International Day for Monuments and Sites 2019

International Day for Monuments and Sites 2019

Right to Access and Enjoy Cultural including Religious Heritage is a Human Right

On April 18 the world marks the International Day for Monuments and Sites declared by UNESCO in 1983.  Since then, 18 April has been a day to celebrate and promote cultural heritage, and an opportunity to raise awareness about its diversity, its relevance, how vulnerable it can be and what the needs and benefits of its conservation are.

In a place where religion has played a major part in shaping culture for centuries, religious and cultural heritage cannot be isolated from one another. This is especially true for religious monuments and sites.  In Cyprus, there are thousands of religious monuments and sites of different faith traditions, in particular Christian and Muslim, dating back centuries, representing a unique and significant part of Cyprus’ identity.  Many of these monuments and sites are sadly abandoned, destroyed, transformed locked up or inaccessible. Victims of the unresolved Cyprus conflict, they continue  to cause deep pain and mistrust between the  different communities of the island. Meanwhile, courageous mutual efforts of civil society and religious communities to dialogue and work together to clean, restore and allow free access for prayer and worship, has transformative powers on the path towards reconciliation.

Emphasizing the link between cultural heritage, peacebuilding and reconciliation, Office of RTCYPP highlights the significance of “the right to access and enjoy cultural heritage as a human right“: a right which “includes the right of individuals and groups, inter alia, to know, understand, enter, visit, make use of, maintain, exchange and develop cultural heritage, as well as to benefit from the cultural heritage of others.” (Special Rapporteur on Cultural Heritage, 2017)

Respecting religious sites and monuments, in particular those considered sacred by a different community than one’s own, is recognizing each other’s values and identities. Addressing the state of and access to religious monuments and sites is not merely about restoring stones; it is about restoring the human soul.  It is about allowing social interaction, sharing and acknowledging the past, different histories and memories, and caring for each other also through cherishing each other’s religious heritage. On an island characterized by a web of identities, stretching beyond two ethnic communities, understanding and respecting differences is fundamental for peaceful coexistence.

#InternationalDayofMonumentsandSites2019 #IDMS2019 #Faith4Rights #UNESCO

Joint Statement 15.3.19

Religious Leaders of Cyprus Stand United Against the Terror Attacks at two Mosques in New Zealand
15.3.19

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, are horrified with the tragic news from New Zealand where innocent faithful have been killed and injured as a result of a double terror attack at two Mosques in the city of Christchurch during prayer time.

The Religious Leaders of Cyprus pray first and foremost for the victims of the senseless shootings at Masjid Al Noor and Masjid Linwood and their loved ones. “Committed and working all together for human rights and peace in Cyprus”, the Religious Leaders of Cyprus“categorically condemn this hateful attack against our Muslim brothers and sisters in New Zealand” and reiterate their unanimous joint position stated publicly in 2015, expressing their “united voice against all forms of attacks, terrorism and violence in Cyprus, the region and the world at large.”

“We categorically condemn all forms of violence against innocent civilians. No war, no act of terrorism, atrocities or violent attacks against innocent people can be justified in the name of God Almighty or any religion or humanity. War begets war. Violence begets violence. All people of good will must stand together to respect, support and care for one another. Violence in the name of God is violence against religion itself. As religious leaders, we have a responsibility not only to speak out and work united against all forms of violence but also understand and address diligently the root causes that lead to such conflicts, violence and wars and to always promote and protect peace. Our sacred texts call us not only to combat injustice but also to uplift the poorest in our midst. Where inequality is entrenched, instability and conflict are far more likely to erupt. Inspired by our shared values we embrace the moral imperative to reach out to the most vulnerable among us, uphold human dignity and advocate for human rights. With our different identities we have to be together as one human family, as people of every faith or none. We have a responsibility to preach, act and show that our shared respect for human life and dignity is stronger than evil acts of terror, and perversion of religion. Let us be compassionate and walk humbly with our God on the way of love, mercy, justice and peace.” (Excerpt from Joint Statement of Religious Leaders on 24.11.15)

 

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.”

Press Release 7.2.18

Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and Head of UN Peacekeeping Operation in Cyprus extends her support to the peacebuilding efforts of the RTCYPP during World Interfaith Harmony Week

On 7 February 2018, the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) and Head of UNFICYP, Ms. Elizabeth Spehar, visited a selected number of religious monuments and cemeteries high on the agenda of the religious leaders of Cyprus. Archbishop Chrysostomos II of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus and Dr. Talip Atalay, Mufti of Cyprus welcomed the visit and the support of UNFICYP.

Bishop Porfyrios of Neapolis and Imam Shakir Alemdar of Hala Sultan Tekke briefed the SRSG about the state of the religious monuments visited, and about some of the challenges the faith communities face in regards to accessing and restoring these sites of worship. SRSG Spehar thanked the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) for organizing the visit and took the opportunity to express her support for the joint advocacy efforts of the religious leaders of Cyprus for religious freedom, coexistence, peace and reconciliation.

The visit took place on the last day of World Interfaith Harmony Week, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly to acknowledge that mutual understanding and interreligious dialogue constitute important dimensions of a culture of peace. The joint field visit to religious monuments are a positive example of how the religious leaders of Cyprus, within the framework of RTCYPP, are working together in solidarity to advocate for religious freedom and the protection of all religious monuments in Cyprus.

Deputy Head of Mission of the Embassy of Sweden, Mr. Peter Kvist and RTCYPP Executive Coordinator Ms. Salpy Eskidjian accompanied the visit. The RTCYPP is an unprecedented local confidence and peacebuilding effort, initiated in 2009 under the auspices of the Embassy of Sweden.

Press Release 19.1.18

Secretary General of the United Nations acknowledges Confidence-Building measures by the Religious Track (RTCYPP) in his report to the Security Council

In his latest 6-month report, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. António Guterres, acknowledges the recent steps taken by the religious leaders of Cyprus to build confidence between the communities on the island and recommends that all restrictions on the freedom of worship, including those relating to access to religious sites, should be lifted.

The Secretary General expresses his appreciation for the commitment of the religious leaders of Cyprus to joint dialogue and the promotion of religious freedom supported by the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the auspices of the Embassy of Sweden (RTCYPP).

Referring to the RTCYPP, Mr. António Guterres emphasizes the unprecedented joint initiative by the religious leaders to approve “Greek and Turkish language classes for members of the clerical orders, nuns and laypersons working in different religious institutions.” The Secretary General also acknowledges the third RTCYPP Round Table for Human Rights, organized in cooperation with UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), for its efforts in bringing together representatives from 16 religious groups and civil society organizations in Cyprus to discuss human rights.

The Secretary General also recognized the significance of religious services and pilgrimages as constituting a significant confidence-building measure. In that light he underlined the special pilgrimages to Hala Sultan Tekke, which is one of the achievements of the RTCYPP, where with the cooperation of UNFICYP, the Mufti of Cyprus and the full support of Archbishop of the Church of Cyprus a total of 2270 Muslim pilgrims of Turkish origin were able to pray in Hala Sultan Tekke during the reporting period.

The report to the Security Council mentions that UNFICYP has noted with concern the decline in the number of applications for religious services that it was asked to facilitate in the north, and a decline in numbers of approvals for such services, in comparison to the same period in 2016. The Secretary General states that the UN Mission in Cyprus remains also concerned about other restrictions that hampered religious worship on the island, including time limitations on religious worship in mosques in the south.

The 6-month report of the Secretary General (Reference: S/2018/25) on the operation in Cyprus was presented to members of the UN Security Council on 17 January when the renewal of UNFICYP’s mandate for an additional six more months was discussed.

Reports of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Operation in Cyprus are made twice a year and cover UNFICYPs operations and the political developments on the island.

Full extract of the UN Secretary General references to the RTCYPP is found here below.

Extracts from the UN Secretary General’s 6 months’ report on the Operation in Cyprus (9 January 2018)

Paragraph 24. Opportunities to visit and hold services at religious sites continue to be important to both communities. During the reporting period, UNFICYP facilitated the participation of more than 5,375 people in 34 religious and commemorative activities either in the buffer zone, or at the required crossings to the other side, of which 27 were in the north and seven in the buffer zone. During the same period in 2016, a total of 36 services and commemorative events were held (29 were in the north, 7 in the buffer zone). Separately, UNFICYP facilitated crossings of nearly 2,270 pilgrims from the northern part of Cyprus to the Hala Sultan Tekke mosque in Larnaca on 26 June, 5 September and 29 November respectively. The pilgrimage on 29 November was the eleventh following the joint agreement of the religious leaders in 2014.

Paragraph 25. Given that such events constitute a significant confidence-building measure, UNFICYP noted with concern the decline in the number of applications for religious services that it was asked to facilitate in the north, and a decline in numbers of approvals for such services, in comparison to the same period in 2016. The Mission remained concerned about other restrictions that hampered religious worship on the island, including time limitations on religious worship in mosques in the south. All restrictions on the freedom of worship, including those relating to access to religious sites, should be lifted.

Paragraph 26. The religious leaders of Cyprus sustained their commitment to joint dialogue and the promotion of religious freedom within the framework of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the auspices of the Embassy of Sweden, with ongoing support from UNFICYP. During the reporting period, the religious leaders undertook an unprecedented joint initiative by approving Greek and Turkish language classes for members of the clerical orders, nuns and laypersons working in different religious institutions. The participants meet each other weekly in the buffer zone, broadening the circle of dialogue and cooperation between these religious institutions.

Paragraph 27. In cooperation with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), on 28 September the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process convened the third round table on human rights since 2013. OHCHR introduced Faith For Rights, an initiative launched in March 2017 via the Beirut Declaration, in which faith-based civil society actors recognized “religious or belief convictions as a source for the protection of the whole spectrum of inalienable human entitlements”. Religious leaders and representatives from 16 religious groups and civil society organizations joined the discussion in Cyprus, and the Beirut Declaration and its 18 Commitments were translated into Greek and Turkish by the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process.

Press Release 29.11.17

11th Special Pilgrimage to Hala Sultan Tekke

On the occasion of the Mawlid-al Nabi - a special pilgrimage to Hala Sultan Tekke took place today, on the 29th of November. Mufti of Cyprus, H.E Dr Talip Atalay led prayers at noon for 950 faithful of Turkish origin that cannot otherwise cross the buffer zone in the divided island of Cyprus.

Mawlid al-Nabi, or Mevlid Kandili in Turkish, is the observance and celebration of the birth of Prophet Muhammad. Mawlid is celebrated on the 12th day of the third month of the Islamic calendar, called Rabi’al-Awwal. Mawlid begins in the evening of 29 November and ends in the evening of 30 November 2017.

The special pilgrimage was organised and led by the Mufti of Cyprus, coordinated by the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) and facilitated by UNFICYP and UN Police. This was the 11th pilgrimage since 2014, and the third in 2017 arranged within the framework agreement of the RTCYPP. To this date 9500 pilgrims have been able to cross and pray at Hala Sultan Tekke through this special arrangement.

“We are thankful that through our joint efforts as religious leaders of Cyprus, with the support of the Office of RTCYPP under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden, we were able to have this special pilgrimage to Hala Sultan Tekke. Once again our hearts are filled with hope. Today’s pilgrimage is a testament to the commitment of the religious leaders of Cyprus to continue working together for religious freedom, human rights and reconciliation. We are grateful to all those who support our efforts.” said Mufti Talip Atalay.

H.E. Ambassador of Sweden, Anna Olsson Vrang and Rev. Father Mashdotz Ashkarian, representing Archbishop Khoren of the Armenian Orthodox Church of Cyprus, were on site at Hala Sultan Tekke and extended their best wishes for Mawlid-al Nabi to Mufti Talip Atalay and to all Muslims living in Cyprus. “I’m grateful to the Cyprus religious leaders’, UNFICYP and UN Police for their efforts and cooperation to enable today’s special pilgrimage.” said Ambassador Olsson Vrang.

Press Release 16.11.17

Religious Leaders of Cyprus meet on International Day of Tolerance

A High-Level meeting of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) took place on 16 November 2017, coinciding with the 22nd Anniversary of the International Day of Tolerance. The meeting was hosted by the Ambassador of Sweden to Cyprus, H.E Anna Olsson Vrang, at her residence in Nicosia.

Present at the meeting were H.B Archbishop Chrysostomos II of the Church of Cyprus, H.E Talip Atalay, Mufti of Cyprus, H.E Archbishop Khoren Doghramadjian of the Armenian Orthodox Church of Cyprus, Rev Jerzy Kraj, Latin Patriarchal Vicar and of the Apostolic Nunciature in Cyprus and Father Ibrahim Khita, representative of H.E Archbishop Soueif of the Maronite Church of Cyprus.

“Today’s meeting of religious leaders coincides with the International Day for Tolerance. The leaders’ commitment to work together for human rights, peace and reconciliation is nothing less than a testament to the spirit of this particular day, namely the universal values of mutual respect and tolerance. I am impressed by their courage and leadership in this regard and hope it can be an inspiration to others”, said Ambassador Olsson Vrang.

The religious leaders affirmed their commitment to dialogue and cooperation despite their differences, demonstrating that “the diversity of religions, languages, cultures and ethnicities in Cyprus will never be a pretext for conflict but a treasure that enriches them all.”

The religious leaders discussed recent developments related to the religious heritage of Cyprus and religious freedom in Cyprus, as well as their joint plans for the rest of the year. They reiterated their request for the political leadership to continue to intervene so that all places of worship and religious heritage in Cyprus are respected, permission is granted for their restoration and the right to worship is respected.

Prior to their meeting, the religious leaders jointly visited the Green Line together with UN SRSG Elizabeth Spehar, Head of UNFICYP and Ambassador Olsson Vrang. They welcomed the visit and reiterated their appreciation for the UN SRSG’s interest in and support for their joint peacebuilding efforts. The visit provided an opportunity for them to see the historic churches of St Jacob and St George, among others. The religious leaders expressed their dismay with the tragic state of the two churches and the lack of urgent action for their reinforcement despite their joint efforts under the auspices of the Embassy of Sweden.

Press Release 5.10.17

Learning Each Others Language to Build Bridges of Cooperation and Coexistence

A new joint project of the religious leaders of Cyprus to provide an opportunity for members of the clerical order and laypersons to meet each other and learn Greek and Turkish for the very first time in Cyprus is being launched on 5 October 2017 by the Office of RTCYPP at the Home for Cooperation in the Buffer Zone in Nicosia.

The introductory language course will be offered for a total of 20 priests, imams, nuns and laypersons working for faith based institutions in Cyprus whose names were submitted by the respective religious leaders of Cyprus from the Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Armenian Orthodox, Maronite and Latin Catholic faith communities

The Greek and Turkish classes will take place simultaneously on a weekly basis followed by a joint time, hosted and facilitated by the Office of RTCYPP, where the participants will get the chance to know each other and practice what they learn.

“Learning and speaking the language of the other respective community is a concrete pre-requisite to bridge-building in a divided country.” said Ambassador Anna Olsson Vrang of Sweden. “We are pleased that with the help of our moral and financial support, the Office of RTCYPP under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden could take such an important concrete step despite the current state of affairs in the peace talks in Cyprus.”

“The religious leaders of Cyprus agree that learning to communicate in each others mother tongue is of utmost importance in the search for coexistence and peace in a decades long divided island and fully support this new exciting initiative of the RTCYPP“ said Salpy Eskidjian, Executive Coordinator of the RTCYPP. “We hope that with the blessings and consent of the religious leaders, the language course will also help broaden the circle and widen our efforts involving more priests, imams, nuns as well as lay women and men active in religious institutions or faith communities who believe in dialogue, cooperation and coexistence.”

The pilot project is initiated, organized and funded by the Office of RTCYPP following the full support and endorsement of the religious leaders of Cyprus. Ambassador Olsson Vrang will be opening the Language Course and welcome the participants. Office of RTCYPP initiates and supports joint initiatives such as this, aimed at encouraging the positive joint contributions of all the religious leaders of Cyprus to confidence and peace building.

Press Release 27.9.17

Office of RTCYPP Convenes Third Round Table for Human Rights in Cyprus

The Office of RTCYPP will be convening its third Round Table for Human Rights with representatives of faith communities and partner civil society organisations on the 28 September 2017 at the Home for Cooperation. The main aim of the meeting will be to provide an opportunity for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to introduce its initiative “Faith for Rights” including the “Beirut Declaration” and its 18 Commitments as a follow up of the 2012 “Rabat Plan of Action” to the faith communities in Cyprus.
The initiative “Faith for Rights” was launched by the OHCHR in March 2017 with an expert workshop in Beirut and addresses stakeholders in the field of religion or belief. The initiative aims to provide space for a cross-disciplinary dialogue between religions and human rights, articulating that individual and communal expression of religions or beliefs thrive and flourish in environments where human rights are protected. The 18 Commitments included in the “Beirut Declaration” are formulated to take concrete action regarding the three core responsibilities of religious leaders articulated in the 2012 “Rabat Plan of Action” regarding racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. The three core responsibilities are:
• Refraining from using messages of intolerance that may incite violence, hostility or discrimination;
• Speaking out firmly and promptly against in tolerance, discriminatory stereotyping and instances of hate speech;
• Being clear that violence can never be tolerated as a response to incitement to hatred

Some of the issues in the 18 Commitments are as follows:
• Stand up for the rights of all persons belonging to minorities;
• Publicly denounce all instances of advocacy of hatred that incites to violence, discrimination or hostility;
• Monitor interpretations, determinations or other religious views that manifestly conflict with universal human rights norms and standard to refine the curriculums, teaching materials and textbooks;
• Revisit religious interpretations that appear to perpetuate gender inequality and harmful stereotypes or even condone gender-based violence

The Office of RTCYPP convened the first Round Table for Human Rights in 2013, in cooperation with the OHCHR and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief (FORB). For the first time faith communities in Cyprus came together with civil society partners from both sides of the divided island to address and discuss together issues related to freedom of religion or belief. The second Round Table for Human Rights took place in October 2015 once again in cooperation with the Office of OHCHR and the Special Rapporteur on FORB focussing on the right to access and restore sacred places and education as a tool to promote freedom of religion. The 2017 RTCYPP Round Table for Human Rights will discuss concrete ways to engage with “Faith for Rights" to be implemented for and with women, men and children on the whole island.

Press Release 5.9.17

The Right to Worship in Cyprus should not be a Victim of its Division

On the occasion of the Eid al-Adha - Kurban Bayram - a special pilgrimage to Hala Sultan Tekke is taking place today, on the 5th of September, for 600 faithful of Turkish origin that cannot otherwise cross the buffer zone in the divided island of Cyprus.

“These special pilgrimages are the fruits of the religious leaders’ dialogue and cooperation for which we are both committed to and most grateful for. No matter what, as religious leaders of Cyprus we all agree and advocate for religious freedom and these pilgrimages are one concrete such example.“ said Mufti Talip Atalay. “The right to worship and freedom to access places of worship all over the island for everyone living in Cyprus should not be a victim of it’s division nor be dependant on politics. No matter what anyone says this is what I have promoted and advocated for since I took office and will never give up on this principle”

H.E. Ambassador of Sweden, Anna Olsson Vrang, was on site at Hala Sultan Tekke for the first time at a special pilgrimage and extended her best wishes for the Eid to Mufti Talip Atalay and to all Muslims living in Cyprus. “I’m happy that Sweden through the initiative of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process can contribute to the promotion of freedom of religion and the respect of basic human rights principles on this beautiful island”.

“Through our work over the years we have witnessed the concrete consequences when the right to worship, on both sides of the divide, is either violated or respected. We regret that religious freedom is still not fully understood by politicians or civil servants.” Said the Executive Coordinator of the Office of RTCYPP, Salpy Eskidjian. “Today we witness a small sign of hope and bridge-building at a time when trust among Cypriots has been broken again.”

The special pilgrimage to Hala Sultan Tekke is the result of an 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. The agreement was reached in 2014 within the framework of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden (RTCYPP) and has had the full support of the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cyprus, H.E. Mr Kasoulides. The special pilgrimages are organised and led by the Mufti of Cyprus, coordinated by the Office of RTCYPP and the facilitated by UNFICYP and UN Police. Special pilgrimages to Hala Sultan Tekke have been taking place three times annually as per the request of the Mufti of Cyprus on the occasions of Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha and Mawlid-al Nabi. This was the 10th pilgrimage within this framework agreement since 2014.

Kurban Bayram or Eid al-Adha, is one of Islam's holiest festival celebrated annually around the world and an official holiday in Muslim-majority countries. It marks the end of the Hajj to Mecca. In Cyprus it is known as Kurban Bayram. For Muslims, Eid al-Adha commemorates the day when prophet Abraham or Ibrahim was going to sacrifice his son but was instructed by God to offer an animal instead. Eid al-Adha in Arabic literally means "festival of the sacrifice". One essential part of this holiday is to distribute meat amongst the needy. Families who can't provide meat may choose to make contributions to charities that will provide meat to those who are in need. The feast is welcomed with the greetings “Kurban Bayramınız Kutlu Olsun” or “Eid Mubarak”. In 2017, Eid al-Adha begins in the evening of August 31 and ends in the evening of September 4.

The Mosque of Umm Haram at Hala Sultan Tekke is considered the most significant Muslim place of worship in Cyprus. The Tekke is open daily at set hours by the Antiquities Department and used by Turkish Cypriot and other Muslim faithful freely. The Imam of Hala Sultan leads prayers every Friday. As a result of the religious leaders’ dialogue known as RTCYPP, the Archbishop of the Church of Cyprus and former Ministers of Interior of the Republic of Cyprus supported the Mufti’s request to set up an office for the Imam. Recently cooking and guest facilities have also been added to serve pilgrims on Fridays and feast days. During Ramadan and other special feasts special arrangements are made for Hala Sultan Tekke to be open longer hours day and night to accommodate the worshipping needs of the faithful.