Where Donkeys Come to Church

Where Donkeys Come to Church

What happened to the farm animals when the Greeks of Karpasia were forced out of their homes in 1974

For the Greeks of Cyprus, the Monastery of Apostolos Andreas in Rizokarpaso at the far edge of the Panhandle is one of the most important monasteries in Cyprus. Even many Turkish Cypriots consider it to be a holy place.

Legend has it that St Andrew, the Apostle, was shipwrecked there. When he landed, he hit the rocky ground with his staff and a spring was said to have gushed forth. It appeared to have curative powers and is said to have cured the ship’s captain’s eyesight (he had become blind in one eye). The location became a place of pilgrimage. A monastery was built around the 12th century, though the church of the current one was built in the 18th century with the actual monastery being added 100 years later.

After the Greeks were forced out of the area in 1974 the state of the buildings suffered from neglect, but negotiations have enabled some restoration works to the monastery to be undertaken. The foreign occupiers now allow a limited amount of church services to be carried out.

A rather surreal result of the invasion is that the whole area around the monastery is surrounded by donkeys. Donkeys can often be seen coming right up to the Church doors, giving one the impression that one has entered some kind of Alice in Wonderland fantasy world. As one approaches the monastery one will find that donkeys will stand in the middle of the road forcing cars to stop.   

Just how did all these donkeys get there? The Turkish armed forces that invaded Cyprus in 1974 expelled 170,000 Greek Cypriots from their homes and to this day prevent them from returning to them (figure from Cyprus Foreign Ministry website). A large number of these people were farmers.  Donkeys were essential farm animals. Suddenly, when their owners were forced to flee with only the possessions they could carry, they found themselves on their own, forced to forage for their own food. Turkish farmers were irritated to find them nibbling away at their crops.

The solution that was found was to fence them off in the area around the monastery of Apostolos Andreas in Karpasia.

Where Donkeys Come to Church

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