Press Release 19.6.18

Religious Leaders of Cyprus Encourage Fair Treatment and Compassion for Refugees in Cyprus

and Around the World in a Joint Video Statement

To mark the occasion of World Refugee Day 2018, the Religious leaders of Cyprus have jointly issued a welcoming video statement that advocates inclusion, understanding, and support for refugees and asylum seekers in Cyprus. The Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) has facilitated the video production in cooperation with the Religious Leaders of Cyprus and UNHCR - Cyprus.

The video includes statements from H.B Archbishop Chrysostomos II of the Church of Cyprus, H.E. the Mufti of Cyprus Dr. Talip Atalay,H.E. Archbishop Khoren Doghramadjian of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church of Cyprus, H.E. Archbishop Youssef Soueif of the Maronite Church of Cyprus and Rev Jerzy Kraj, Latin Patriarchal Vicar.

In anxious times such as the one we are living in today, enhanced partnership is essential not only between the United Nations and faith-based actors, but also among these organizations themselves, in building welcoming, tolerant and inclusive communities based on the common values of caring and respect for the stranger,”said Mr. Damtew Dessalegne, the UNHCR Representative in Cyprus.  “With this powerful joint statement by the five main religious leaders of Cyprus, we indeed see the start of a strong interreligious dialogue related to refugee protection in Cyprus,“ continued Mr. Dessalegne.

Their combined statement has formulated a comprehensive narrative that draws attention to the challenges faced by refugees throughout their journeys. Calling on the state and individuals alike, they emphasize the moral teachings of their respective faith tradition. They advocate for society as a whole to accept the refugees that come to Cyprus, to treat them with respect and to help them rebuild their lives.

The inspirational words of this joint statement send a clear message that both the Christian and Muslim Religious Leaders of Cyprus stand together with refugees and urge all Cypriots to do the same.” Says Salpy Eskidjian, Executive Director of the Office of RTCYPP.

A common theme throughout is the importance of welcoming refugees into Cypriot society, as seen in the following insightful remarks.

H.B Archbishop Chrysostomos II of the Church of Cyprus, sends a global message for “everyone to devote particular attention to refugees who are forced to flee their homeland, their homes, for a better life.” Further strengthened his appeal to policy makers, “to help solve the problems of the refugees and for the Mediterranean Sea to stop being a graveyard of innocent people.”

H.E. Mufti of Cyprus Dr. Talip Atalay states that, “all segments of the civil society should make efforts and conduct activities in order to lay the groundwork and a prepare a path for integrating the refugees into the society they live in and for encouraging them to bring a positive contribution.”

H.E. Archbishop Khoren Doghramadjian of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church of Cyprus recognizes that “We usually try not to think about them [refugees], but this is not right. Religions teach us to love each other, and we should extend this love equally to our fellow human beings and to help them.”He suggests to, “restore their dignity as human beings, to free them from their mind-set as refugees and to enable them to adapt to life in a strange land.”

H.E. Archbishop Youssef Soueif of the Maronite Church of Cyprus calls on all actors within society to help refugees by saying, “We should all try as individuals, as institutions, religious institutions, civil institutions, political institutions, we should try to help them [refugees] to be integrated in to their new societies.”

Rev Jerzy Kraj of the Latin Patriarchal Vicar recognizes that refugees are simply, “our brothers and sisters in search of a better life far away from war, poverty and hunger.” His prayers go out “to those that have devoted their lives and their efforts to helping.”

Embracing the words and actions of the Religious Leaders of Cyprus, Elizabeth Spehar, Special Representative of the Secretary-General/Head of UNFICYP, echoed their sentiments, stating, “Despite the current challenging environment, it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that the needs of those seeking refuge from conflict are evaluated with empathy, that they receive a fair hearing and a chance to be productive members of an inclusive community.” She continued in praise of their efforts, underscoring that, “Through their strong and compassionate joint statement, the five main religious leaders of Cyprus have lent their influential voices to support refugees in Cyprus and, more broadly, to the global quest of the conflict-affected for a better life.”

RTCYPP News 7.6.18

Mufti of Cyprus breaks fast and prays with the Muslim community living in Paphos

On the occasion of Ramadan, Mufti of Cyprus, Dr Talip Atalay and his delegation, together with the Director of the Office of the RTCYPP joined the Muslim community living in Paphos and were warmly welcomed to an Iftar dinner at Aşağı Baf Masjid (Mesjid of Kato Paphos) on 7 June 2018.

The Mufti and the facilitator had the opportunity to meet with the local Imam and community representatives, listen to their concerns and pray with the faithful present. The Imam and community representatives thanked the RTCYPP, the Mufti of Cyprus and the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus for all their efforts to address and improve the worship rights of the refugees, asylum seekers and migrants living in Paphos and together they discussed concrete ways forward.  A representative of the Ministry of Communication and Works in Paphos was also on site to discuss the recent works taking place outside and around the Mosque and its effects on the worship and prayer life of the only open and functioning mosque in Paphos.

The local Muslim community living in Paphos praying at Kato Paphos Mesjid are mainly refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. This is the first time in over 4 decades when the Mufti visits and prays with the Muslim faithful in Paphos during Ramadan. The meeting and visit was highly appreciated by all.

RTCYPP News 30.4.18

All five religious leaders of Cyprus took part in today’s luncheon at the Archbishopric of the Church of Cyprus, hosted by His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos II for the resident Ambassadors as well as the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations and the Representative of the European Commission.
In his welcoming address Archbishop Chrysostomos II’s thanked the diplomatic community for their presence and for their support to the peacebuilding efforts of the religious leaders, known as the RTCYPP. His Beatitude emphasized the religious leaders’ determination to continue their dialogue and joint efforts so that “eventually we can all have free access to all our religious monuments.”
The gathering followed His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos II’s invitation during the RTCYPP High-Level gathering with the diplomatic community at the Swedish Residence in March.
The Ambassador of Sweden, Anna Olsson Vrang in thanking His Beatitude for his hospitality, said that today’s gathering took place in a “difficult moment for the peace process and the region”, but “the togetherness and continued dialogue among Cyprus’ religious leaders offers a beacon of hope”. The Ambassador stated her view that “Knowledge and experience from all over the world has shown that inter-religious dialogue is an instrument for conflict prevention” She expressed pride that in Cyprus through the efforts of the RTCYPP one can repeatedly witness the religious leaders standing up for each other’s needs and rights. “The religious leaders here have demonstrated that when there is trust, the setbacks which are unavoidable in any conflict, can rather be used as investments and learning for the future rather than being allowed to spoil the entire work.” Ambassador Olsson Vrang reiterated her government’s commitment to continue to support the facilitation of the RTCYPP.
In closing the Dean of the diplomatic corps, Ambassador of Ukraine, Borys Humaniuk expressed the diplomatic community’s strong commitment to a solution of the Cyprus problem, and stressed the importance of the efforts the religious leaders make “with the common aim that is the prosperous life of all communities in Cyprus.”
At the invitation of the Office of RTCYPP, the religious leaders of Cyprus had the opportunity to meet privately prior to the luncheon where they reiterated their commitment to jointly advocate for the respect of religious freedom and to work together for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation to serve all people of Cyprus irrespective of their faith and ethnic identity. The religious leaders of Cyprus restated their conviction that respecting religious freedom as a human right would contribute to confidence and trust building and is a concrete measure for a sustainable peace building.

RTCYPP News 16.4.18

The Stockholm Forum on Gender Equality is currently underway to mobilise governments, the private sector, civil society and academia from all over the world to intensify efforts for a gender equal world. The aim of the Forum is to find solutions, take new initiatives, and strengthen co-operation in the international fight for gender equality.
Participants include government ministers, politicians, civil servants, activists, civil society actors, and academics from 100 countries. Top names from all over the world are invited to share experiences and best practices on a wide range of areas, including women’s political participation, women, peace and security, gender-based violence, women’s economic empowerment, sexual and reproductive health and rights, discriminatory legislation, humanitarian action, and climate change.
The forum is organised by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Sweden and the Swedish Institute in a spirit of co-creation, using the strength and momentum of the UN Global Goals. The hosts of the Forum are Margot Wallström Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Isabella Lövin, Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate, Ann Linde, Minister for EU Affairs and Trade and Annika Rembe, Director-General of the Swedish Institute.
Salpy Eskidjian, Executive Director of the Office of RTCYPP and one of its architects, is attending the Forum to share her experiences as a mediator, peace-builder and human rights advocate, nominated by the Embassy of Sweden in Nicosia.
The Stockholm Forum on Gender Equality takes place in Stockholm, Sweden, from 15-17 April 2018.

RTCYPP News 10.4.18

The Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) was one of the initiatives highlighted at the Nordic Interfaith Conference on Healing of Memories, where participants learnt about different approaches to deal with memories of violent conflict, in particular the role of people of different religions in reconciling with memories of war and trauma.
Salpy Eskidjian, Executive Director of the Office of RTCYPP and one of the facilitators of the religious leaders of Cyprus’ dialogue was invited to share her experiences from Cyprus with the RTCYPP since 2009 and the inspiring story of the religious leaders of Cyprus committed to work together for human rights, peace and reconciliation held under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden in Nicosia.
Other speakers included Father Michael Lapsley from South Africa, Imam Senaid Kobilica from Bosnia Herzegovina, Rabbi Goshen-Gottstein from Jerusalem, Imam Salahuddin Barakat and Rabbi Moshe David HaCohen living in Malmö, Sweden.
The conference took place in Gothenburg, Sweden from 9-10 April 2018 and was attended by people active in interfaith dialogue in the Nordic countries, academics in the field, civil servants and politicians. The Gothenburg Diocese of the Church of Sweden and the Inter-religious Centre of Gothenburg hosted the conference

RTCYPP News 8.3.18

Member of the Swedish Mediation Network recognizes the RTCYPP and expresses appreciation to the historic joint statement of the religious leaders of Cyprus condemning violence against women and girls.

On March 8, 2018 Margareta Wahlström, an eminent member of Swedish Women’s Mediation Network met with H.B Archbishop Chrysostomos II and H.E Mufti Talip Atalay during her two day visit to Cyprus, on the occasion of International Women’s Day and had the opportunity to learn more about the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process, a unique initiative in Cyprus, supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden.
Ms. Wahlström acknowledged the religious leaders for their cooperation, courage and constructive joint contribution to the peace process in Cyprus. She congratulated all the religious leaders of Cyprus, including the Armenian Orthodox, Maronite and Latin Catholic Churches for their uninterrupted dialogue for reconciliation since 2011 and their unprecedented joint peacebuilding efforts, upholding religious freedom. Ms Wahlström expressed special appreciation to the religious leaders for their recommitment and reaffirmation of their historic joint statement condemning violence against women and girls.
Anna Olsson Vrang, Ambassador of Sweden and Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud, Director for the Office of RTCYPP accompanied Ms. Wahlström who also had the opportunity to briefly witness the status of a few Christian and Muslim monuments on the agenda of the RTCYPP. Ms. Wahlström was in Cyprus as a prominent guest of the Swedish Embassy in Cyprus and keynote speaker at the Embassy’s main event, marking 2018 International Women’s Day in Cyprus.
Margareta Wahlström is the President of the Swedish Red Cross Society and former United Nations Special Representative for the Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström initiated the Swedish Women’s Mediation Network in 2015 in response to the increasing challenges against peace and security worldwide. The aim of the network is to promote peaceful conflict resolution and actively support women’s meaningful participation in sustainable peace-making processes before, during and after conflict.

RTCYPP News 6.3.18

Office of RTCYPP facilitated and organised the first visit of H.E. Archbishop Khoren to the Armenian Church of Sourp Asdvadzadzin, welcomed by with the Mufti of Cyprus, H.E. Dr Talip Atalay.
H.E Ambassador Olsson Vrang of Sweden joined the religious leaders to the Armenian Church, School and Prelature in the old neighbourhood of Nicosia, traditionally known as the Armenian Quarter, where for decades Armenian Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots lived together until the early 1960’s.
Accompanying the delegation were Imam Shakir Alemdar of Hala Sultan Tekke, Father Momig Habeshian of Nicosia and Salpy Eskidjian, Executive Coordinator of the RTCYPP.
The Lusignan King of Cyprus Henry II built the Church in 1308-1310 where an older 12th century Benedictine abbey once stood. It came under the Armenian Church in 1504. In 1570 the Church and surrounding buildings of the former abbey was used to store salt and was given back to the Armenians together with the surrounding area with a firman (edict) issued in 1571 by Sultan Selim II. Another firman from 1614 also confirmed the Armenian ownership of the Church. Over time the Church underwent various changes. It was restored in 1688, 1884 and 1904. The Armenian Church Prelature, the Melikian-Ouzounian Elementary School and Kindergarten were located on the grounds of the Church and used as such until the 1963 inter-communal conflict in Cyprus.
The Church and surrounding buildings remained non-operational and suffered great deterioration until 2007 when the UNDP-ACT began working on its preservation and restoration with the financial support of USAID. The renovation was completed in 2013 and won the Europa Nostra Award for Cultural Heritage in 2015.
With the facilitation and assistance of the Office of RTCYPP the church was opened for the first time in May 2014 with the full support of the Mufti of Cyprus and the Board and General Director of Evqaf and attended by all the religious leaders of Cyprus in person or through their representatives, including the Head of UNFICYP and UN SRSG and members of the diplomatic corps.
Since the church was re-opened, liturgies were held two times in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

RTCYPP News 1.3.18

The Ambassador of Sweden, Anna Olsson Vrang and the Office of RTCYPP co-hosted the first meeting for all Resident ambassadors and Heads of international organizations with the five religious leaders of Cyprus. The main purpose was to introduce the joint peacebuilding efforts of the religious leaders of Cyprus, known as the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process that is under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden. The meeting took place on March 1, 2018 at the Swedish Residence in Nicosia.
The gathering was the first formal joint meeting of the religious leaders of Cyprus since the beginning of the New Year who reiterated their appreciation to the Embassy of Sweden and the Office of the RTCYPP for the support, facilitation and coordination of their efforts.
The meeting was a unique opportunity to share their commitment, concerns and priorities with the whole of the diplomatic community and representatives of UN and EU institutions in Cyprus.
All religious leaders reaffirmed their commitment to continue their dialogue and cooperation with one another building bridges of trust and advocating jointly for religious freedom. In addition all reiterated their moral responsibility to work together to keep hope alive, heal memories, restore justice and promote reconciliation.
Responding to the request of the religious leaders, Ambassador Anna Olsson Vrang announced that the Embassy of Sweden would host such gatherings annually.
Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud, Director of the Office of RTCYPP and Executive Coordinator of the religious leaders dialogue in Cyprus will follow up on the recommendations and suggestions of the meeting as agreed with the religious leaders of Cyprus.
All religious leaders and members of the diplomatic community congratulated HB Archbishop Chrysostomos II on his 40th Anniversary for his Archhierchical service to the Church of Cyprus.

RTCYPP News 23.2.18

In honor of U.S. Religious Freedom Day, U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Doherty visited the interfaith language classes coordinated by the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden and participated in the monthly joint session together with Swedish Ambassador Anna Olsson Vrang.
Prior to the language course Ambassadors Doherty and Olsson Vrang had the opportunity to meet and discuss the situation of religious freedom in the island and the efforts of the RTCYPP in this regard.
The United States celebrated Religious Freedom Day last month, to commemorate the legal protections it established over two centuries ago. These protections were later incorporated into the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution and allow all people to practice their faith free from persecution or fear.
The “RTCYPP Language Course” is a new initiative for the religious leaders of Cyprus, where, for the first time, priests, imams, nuns and laypersons working for religious and faith-based institutions in Cyprus come together every week to study Greek and Turkish language. The course takes place at the Home for Cooperation in the UN-controlled Buffer Zone. It includes monthly joint sessions, which provide the participants an opportunity to get to know each other, learn about each other’s traditions, and practice their new language skills.
This is the second term of the language course. The pilot phase of the program ended in December 2017 with a strong endorsement by all involved for the course to continue.

RTCYPP News 1.2.18

Today marks the beginning of the annual World Interfaith Harmony week, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly to promote harmony between all people regardless of their faith.

In the resolution A/RES/65/5 adopted on 20 October 2010, the UN General Assembly established the first week of February every year as the world interfaith harmony week, acknowledging that mutual understanding and interreligious dialogue constitute important dimensions of a culture of peace.
On this occasion the Office of RTCYPP – The Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden- reiterates its strong commitment to continue to work with and accompany the joint efforts of the five religious leaders of Cyprus and the different faith communities in the island for mutual respect, coexistence and harmony.
The aim of the World Interfaith Harmony Week is to provide a focal point from which all people of goodwill can recognize that the common values they hold far outweigh the differences they have, and thus provide a strong dosage of peace and harmony to their communities. Among others, the resolution recognizes the imperative need for dialogue among different faiths and religions to enhance mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation among people. The UN General Assembly encourages all States to support, on a voluntary basis, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship.
Since 2009, the Office of RTCYPP encourages, facilitates and serves the religious leaders’ dialogue and their joint efforts for human rights, peace and reconciliation. Through their dialogue, the religious leaders of Cyprus are making important breakthroughs for religious freedom and human rights in Cyprus fostering cross-community communication and cooperation contributing constructively to the Cyprus peace process.