Press Release 11.6.16

Religious Freedom, Dialogue and Cooperation Affirmed at the Feast of Apostle Barnabas of Cyprus

On 11 June 2016 on the occasion of the feast of Apostle Barnabas, known as the founder of the Church of Cyprus, Greek Orthodox faithful visited and prayed at the main Cathedral of the historic monastery dedicated to Apostle Barnabas during an annual pilgrimage, currently used as an icon and archeological museum by the Turkish Cypriots.

As a sign of mutual respect and within the framework of the RTCYPP, the Mufti of Cyprus, H.E Dr Talip Atalay sent his representative to bring greetings of goodwill to the Christian faithful and to H.B. Chrysostomos II, Archbishop of the Church of Cyprus. This follows a gesture of good will by H.B. Archbishop Chrysostomos II in 2015 when he sent his representative to greet the Muslim faithful of Turkish origin at a special pilgrimage to Hala Sultan Tekke on the occasion of Eid Ul Adha or Qurban Bayram as it is known in Cyprus.

A small delegation of Ambassadors and country representatives from Austria, Finland, Ireland, USA and France joined the Swedish Ambassador and the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) as a sign of their support to the religious leaders’ dialogue for peace in Cyprus and an affirmation of their efforts for the respect of freedom of religion or belief.

The religious leaders reiterated their conviction that freedom of religion is not only part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of the Council of Europe it is also part of the teachings of Christianity and Islam.

“We remain hopeful when we see that the religious leaders of Cyprus irrespective of religion and dogma, express their respect for each other’s faith and places of worship, support free access to all religious institutions and accept each other’s differences, culture and religion as a richness.” Says Salpy Eskidjian, Executive Coordinator of the RTCYPP.

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 1.6.16

The Religious Leaders of Cyprus came together for a thanksgiving reception in honour of special friends of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden (RTCYPP) who are scheduled to leave Cyprus this summer; Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Chief of Mission Lisa M. Buttenheim, H.E. the Ambassador of Finland Anu Saarela, UNFICYP Force Commander Major General Kristin Lund, and H.E. the Ambassador of Sweden Klas Gierow.

“We are here to celebrate, to acknowledge, to recognize, to give thanks, to pledge. Despite setbacks or disappointments, we have hope. Dialogue and cooperation in Cyprus will persevere as the religious leaders know too well that a united witness for peace, a united voice for human rights is better than the success or failure of one alone” Said Salpy Eskidjian, the Executive Coordinator of the Office of RTCYPP, who hosted the event on May 31, 2016 in the Buffer Zone in Nicosia.

“Religion can be used to divide people, here thanks to the Religious Track, it is used to unite” said Mr. Espen Barth Eide in his address. “The religious leaders bringing the faith communities together inspire the political leaders.” He praised the religious track as “truly inspiring” and he called on all Cypriots “to take a leap of faith for peace.”

In his address on behalf of Archbishop Chrysostomos II, H.E Bishop Christoforos of Karpasia, expressed feelings of joy and relief; “Personally I am a witness of the fruits of the religious leaders’ dialogue since 2009. Despite the obstacles or negativities, through this work I have the right to visit my churches, pray and meet not only with Greek Cypriots but also Turkish Cypriots. We have seen first hand that we can live together and people are ready for a solution”

Mufti of Cyprus, H.E. Dr. Atalay in thanking the honoured guests for all their support and good work for peace in Cyprus expressed his sadness for their departure. He reiterated that as religious leaders’ “From the beginning we have been very supportive of free access to places of worship. In principle this is part of our religion, religious monuments should always be respected. We all support religious freedom. Our job is not to do politics but to create and build hope in the hearts of people so that our hearts, tongues and actions would be identical”. All the religious leaders warmly thanked the Swedish government and the four guests of honour for their tireless efforts for Cyprus and their support to the Religious Track. In the closing message, H.E Archbishop Y. Souief of the Maronite Church expressed his commitment that the religious leaders of Cyprus will continue to work together “to build a culture of justice, a culture of peace, a culture of reconciliation, a culture of love not only in Cyprus but also in the region and become a beacon of hope everywhere”.

The guests of honour gave heartening messages of support and encouragement, reiterating that the efforts of the religious track give them hope as they leave the island. They all expressed their wish that the religious leaders continue their peacebuilding efforts and strive together for a reunited Cyprus where all Cypriots can live together in peace and the rights of all are respected.

Rev Jerzy Kraj, Latin Patriarchal Vicar and Representative of the Apostolic Nunciature in Cyprus ended the thanksgiving reception with a prayer of St Francis;

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

Press Statement 23.5.16

As a response to the written request the Office of RTCYPP received from the Kibris Gazetesi (Kibris Media Group) on May 23, 2016 regarding reports of possible new restrictions imposed on the right to worship mainly referring to the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus the following statement was released.

The Office of RTCYPP serves as the facilitation for the dialogue of the religious leaders of Cyprus, known as the Religious Track. It does not make statements or comments on their behalf, unless asked by them only and agreed by all.

Office of RTCYPP was informed of this decision through the media late this Friday. The referred to change of policy, once confirmed, will be put on the table of dialogue for further discussion at the next meeting of the religious leaders.

One of the main aims of the Office of RTCYPP is to ensure that the religious leaders work together to ensure the respect of human rights, in particular freedom of religion or belief, as one of the conditions that builds on the foundations of trust, peace and reconciliation.

It is always advisable that any change of policy is based on dialogue with all the stakeholders directly involved instead of unilateral decisions. If a policy change is in contradiction to human rights standards and principles, serious dialogue is even more critical.

The Office of the RTCYPP has been working on a revised mechanism of worship applications with the religious leader of Cyprus for two years now and has been facilitating dialogue with all key stakeholders in this regard. We are willing to continue to facilitate the much-needed dialogue on this matter with all relevant actors and reach a mutually acceptable solution that is based on human rights principles.

Nicosia, May 23,2016

Press Release 1.4.16

On 31 March 2016, the Executive Coordinator of the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) attended the ceremony marking the repatriation of two 15th century icons from the iconostasis of the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Jacob (14th century) back to Cyprus, which took place at the icon museum of the Archbishopric of the Church of Cyprus.

These religious treasures were missing since the division of the island in 1974 and were discovered in 2007 in Zurich, in the possession of an art collector.

Icons (i.e holy images) have been in use for religious purposes since the earliest days of the Christian church both for the purpose of teaching and prayer. Considered more than art, icons have an important spiritual role for Orthodox believers. Deeply respected by the faithful they express through colour what the Bible expresses through word.

“Repatriation of such symbolic items looted and sold as a result of conflict can play an important role in healing the wounds of the past,” stated Salpy Eskidjian, Executive Coordinator of the RTCYPP. “These icons, while sacred to some, are part of the common cultural and religious heritage of the whole island and should be respected as such”.

Many religious artifacts including icons and frescoes, precious treasures of Cyprus had fallen victim to the Cyprus conflict and are still missing.



Press Release 17.3.16

On 15th March 2016, the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul (SRII) highlights the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) as part of its lecture series under the title “Can Religion Contribute to Peace in Cyprus”.

Peter Weiderud, one of the initiators of RTCYPP describes the process, the ‘lessons learnt’ and shares his experience working for peace in Cyprus with the religious leaders of the island since 2009.

“The religious leaders of Cyprus have learned that it is very difficult to reach results in a situation of conflict, if they only address their own needs and in a national context. However, when they talk together, and address principle concerns, which are in line with human rights law, they can count on international support for their claims. And when they stand up for the needs of each other, they are able to use the political trust within their own communities to enhance the human rights agenda and contribute to confidence building. This is the main learning from the Religious Track, which could be shared with others and also be applied in other conflicts and contexts.“ Stated Peter Weiderud, Director of the Swedish Institute Alexandria and the moderator of the RTCYPP.

The Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul (SRII) was founded in 1962 with the primary aim of promoting Swedish and Nordic research about Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean as well as other regions that are connected linguistically, culturally, or historically.

The SRII organizes and hosts conferences, seminars and workshops, doctoral and master courses as well as regular lecture series on a wide range of topics. It is located on the same historic ground as the Consulate General of Sweden in Istanbul.

Press Release 14.3.16

A delegation of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process together with H.E. Bishop Porfyrios of Neapolis, representing H.B. Archbishop Chrysostomos II and Dr Talip Atalay, Mufti of Cyprus concluded a successful trip to Geneva where on the 11th March 2016 the two religious leaders addressed the 31st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council at a side event on “Interreligious Communication, Freedom of Religion and Peacebuilding” together with Dr Heiner Bielefedt, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and Peter Weiderud, Director of the Swedish Institute, Alexandria.

“One could say that the Religious Track has changed the roles of the religious leaders from being part of the conflict, to being part of a negotiated solution for peace” stated Ambassador Veronika Bard of Sweden in her opening remarks to the side event which was hosted by the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the United Nations Office in Geneva and related organizations in Geneva.

Dr Heiner Bielefeldt in his concluding remarks said that he had “benefitted enormously” from the efforts of the Religious Track in Cyprus where he could “derive inspiration and hope”. The session concluded that the interreligious dialogue for human rights and peace in Cyprus must go on and should further broaden its ownership in Cyprus; the perspectives towards the region and self-understanding of diversity in Cyprus.

The religious leaders and the Office of the RTCYPP took the opportunity to publicly pay tribute to Prof. Dr Bielefeld, whose term as Special Rapporteur comes to an end this summer. The Special Rapporteur accompanied the work of the Religious Track since his country visit to Cyprus in 2012 with his encouragement, challenges and support together with the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights.

“We are here today not only because of him, to be with him but this year we are here for him” said Salpy Eskidjian, moderator of the side event in her introductory remarks. “In every sense he was part of the breakthroughs we achieved for religious freedom and human rights in Cyprus.”

On the 10th March, the delegation attended meetings and presentations with the diplomatic community, human rights defenders and victims marking the 30th Anniversary celebrations of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

At the end of their trip, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev Dr Olav Fyske Tveit, warmly received the religious leaders. “Politicians need religious leaders who help them see the right values and perspectives,” said the General Secretary. “I value what you are doing, particularly in today’s world.”

The facilitators of the RTCYPP had the opportunity to address the 53rd session of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs and give an update on the current situation in Cyprus and the efforts of the religious leaders in this regard.

Geneva, 14 March

Press Release 8.3.16

Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs Shaun Casey meets with the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process

On 8 March 2016, Office of Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process hosted the meeting of the religious leaders of Cyprus with the Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs of the US State Department Dr. Shaun Casey at the residence of the Swedish Ambassador Mr. Klas Gierow. Special Representative Casey is in Cyprus to meet with religious leaders of Cyprus and the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden and learn about their work for peace and reconciliation.

“Religious leaders are the guideposts for their communities in espousing values of respect, offering pardon, welcoming the stranger, and caring for one another. These values are shared across religious traditions and historically have served as the cornerstone of reconciliation,” stated Dr. Casey at the Press Conference following the meeting.

“I have been amazed at the dedication and hard work of the religious leaders in Cyprus, who categorically condemn all forms of violence and are building ties amongst their followers towards a just, comprehensive and lasting solution for all of the people of Cyprus.” “The religious leaders I have met in Cyprus already are engaging courageously in conversations about tough issues, such as brokering church/mosque property issues, security concerns, territorial boundaries, and the like. While incredibly important and fruitful, the process of reconciliation begins with ordinary people. This is where religious leaders and communities are integral in illustrating that no conflict needs to be permanent. And this has and must continue to be modeled as Cyprus works toward a settlement…and beyond.”

“We had very fruitful, frank and interesting discussions with the Special Representative today and would like to express our appreciation to the government of the United States of America for their keen interest in the efforts of the religious leaders within the framework of the Religious Track”. Stated Peter Weiderud, Moderator of the Religious Track and Director of the Swedish Institute, Alexandria in welcoming Special Representative Casey.

As part of his visit Dr Casey is also visiting holy sites and meeting with members of the religious communities and civil society.

Press Release 24.2.16

UN efforts in Cyprus and Role of Religious Leaders Acknowledged

Margot Wallström, Minister for Foreign Affairs, welcomed the United Nations efforts to reach an agreement on the Cyprus issue and acknowledged the role of religious leaders of Cyprus in the reconciliation process at the Parliamentary debate on Foreign Affairs 2016 in the Swedish Parliament this morning, Wednesday 24.2.16.

Extract in English from the Statement of Government Policy 2016 on Cyprus:

“The Government welcomes the UN efforts to reach an agreement on the Cyprus issue. A solution would strengthen the UN’s authority and the EU’s ability to manage the challenges in its neighbourhood. Sweden has taken a unique initiative for cooperation between Cyprus’s religious leaders, who have an important role to play in the reconciliation process.”

You can see the full text of the Statement of Government Policy in the Parliamentary Debate on Foreign Policy 2016

Press Release 22.2.16

Religious Leaders Condemn Attack on Denia Mosque

The Religious Leaders of Cyprus and the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) categorically condemn the arson attack against the recently renovated Mosque of Denia, in the Nicosia district.

H.B. Archbishop Chrysostomos II of the Church of Cyprus and H.E. Dr Talip Atalay, Mufti of Cyprus and are in contact with one another through the facilitation of the RTCYPP since they heard about the attack yesterday. Both leaders made and released their own respective statements strongly condemning this heinous act.

“Such attacks made against places of faith and of worship, are actions that aim to disrupt the environment of peace and tranquility, to destroy the sense of security and to extinguish the hope for peace” stated the Mufti of Cyprus following the attack. “I expect from everyone involved to show the necessary sensitivity in order to prevent the repetition of such acts made against places of worship, regardless of the faith and the place.”

H.B. Archbishop Chrysostomos II in his official statement on 22 February 2016 stated, “The Church of Cyprus strongly disapproves and condemns any acts which are directed against places of worship, which restrict religious freedom and which are used to create a climate of discord, mistrust and tension.”

“ We are very saddened by these news. We should rebuild. Not destroy”, said. Rev Father Jerzy Kraj, religious leader of the Latin Catholic community of Cyprus and representative of the Apostolic delegation of the Holy See.

Imam Shakir Alemdar visited the Mosque today on behalf of the Mufti and the Office of RTCYPP. He met with the local community leaders and Greek Orthodox priest of the village. He affirmed that works had already begun by the government of the Republic of Cyprus to replace the burnt roof of the Mosque. “The event is very unfortunate, even more distressing that it is the second time this is happening at the same mosque.” said Imam Shakir Alemdar who is responsible to oversee the mosques in Nicosia, Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos on behalf of the Muftiate. “These are sensitive times and all necessary measures should be taken for such acts not to be repeated again at any place of worship, anywhere in Cyprus.”

Mufti Atalay welcomed the statement of President Anastasiades and the immediate efforts of the government authorities to restore the damage caused by the attack yesterday.

Press Announcement 10.2.16

The Religious Leaders of Cyprus will be meeting with Mr Espen Barth Eide, the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Advisor on Cyprus and Ms Lisa Buttenheim, Deputy Special Advisor and Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Cyprus on Wednesday 10 February 2016 at the residence of the Swedish Ambassador Mr Klas Gierow. The meeting is facilitated and hosted by the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden.

There will be a press briefing at the end of the meeting approximately at 14:30 outside the Swedish Ambassador’s residence at 8 Lidas Street, Nicosia. (Cameras are required to be set up before 14.00)

Religious leaders attending the meeting include:

His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Nova Justinia and All Cyprus accompanied by H.E Bishop Porfyrios of Neapolis

His Excellency Dr Talip Atalay, Mufti of Cyprus, accompanied by Imam Shakir Alemdar of Hala Sultan Tekke

His Excellency Archbishop Youssef Soueif of the Maronite Church of Cyprus

Rev Father Jerzy Kraj, Latin Patriarchal Vicar and Representative of the Apostolic Nunciature in Cyprus

Representative of His Eminence Archbishop Nareg of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church of Cyprus