An 18th-century icon that a British officer saved out of war-torn Cyprus in 1974 was returned on Wednesday to the island’s Orthodox Church by the officer’s son to reunite it with those “who really appreciate what it stands for”.
A representative of the Cyprus Archbishop Chrysostomos II received the icon during a ceremony at Geneva’s Villa Moynier which houses the Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.
The Royal Air Force officer had been serving on Cyprus during the summer of 1974 when Turkey invaded and cleaved the island along ethnic lines in the wake of a Greek junta-backed coup aiming at association with Greece.
On July 20, 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus, violating all rules of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations. The illegal Turkish invasion was carried out in two phases. During the second phase, Turkey took the city of Famagusta, under its control and illegally occupies over 36% of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus ever since.
The officer found the icon and took it back to Britain, where his son said it remained locked away “in a box for years”.
The son, who wished to remain anonymous, said keeping it out of sight for so long “seemed such a waste” and thought its return would be “best for all concerned.”
The Cyprus Church has for decades tried to track down numerous religious icons, mosaics and frescoes stolen from hundreds of abandoned churches and monasteries in the island’s illegally occupied Turkish Cypriot north and sold abroad.