RTCYPP News 14.1.2019

Ambassador of Sweden Anna Olsson Vrang and Director of the Office of RTCYPP Salpy Eskidjian met with H.E. Archbishop Soueif of the Maronite Church Of Cyprus. The excellent meeting discussed, among others, the current role of the religious leaders of Cyprus and the Office of RTCYPP for peace and reconciliation.

Photo credit: Ranya Najjar

RTCYPP News 14.12.2018

RTCYPP/ODIHR 2-day Training on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Press release by OSCE/ODIHR https://www.osce.org/odihr/406541

Twenty-three leaders and representatives of religious communities in Cyprus came together for a training event on freedom of religion or belief in Nicosia, on 11 and 12 December 2018. The event was organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in co-operation with the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden (RTCYPP).

The training event, held in the Home for Cooperation in the United Nations Buffer Zone, focused on the nature and scope of the right to freedom of religion or belief as set out in international standards and OSCE commitments. The participants (13 men and 10 women) explored the interrelationship between the freedom of religion or belief and the freedom of expression, and the role of religious leaders and actors in creating and sustaining a culture of respect for everyone's freedom of religion or belief and other human rights.
"It is very encouraging to see the commitment of these religious leaders in Cyprus to standing up for the rights of all religious and belief communities on the island," said Kishan Manocha, ODIHR Senior Adviser on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
"Freedom of religion or belief is one of the victims of the Cyprus conflict," said Salpy Eskidjian, Executive Director of the Office of the RTCYPP. "We cannot build lasting peace without ensuring the right of everyone to freely practice their religion or belief. We therefore warmly welcome the opportunity to work with ODIHR to provide training on this very important human right to the leaders and members of the religious communities in Cyprus."

RTCYPP News 25.11.2018

Elimination of Violence against Women – 16 Days of Activism

The Office of RTCYPP launches today the social media campaign 16 Days of Activism for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls. During the 16 days between the International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women 25 November and International Human Rights Day 10 December, a photo series is posted on Facebook and Twitter depicting members of Cyprus’ faith communities united with messages to combat violence against women and girls. The Religious Leaders’ historic statement of 2017 condemning violence against women is brought back into focus, as it is as relevant today as on the day it was signed.

Faith communities, international organizations and local initiatives gather during these days under the overarching umbrellas of #16Days, #OrangeTheWorld, #HearMeToo and #Faith4Rights. The RTCYPP campaign will join these hashtags as part of a world-wide movement on social media and the RTCYPP website.

The Office calls on all to join the campaign and be part of the change during these 16 days as well as all other days. As long as violence against women and girls persists, the world cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace. Women’s rights are human rights.

RTCYPP News 20.6.18

12th Special Pilgrimage to Hala Sultan Tekke on the Occasion of Ramazan Bayram

On the occasion of the Eid al-Fitr 2018 a special pilgrimage to Hala Sultan Tekke took place on Wednesday, 20 June where 860 faithful of Turkish origin were granted access to attend Bayram prayers at the most well known and revered mosque in Cyprus. The pilgrimage was the 12th since the unprecedented agreement between the religious leaders of Cyprus, namely H.B. Archbishop Chrysostomos II of the Church of Cyprus and the Mufti of Cyprus H.E. Dr Talip Atalay reached in 2014 within the framework of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden (RTCYPP).

Representatives of the religious leaders from the Church of Cyprus, the Armenian Orthodox Church of Cyprus, the Maronite Church of Cyprus and the Latin Patriarchal Vicar were present at Hala Sultan Tekke to bring fraternal greetings on the occasion of Ramazan Bayram.

Witnessing the special pilgrimage was the Ambassador of Sweden, H.E. Mrs. Anna Olsson Vrang under whose auspices the Religious Track is facilitated. The Ambassador of Sweden expressed her congratulations to the Mufti and all Muslims living in Cyprus for this auspicious occasion and welcomed the continued close cooperation and warm relations of all the religious leaders of Cyprus. “Upholding religious freedom together, continuing your support for each other, working together as one shows leadership and courage in a divided country. Your actions are strong witnesses for hope and inspirations for others to follow,“ stated Ambassador Olsson Vrang in greeting the religious leaders of Cyprus.

Welcomed by the Mufti of Cyprus, the Christian religious leaders voiced messages of peace and solidarity to all Muslims living in Cyprus and their commitment for continued cooperation and dialogue. Sensing the pilgrims’ excitement and appreciation for the special pilgrimage, the religious leaders expressed their own happiness for having had the opportunity to contribute to the day’s events and ongoing efforts that strengthen religious freedom across the entire island.

The three annual special pilgrimages for Ramazan Bayram/Eid al-Fitr, Qurban Bayram/Eid al-Adha and Mevlid/Mawlid al-Nabi are facilitated within the framework of the Religious Track with the support of H.B. Archbishop Chrysostomos II and all other Christian religious leaders of Cyprus. They are organised by the Muftiate of Cyprus and coordinated by the Office of RTCTYPP with the full cooperation of the state authorities, UNFICYP and UN Police. The special pilgrimage of today had the approval of the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. Nikos Christodoulides.


Ramazan Bayram or Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that takes place annually.  Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, to Prophet Muhammad according to Islamic belief. For 30 days, followers of Islam pray, fast and refrain from bad behaviour and impure thoughts. Fasting and focusing on prayer and charity during Ramadan is meant to purify the body and spirit and bring the faithful closer to God; fasting during the month is also one of the five pillars of Islam.

RTCYPP News 11.6.18

Unwavering Gestures of Respect Between Religious Leaders at the Feast of Apostle Barnabas of Cyprus

On 11 June 2018, Reverend Father Ioannis Ioannou of Saint Barnabas and Greek Orthodox pilgrims taking part in the Feast of Apostle Barnabas were joined by Imam Fuat Tosun representing the Mufti of Cyprus. Saint Barnabas is the founding Apostle of the Church of Cyprus. Hundreds of Greek Orthodox Christian faithful commemorated the day at the Monastery and Cathedral of Saint Barnabas near Salamis, Famagusta.

Showing her appreciation to the joint efforts of the religious leaders of Cyprus and their commitment to dialogue, H.E Ambassador of Sweden Ms. Anna Olsson Vrang joined the liturgy to witness the good will gesture of the religious leaders and celebrate the occasion. As the peacebuilding initiative of the religious leaders of Cyprus, known as the RTCYPP functions under the auspices of the Embassy of Sweden, her presence was warmly welcomed and greatly appreciated by all parties.

The celebration began with a divine liturgy in the main Cathedral and culminated with prayers at the site of the tomb of Apostle Barnabas. Imam Tosun and the rest of the RTCYPP delegation were received with enthusiasm by the clerics of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus.

“This is the kind of leadership we want”, exclaimed one of the older pilgrims when greeting the religious leaders, “The presence of the Mufti’s representative fills our hearts with hope that our faith unites us even if we are different and we care for each other’s rights”.

In congratulating the Church of Cyprus on this important feast, Imam Tosun expressed the commitment of the Muftiate of Cyprus to religious freedom, dialogue and peace. “I bring you this painting of a door which for me symbolizes an opening in the walls that separate us, a light in the darkness” said Fuat Tosun, when presenting his gift to Father Ioannis after the liturgy. “If we can respect each other and all that is precious to each one of us we can coexist with one another. The RTCYPP for us is the hope that can break the ‘doors’ that keep us apart and build bridges instead.”

Father Ioannou expressed his sincere thanks to Imam Tosun for being there despite the fact that it is Ramadan.  “Let us be the peace that comes from Apostle Barnabas who is love”, said Father Ioannou “For us we have a mandate to love everyone and build bridges. It’s an obligation to dialogue and work together as religious leaders. We greatly appreciate your presence and the support extended by the Mufti and all Imams.”

Together Father Ioannis and Imam Fuat thanked the Swedish Ambassador for honoring them with her presence and for Sweden’s unwavering support to the Office of RTCYPP and the peacebuilding efforts of the faith communities in Cyprus. They both affirmed to continue to build bridges of communication, cooperation to restore religious freedom all over the island and nurture reconciliation.

The goodwill gestures and meetings of the religious leadership of Cyprus at Christian and Muslim places of worship is a result of agreements within the framework of the Religious Track and is facilitated by the Office of RTCYPP. “Religion and religious leaders can and should play a positive role in a conflict.” Said Salpy Eskidjian, Executive Director of the Office of RTCYPP. “The regular pilgrimages to St Barnabas and Hala Sultan for hundreds of faithful who were not able to visit religious sites for worship due to the political situation in Cyprus are among the achievements of the Religious Leaders of Cyprus upholding a fundamental freedom”.

The Saint Barnabas monastery consists of a church, the Cathedral of Saint Barnabas, now serving as an icon museum, the monastery, now housing an archaeological collection, and a chapel housing the remains of the Saint.  Since 2016 prayers take place monthly at the chapel and there are regular worship services at the Cathedral, led by the Dean.

Apostle Barnabas was born in Cyprus and was stoned to death in Salamis in 45 AD. He is described as 'a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith' (Acts 6:24). Barnabas, means 'son of consolation' or 'man of encouragement.' Although Barnabas was not among the original Twelve Apostles, he is traditionally thought to have been among the 72 commissioned by Jesus to preach; thus, he is given the honorary title of Apostle. He is considered the founder of the Church of Cyprus.

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