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.

RTCYPP News 3.12.17

Office of RTCYPP to highlight the joint efforts and united voice of the religious leaders of Cyprus against all forms of attacks, terrorism and violence including violence against women and girls at the Rabat+5 Symposium, to take place from 6-7 December in Rabat, Morocco. Invited by the UN OHCHR, executive coordinator of the RTCYPP will talk about the unprecedented initiative with the religious leaders of Cyprus, different faith communities and secular civil society organizations, for the promotion and respect for human rights and religious freedom in Cyprus.
The Symposium, co-organized by the Government of Morocco and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as a follow-up to the Rabat Plan of Action and the Beirut Declaration on “Faith for Rights”, will be commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.
In addition to taking stock of the use of the Rabat Plan of Action since 2012, the symposium will conduct an analysis of priority areas, outlining good practices, based on the presentation of existing concrete projects in many parts of the world, and defining means of support to existing and new “Faith for Rights” projects at the local level, in complementarity to the Rabat Plan of Action.
The OHCHR envisages that an inventory of relevant actors and projects would be established in order to help identifying existing gaps, define capacity building approaches and linking the dots and hopes that the inventory might also strengthen the capacities of the existing UN human rights mechanisms by providing them with accurate and up-to-date analysis on environments, dynamics and early warning signs of incidents leading to sectarian conflicts and violence committed in the name of religion..
Office of RTCYPP supports the UN OHCHR “Faith for Rights” initiative and proud to serve as the platform to introduce and promote it in Cyprus.

RTCYPP News 20.11.17

Office of the RTCYPP was invited to share its experience and lessons learnt with the religious leaders of Cyprus working together for human rights, conflict transformation and reconciliation at a roundtable discussion on ”Perspectives on the Role of Religion in Diplomacy, Foreign Policy and International Affairs” taking place in Byblos, Lebanon from 18-19 November 2017. Organized and hosted by the Swedish Institute Alexandria and Forward Thinking the deliberations aimed at building on the series of Discussion Papers by the Helsinki Policy Forum on “Religious Literacy, Foreign Policy and Diplomacy”.

The Round Table facilitated a discussion around religious literacy and diplomacy providing a fascinating dialogue between different perspectives exploring a framework that would increase religious literacy in foreign policy and international affairs. The deliberations raised awareness and increased understanding of the complexity of the different perspectives on how religious and non-religious worldviews in society can accommodate one another and how this informs policy-making.

The meetings offered a unique opportunity for the Cyprus experience to be shared and discussed with regional and international experts, practitioners and diplomats including senior parliamentarians, political leaders and government officials from the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe including Turkey.

Representing the RTCYPP were Mufti Talip Atalay of Cyprus, Archbishop Khoren Toghramadjian of the Armenian Church of Cyprus and the Executive Coordinator and Facilitator of the RTCYPP, Salpy Eskidjian.
Since 2014, the Helsinki Policy Forum coordinated by Forward Thinking, facilitates informal discussions on identified issues of concern in the Middle East , North Africa and Gulf regions aimed at deepening understanding and promoting enlightened policy responses.

Background Information:
Swedish Institute Alexandria (SwedAlex) was established following an agreement between the governments of Sweden and Egypt in 1999 and was inaugurated, on the 3rd of October 2000 by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Sweden and Egypt, Ms A. Lindh, and Mr A. Moussa.
The Swedish Institute Alexandria (SwedAlex) is an autonomous part of Sweden’s Foreign Service. Its main goal is to promote dialogue between Europe and the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) in order to make Europeans and people in the region better understand each other. It focuses on the following focus areas:
Transition for Democracy and Development
Culture, Religion and pluralism in political change
Sustainability, Climate Change and investing in the future
Women Rights and Gender Equality
The overarching goal is to promote peace and pluralism through dialogue and creating mutual relationships between the people and cultures of Sweden and Egypt on the one hand and Europe and Middle East and North Africa on the other hand.
Forward Thinking is a proactive, demand-driven, facilitative organization that works:
§ To promote a more inclusive peace process in the Middle East.
§ To facilitate political dialogues in, and between, the Arab/Muslim and Western worlds.
§ To promote in the UK greater understanding and confidence between the diverse grassroots Muslim communities and the wider society including the Media and the British establishment.
The Helsinki Policy Forum (HPF), established in 2014 with the financial support of the Finnish Government, is an integrated part of Forward Thinking. The HPF aims to respond to the current context and provide a secure space for an honest exchange of views on the challenges and opportunities facing the MENA/Gulf region and Western governments.

RTCYPP News 12.11.17

In the spirit of togetherness, cooperation and mutual respect all religious leaders of Cyprus gathered on Sunday 12 November at 17.30 at a reception invited and hosted by the Archbishopric of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus on the occasion of the feast of St Chrysostom, also the name day of the Primate the of Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus. This was the first high-level gathering of the religious leaders since June 2017, organised and coordinated by the Office of the RTCYPP.

The delegation was led by H.E Talip Atalay, Mufti of Cyprus together with H.E Archbishop Khoren Doghramadjian of the Armenian Orthodox Church of Cyprus, H.E Archbishop Soueif, Maronite Church of Cyprus and Rev Jerzy Kraj, Latin Patriarchal Vicar and of the Apostolic Nunciature in Cyprus accompanied by Mr Peter Weiderud, moderator of RTCYPP and Director of the Swedish Institute Alexandria. They were joined by Reverend Telis Tsinoglu, President of the Synod of the Evangelical Church of Cyprus, Reverent Father Zacharia El-Anba Pola of St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Cyprus, Reverend Anders Berglund and Deacon Eva Berglund from the Church of Sweden in Cyprus.

H.E. Ambassador Anna Olsson Vrang of Sweden and Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations and Chief of Mission H.E Ms Elizabeth Spehar honoured the gathering with their presence and participation.
Following the invitation of the Swedish Ambassador, the religious leaders of Cyprus agreed to hold a high level meeting of the RTCYPP on 16 November 2017 at the Residence of the Swedish Ambassador.

RTCYPP News 21.9.17

On the occasion of the International Day of Peace, Executive Coordinator of the Office of RTCYPP Salpy Eskidjian joined the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General and Head of Mission Elisabeth Spehar, UNFICYP Force Commander Major General Mohammad Humayun Kabir, UNHCR Country Representative, Damtew Dessalegne and programme coordinator of PeacePlayers International/Cyprus, Stephanie Nichols to commemorate Peace Day at UNFICYP Headquarters in Nicosia, Cyprus.
Present at the moving ceremony were staff of the UN Secretary General’s Good Offices in Cyprus, Military and Civilian members of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). The moving event included a candle lighting ceremony with one-minute silence in honour of all lives lost in conflict.
The theme of this year’s peace day is “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All” focussing on engaging and mobilizing people throughout the world to show support for refugees and migrants.
The Office of RTCYPP joined the United Nations TOGETHER campaign -Respect, Safety and Dignity for All, echoing the 2014 & 2015 Joint Statements of the Religious leaders of Cyprus where they address the plight of growing numbers of refugees throughout the region, reiterating their deep compassion and prayer for those risking their lives daily, facing hostilities and death. The RTCYPP 2017 Peace Day initiative in three languages encouraged all faith communities in Cyprus to learn more and engage in the call of the Peace Day showing support for refugees and migrants in their own communities and elsewhere.

RTCYPP News 11.9.17

Ambassador Anna Olsson Vrang of Sweden met with the Turkish Cypriot community leader, Mr Mustafa Akinci on 11 September, 2017 to reiterate her Government’s strong commitment to the RTCYPP which is under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden and its continued support with the religious leaders efforts for religious freedom, peace and reconciliation in Cyprus. Ambassador Olsson Vrang also expressed her appreciation that all five religious leaders have reassured her of their commitment to peacebuilding and will continue their meetings and cooperation.
The meeting was attended by Mr Erhan Ercin, Dr Meltem Onurkan Samani and Ms Salpy Eskidjian.

RTCYPP News 8.9.17

Efforts for the Joint Statement of the Religious leaders of Cyprus on Violence Against Women acknowledged by Swedish MFA 2017 Award

The Office of RTCYPP is happy to share the news that the Embassy of Sweden in Nicosia has been awarded the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs “2017 prize for the work on the Government’s feminist foreign policy in the EU region“ recognizing its efforts to work with and strengthen women’s rights and participation in the Cyprus peace process for a unification of the island. The prize also acknowledges, among others, the efforts undertaken for the Religious Leaders of Cyprus to adopt their unprecedented joint statement condemning all forms of violence against women and girls.

“The Office of RTCYPP is grateful that the 2017 prize to the Swedish Embassy in Nicosia recognizes the significance of its efforts with the religious leaders’ of Cyprus for women and girls. The statement adopted in 2017 to jointly condemn all acts of violence against women and girls was a historic first step forward.” Said Salpy Eskidjian, Executive Coordinator of RTCYPP. “Together with the religious leaders and women’s organizations in Cyprus, the Office of RTCYPP will continue to work hard to turn these words into action.”
On March 8, 2017, the religious leaders of Cyprus, together with Margot Wallström, Foreign Minster of Sweden and Elizabeth Spehar, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, released their first ever-joint statement which was presented at a ceremony organized and hosted by the Office of RTCYPP at the Ledra Palace Hotel in the UN Controlled Buffer Zone in the presence of the leadership of different faith communities, civil society and women’s organizations, clerics, political parties and municipal leaders as well as members of the diplomatic corps, the EU, UNFICYP, UNDP-PFF and the media.

RTCYPP News 20.6.17

On the occasion of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the religious leaders of Cyprus were guests of honour at an Iftar dinner reception with diplomatic community in Cyprus hosted by the Ambassador of The Islamic Republic of Iran in support of inter religious dialogue. H.E. Archbishop Khoren of the Armenian Orthodox Church, addressed the event and thanked the Ambassador on behalf of the religious leaders and the Office of RTCYPP.

We must transform the way we view what sets us apart. The event echoed the shared sentiments of the minster of foreign affairs of Iran – “Each and every one of us have a duty, as individuals, to be the change that we want to see in the world….The holy Quran emphatically commands – whoever kills a soul (…) it is as if he had slain human kind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he has saved human kind entirely. ….” “Unless we begin to see our differences as something to celebrate and a source of strength, they will remain open to be exploited as a point of weakness and division.”

RTCYPP News 15.6.17

The Religious leaders of Cyprus met with the General Coordinators of the Bi-communal Technical Committees Ambassador Andreas Pirishis and Dr. Meltem Onurkan Samani within the framework of the peace-building initiative known as the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden (RTCYPP).

Dr Onurkan Samani also serves as Adviser to the Turkish Cypriot leader for Political Affairs and History. Ambassador of Sweden, Mrs. Anna Olsson Vrang, hosted the meeting at the Swedish Residence in Nicosia.
The Religious leaders warmly welcomed the two coordinators and thanked the Ambassador for hosting the meeting, which highlighted the shared main aim of the RTCYPP and the technical committees for confidence-building across the two main communities of the island, cultivating a culture of coexistence and unity. The religious leaders reiterated their commitment to work together to advocate for religious freedom and human rights in Cyprus. They expressed their gratitude to the two general coordinators for their cooperation and their willingness to support their joint efforts.
Both coordinators expressed their appreciation to the religious leaders for their commitment to work together to promote respect, peace and reconciliation in Cyprus and expressed their willingness to ensure that these efforts were acknowledged and further strengthened. The meeting was organized and facilitated by the Office of RTCYPP.