A conversation with Imam Shakir Alemdar from the Muftiate of Cyprus, Imam at Hala Sultan Tekke in Larnaca
The International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by the UN General Assembly (A/RES/36/67) to commemorate and strengthen the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples. Two decades later, in 2001, the General Assembly unanimously voted (A/RES/55/282) to designate the Day as a period of non-violence and cease-fire.The United Nations invites all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities during the Day, and to otherwise commemorate the Day through education and public awareness on issues related to peace. The theme of this year’s International Day of Peace is “Shaping Peace Together.” To celebrate the day, the world is invited to: spread compassion, kindness and hope in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic; and stand together against attempts to use the virus to promote discrimination or hatred.
International #PeaceDay 2020 #RTCYPP #10Years - #BuildingBridges #10YearsDialogue4Peace #Standup4ReligiousFreedom
H.E. Ann Linde, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, marked the 10 Year Anniversary of the RTCYPP by meeting with the Religious Leaders of Cyprus. The event was hosted by the Ambassador of Sweden, H.E. Anders Hagelberg, and moderated by Sweden’s Special Envoy on Religion in Conflict and Peacebuilding.
Minister A. Linde congratulated the religious leaders of Cyprus for being the first in Cyprus to work together uninterrupted for human rights and peace, despite politics and real challenges.
“By coming together you have shown a different path. You meet regularly despite the political climate, you coordinate your responses. And you courageously stand up for the rights and each other’s needs. You have shown that religion can unite instead of divide.
You have shown that Cyprus should represent a mosaic of both Christian and Muslim culture across the island. You have shown that peace, healing and forgiveness is not just a dream. It is actually possible.”
On this occasion, Minister Linde asked Ambassador Hagelberg to hand over, in the name of His Majesty the King, the Royal Order of the Polar Star awarded to the Director of the Office of the Religious Track, Ms. Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud. Salpy is the one of the few Cypriots to receive this rare Swedish order, awarded to foreigners who have done extraordinary efforts for Sweden.
The motivation stated that, “Salpy has given Sweden visibility in the Cyprus peace process, a role as political actor and promoted Sweden and Swedish culture. She has put Sweden in the limelight, while standing discreetly behind. Her disinterested emphasis of Sweden as an actor for peace in Cyprus has substantially widened and deepened our bilateral relation on several levels, including on the highest political one.”
The Religious Leaders welcomed the meeting, thanked the Minister for the support of the Swedish government, and congratulated the RTCYPP Director for the award. In turn, they expressed their commitment to continue and build on the genuine cooperation they have had with the Embassy of Sweden and develop stronger and new ties with the Minister herself, as well as with her Ministry.
“The last ten years we have shown our strong will and commitment to work together to restore religious freedom in Cyprus. Religion is not the problem or the cause of the Cyprus conflict. Religious freedom is one of its victims”, said Archbishop Chrysostomos II of the Church of Cyprus. “It is the responsibility of the political leaders to solve this problem”.
“Despite the challenges and negative reactions, we reiterate whenever and wherever we can that places of worship have to be respected as such and be used for the purpose they were intended to”, said Mufti of Cyprus.
“Without the right to access, to freely care for, administer and pray at our places of worship the wounds of separation will only get worse. We are committed not to allow that to happen”, said Archbishop Khoren of the Armenian Orthodox Church of Cyprus.
“Healing the memories of the past, purifying them and to work on reconciliation between divided communities is our mission and nothing will stop us from doing what is most natural for us”, said Archbishop Soueif of the Maronite Church of Cyprus.
“We know the power and impact of forgiveness on healing and transformation”, said the Latin Patriarchal Vicar Reverend Jerzy Kraj. “Peacemakers become a channel of God's grace to others. When we pray for those who have offended us, it frees us to love as God loves. God's grace has power not only to change us, but also those who have hurt us.”
“I am honored to serve the cause of human rights and peace with the country I adopted because of your values I deeply cherish”, said Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud on receiving the award. “I thank you for trusting me and for believing in me to help Cyprus in a way I would never be able to if it were not for Sweden and the Religious Leaders of Cyprus.”
The meeting took place at the Home for Cooperation in the UN controlled Buffer Zone where the Religious Leaders present could be connected to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Muftiate of Cyprus electronically.
As a gesture of goodwill, an expression of respect, Turkish Cypriot Muslims prayed at the Tomb of Apostle Barnabas. This year members of the Church of Cyprus ( Greek Orthodox) were not able to visit Saint Barnabas Monastery to pay their respects at the Tomb of the Apostle and pray at the Main Cathedral odue to the restrictions of movement in place for COVID 19 dividing the island into two parts.
"For us Apostle Barnabas is one of the holiest persons in Cyprus. As a close companion to Jesus he is a considered a very important saint in Islam. We pray for him not only today but always."Shakir Alemdar, Imam of Hala Sultan Tekke and Mufti of Larnaca, who expressed his regrets that Christians were not able to visit and pray at the Tomb of the saint this year.
On 11 June Christianity marks the feast of APOSTLE BARNABAS, venerated as the Patron Saint of Cyprus, founder of the autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus, a prominent Christian disciple, born in Cyprus.
On this occasion, annual prayer services and pilgrimages are held on June 10-11 at the Cathedral and at the Tomb of St Barnabas in Salamis, in the Famagusta region of Cyprus.
The Saint Barnabas Monastery consists of the Cathedral of Saint Barnabas and a small chapel housing the remains of the Saint. As a result of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden and their 2014 agreement, for the first time since 1974 permission was secured for monthly worship services at the chapel over the Tomb of St Barnabas and every other month at the Main Cathedral including pilgrimages on June 10 and 11, to celebrate the feast of St Barnabas
Executive Director of the Office for RTCYPP, Salpy Eskidjian took part in the 10th Online Session for KAICIID Fellows Alumni Network in Vienna, as the keynote speaker of the session titled “ The role of Religious Leaders in the Cyprus Peace Process”.
KAICIID is an intergovernmental organization whose mandate is to promote dialogue globally, as a means to prevent and resolve conflict and to enhance understanding and cooperation. The KAICIID International Fellows Programme (KIFP) is a training programme designed to connect and cultivate a network of religious leaders, educators and IRD practitioners from diverse various countries and from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and other religious backgrounds.
Ms Eskidjian spoke about the Cyprus conflict and peace process, the role of Religious Leaders in the process and the challenges and lessons learnt from working with such diverse communities. The participants were particularly interested in how education affects understanding and peace building activities, how to better promote gender equality when working with religious communities, as well as how communities can work together so that religion is not misused in conflicts.
The Online session was organised by the KAICIID Fellows Programme team.
Statement by the Religious Leaders of Cyprus condemning the attack to Köprülü Mosque in Limassol 1.6.20
We, the religious leaders of the five main faith communities of Cyprus, Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Armenian Orthodox, Maronite and Latin Catholic, who form the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden, committed and working all together for human rights and peace in Cyprus, express our united voice in condemning the acts of vandalization done last night to Köprülü Mosque in Limassol.
We are very saddened to hear this morning that petrol bombs were thrown into the sacred premises of the Köprülü Mosque and the outer wall was vandalised with racist graffiti against Islam and immigrants.
We categorically condemn any and all acts of vandalization and disrespect done to sacred places of worship. We are horrified to see such acts of violence and expression of Islamophobia, xenophobia and discrimination.
We stand up against all actions that try to damage the multicultural character of Cyprus we all strive to maintain. No acts of hatred can become obstacles to the power of love. For us, places of worship are sacred spaces where a culture of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation is nurtured and cultivated. .
For the past four years, the Köprülü Mosque in the Ayios Antonios neighbourhood in Limassol has been one of the positive examples of good and respectful cooperation of all stakeholders involved, including the Muftiate Of Cyprus, the current custodian and the local community association advancing religious freedom. As such, acts like these are not only disrespectful to the religious community but to all those who work together to advance respect, human rights and freedom of religion.
Religious Leaders of Cyprus met with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) in Cyprus, Head of UNFICYP and Deputy Head of United Nations Good Offices, Mrs Elisabeth Spehar at 10.00 am on June 1, 2020. The meeting was convened by the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) under the Auspices of Ambassador Hagelberg of Sweden and chaired by Sweden’s Special Envoy on Religion, Peace-building & Conflict Peter Weiderud.
The religious leaders appreciated an update on the status of the UN led peace talks in Cyprus and the opportunity to share their assessment and discuss ways they can contribute to confidence & peacebuilding, healing of memories, reconciliation and protecting the environment.
SRSG Spehar heard how the religious leaders addressed the challenges of COVID 19 including their efforts to care for the most vulnerable and outlined the messages of the UN Secretary General in this regard. Mrs Spehar welcomed the unity, cooperation and solidarity of the religious leaders of Cyprus throughout the pandemic
We, the Religious Leaders of Cyprus gather in the spirit of Easter and Ramadan!
For the first time since we started working together as the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process we are divided physically. For the first time in ten years we cannot gather together to meet in person.
With restrictions on movements in place, within and between our respective communities we are asked to stay home to save lives and not place undue burden on the health-care workers who selflessly are caring for the sick and vulnerable. This also means that our communities are divided from one another and separated from their beloved places of worship and cemeteries where their family members are laid to rest.
With the Grace of God, we are grateful that we, remain united, despite our physical separation. This is thanks to the trust we have cultivated and the confidence we have nurtured through our uninterrupted cooperation since 2011.
With pain we witness the ordeals of our communities, especially the most vulnerable groups in our society; the poor, the marginalized and the homeless. No matter where we live and which community we belong to, the insecurities, the fears, and the pain are the same.
We are thankful that the strict measures in response to the pandemic and the sacrifices made by all island-wide have not been futile. Cypriots have managed to keep the virus under control avoiding mass loss of life. In this respect, we call on our faithful to continue to abide by the directives of the state health authorities and call on the state authorities to reinforce an island-wide reflection and response post-lockdown.
This is not a time of self-centeredness, indifference, division and forgetfulness.
This is the time of real solidarity, compassion and unity. An opportunity to reflect and find ways to overcome greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding and hate. An opportunity for all to respect nature and all life in it.
Let us pray for those worst hit by the pandemic; for those who selflessly aid and care for the sick; and for a better tomorrow for all. We continue to fervently pray for Cypriots to heal the painful memories of the past and work united tackling our challenges as one.
H.B. Chrysostomos II, Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus
H.E. Dr Talip Atalay, Mufti of Cyprus
H.E. Khoren Doghramadjian, Archbishop of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church of Cyprus
H.E. Youssef Soueif, Archbishop of the Maronite Church of Cyprus
Reverend Father Jerzy Kraj, Latin Patriarchal Vicar of Cyprus
On 6 May 2020, the Religious Leaders of the main faith communities of Cyprus, who form the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden came together for their first virtual High Level Meeting.
This was the first time in the history of the Religious Track that they were physically divided, due to restrictions put in place by state authorities in order to deal with the COVID 19 pandemic.
The religious leaders met for two hour sharing their concerns and priorities with each other. They also adopted the attached Joint Communique where they stressed the importance of physical distancing instead of social distancing, solidarity, unity, compassion and hope. Please see the full Joint Communique adopted in English attached.