By Evie Andreou
Turkish Cypriot mufti Talip Atalay recited a prayer on Tuesday in the Taht-el kale mosque in Nicosia, which has been closed for 51years.
Atalay visited the mosque after an invitation from Archbishop Chrysostomos as part of the Religious Trust for Peace Process initiative supported by the Swedish government.
“After 51 years we are going to offer our prayers in this mosque. Although some facilities are missing the most important thing is to be here,” Atalay said, adding that his presence there was a proof that negative feelings can be healed.
He said permanent peace in Cyprus would be a good example for the whole region and that Cypriots lived peacefully in the Ottoman era and they can live peacefully in the future too and this occasion is a first step toward that direction.
The mufti was accompanied by the EVKAF Foundation’s Chairperson Rauf Ersenal, Father Savvas, standing in for Archbishop Chrysostomos who was abroad on a formal visit, Swedish ambassador Klas Gierow and the facilitators of the Swedish led interreligious dialogue, Salpy Eskidjian and Peter Weiderud.
Father Savvas said through dialogue freedom of religion has been achieved and that based on this principle the Church is aiming at free access to religious monuments, their restoration and their use for the purpose they were built.
He said the restoration of several monuments has been achieved by EVKAF and that there has been cooperation between EVKAF and the Cyprus Church for the restoration of monuments throughout the island.
Ersenal said he was born in the That-el kale neighbourhood and was four years old when his family fled in 1963 never to return.
Swedish ambassador Klas Gierow called the event important and historical and said it was a concrete proof that confidence building is possible. He said there is still some way to go but the religious track and all the people involved have shown that we can work and continue to work and make continuous progress.
The mufti recited a prayer in the mosque and performed a religious ceremony in the presence of a few Muslim believers and a group of tourists who happened to pass by and joined the group.
Father Savvas told Cyprus Mail that through meetings between religious leaders, the Church is trying to form a simple programming mechanism which would make liturgies and other organised visits to the north easier and less time consuming.
Weiderud said religion is a victim of the Cyprus conflict and that religion can be a mechanism for reconciliation, something that has not been attempted in Cyprus before.
Weiderud said that until 2009 there had been no contact between religious leaders for 50 years and that the initiative aimed at facilitating meetings between the two religious leaders.
The Taht-el kale or Tahtakala mosque took its name from the eastern quarter of Nicosia it is located in.
Tahtakala is a corruption of the phrase Taht-el-Kale which means “under the
Castle” (meaning the close by Famagusta Gate).
The mosque was built in 1826 by the Ottoman Governor Es-Seyyid Mehmet Agha in the place of an older mosque. The minaret was re-built in 1948.
By Evie Andreou