandrouni.
“I will try to organise a similar pilgrimage next year as well as we must remind ourselves of our heritage before the older generations start to disappear,” the member of parliament said.
Among the crowd was Stephan Bahdjejian, a veteran who served in the French Army during the second World War but remained tearful from seeing the destruction of the monastery he visited every month before the Turkish invasion.
Source: “Financial Mirror”, Cyprus, 06 May 2007