Exhibition “Cyprus: Crossroads of Civilizations” marks 50 years of Cyprus – USA friendship, said the Cypriot President.
Washington, DC.- by Apostolis Zoupaniotis
The exhibition “Cyprus: Crossroads of Civilizations”, inaugurated Tuesday at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. marks 50 years of diplomatic relations, friendship and co-operation between Cyprus and the USA, Cyprus President Demetris Christofias has said at the opening ceremony. Present at the ceremony were, Minister of Foreign Affairs Markos Kyprianou, Minister of Transportation Erato Kozakou-Markoullis, the Cypriot Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou, the Ambassadors of Greece and Cyprus and members of Congress Costas Bilirakis and Eliot Engel. U.S. Covernment was represented by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Tina S. Kaidanow.
“The decision to celebrate this important milestone in the history of the Republic of Cyprus with an exhibition of such scope and importance in the United States, testifies the close bonds of friendship between our two countries and people”, President Christofias said, adding that it also highlights the long history of fruitful co-operation in the field of archaeology between the two countries.
President Christofias noted that the exhibition celebrates the 50th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Cyprus and showcases its 11.000 year history.
Referring to the antiquities on display he said that they are “merely a fraction of the artifacts discovered on the island by Cypriot and foreign excavators, including many American archaeologists”, adding that the display is enriched with masterpieces of ecclesiastical art, maps and coins presented to the American public for the first time.
President Christofias briefly described Cyprus’ development in the world saying it became an independent state in 1960, soon after, a UN member, whilst also gaining membership in many regional and international organizations, culminating with its accession to the European Union in May 2004.
Throughout the centuries, he said, Cyprus became a bridge for permanent dialogue between the countries and peoples of the region and beyond, adding that today, as the European Union’s lighthouse in the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus continues to be a beacon for closer cooperation, understanding and dialogue in its immediate neighborhood and further afield.
Referring to the division of the island President Christofias underlined that Cyprus’ commitment to contributing to peace and stability in the region takes place against the backdrop of Cyprus’ own painful division since the Turkish invasion of 1974.
“It’s a pity for a people like the people of Cyprus to be under occupation” he underlined stating that during the ongoing UN led negotiations between himself and the leader of the T/c community aiming to achieve a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem he is “fighting for the rights of all Cypriots, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Armenians, Maronites and Latins”.
“Cypriots deserve a better fate”, he said, adding that Cyprus could “become a crossroads of peace, security and friendship between the peoples of the region, the United Europe, the people of the Eastern Mediterranean”.
Describing the economic development of the island he said that trade has always been one of the main sectors of the Cyprus economy, adding, however that from the 1960s Cyprus became one of the main tourist centres of the Mediterranean with over 3 million tourists visiting the island annually in recent years.
He also referred to Cyprus’ service industry noting that Cyprus has a well-developed banking system and offers a wide range of services catering for the needs of businesses and individuals, adding that it also plays a prominent role as an international maritime center, whereby constituting one of the leading third-party ship management centers in the world.
President Christofias said that Cyprus having one of the richest cultural heritages has meant that it also actively pursues the return of its “plundered culture”, also referring to the Memorandum of Understanding between Cyprus and USA dating from 2002, with an aim to protect pre-classical and classical archaeological material of Cyprus, later amended as he said to include Byzantine items, and ancient coins from the classical and pre-classical period.
“The Republic of Cyprus”, he noted, “considers this Memorandum of Understanding as an invaluable tool and mechanism, which significantly contributes to the protection and preservation of Cyprus’ religious and cultural heritage”, also referring to its importance in as far as the occupied areas are concerned since the Republic of Cyprus “is unable to prevent the continuing looting and illegal export of artifacts”.
Referring to the exhibition as a whole he said that together with the artifacts, maps, icons and coins displayed, it showcases the indelible footprint of history and the rich mosaic of the varied influences which have touched Cyprus for thousands of years.
All visitors to the exhibition will have “a most enriching experience, gaining also a better appreciation of the significant contribution of Cyprus throughout history”, he said.
President Christofias also thanked the Museum Director Dr. Samper as well as all those who contributed to make the exhibition possible.
According to legend, Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and fertility, was born in Cyprus, the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Walk through “Cyprus: Crossroads of Civilizations,” a new exhibition opening today at the National Museum of Natural History, and you can see how the worship of the deity has been deeply ingrained in the country’s history. Flat, plank-shaped ceramic figurines dating back to 2000 B.C. call to mind the “Mother Goddess,” as does the marble statue of Aphrodite that holds court near the rear of the gallery.
But perhaps the most interesting revelation when comparing the representations of the goddess across time is the extent to which international influences play out in Cypriot art. For example, the plank figures, though unique to Cyprus, may be a result of mixing the religious beliefs of incoming settlers from Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) and the island’s original inhabitants. Likewise, the marble statue of Aphrodite, excavated at Salamis, Cyprus, and dating from sometime after Cyprus was annexed by the Roman Empire in 58 B.C., has a clearly Romanesque style.
The exhibition, guest curated by former director of the Cyprus Department of Antiquities Sophocles Hadjisavvas, emphasizes how Cyprus’s location, at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, contributed to its melting pot culture. It also argues that out of the mixing of cultural influences came a uniquely Cypriot style.
The unveiling of the exhibition comes at the 50th anniversary of Cyprus’s independence from Great Britain. But, organized like a timeline, it spans 11,000 years of the island’s history. Through artifacts—vases, bowls, sculptures, gold jewelry and paintings, many of which have never been shown outside of Cyprus—the exhibition documents what life was like from the time Cyprus was first settled to the beginning of Ottoman rule in 1571.
“It’s an experience,” says Hadjisavvas. “Visitors can get in touch with the people of Cyprus through the antiquities. They can visit the island of Cyprus through this exhibition.”
**** The Smithsonian Associates presents “Timeless Cyprus” Tuesday, Nov. 16, at 6:45 p.m. in the museum’s Baird Auditorium. This program features a lecture by Stuart Swiny, director of the Institute of Cypriot Studies at the State University of New York at Albany. Swiny draws on images of objects in the exhibition to provide an overview of the traditions that have helped to create a Cypriot identity. He also discusses some of the beliefs and cultural practices that have existed for millennia. Participants may tour the exhibition after the lecture and enjoy a reception featuring the foods and wine of Cyprus. Resident associate members: $25; general admission: $40. Call (202) 633-3030 or go to residentassociates.org
**** Since its earliest settlement, Cyprus has been a gateway for the movement of ideas and goods throughout the Mediterranean. William Woys Weaver, food historian and director of the Keystone Center for the Study of Regional Foods in Devon, Pa., presents “Cyprus: Culinary Crossroads of the Mediterranean” at the National Museum of Natural History’s Baird Auditorium Wednesday, Dec. 8, from 6:45 to 9 p.m. A reception, including Cypriot wines and traditional meze, follows the lecture. Resident associate members: $35; general admission: $50. Call (202) 633-3030 or go to .residentassociates.org.