The Good Friday service at the Ayios Georgios Exorinos church in Famagusta, which was only reinstated in 2015 after 58 years, might not continue this year after a permit was denied by the Turkish Cypriot side.
Four Turkish Cypriot civil society organisations have condemned the move, a casualty of a new policy in the north last year limiting Orthodox services and introducing permits for such events. The reasoning was that there were too many services taking place and they could not all be adequately policed.
According to Turkish Cypriot press, Okan Dagli, a representative of the Famagusta Initiative, said the decision to deny a permit for the Good Friday service, which 4,000 people attended in 2015 and almost as many last year, was contrary to the spirit of the negotiations.
Dagli said it also harmed rapprochement between the two communities and that preventing the Greek Cypriots from exercising their right of worship was contrary to international law.
The Turkish Cypriot authorities, under the new policy of the ‘ministry of foreign affairs’, appeared to be granting permits arbitrarily he said. He added that Famagusta was a multicultural city and that that particular service had been attracting great interest in recent years.
He spoke of plans to make Easter a big celebration in Famagusta as part of a federal Cyprus.
Serdar Atai, vice president of the Within the Walls of Famagusta Association, said the policy to grant permits once a year to all churches in the north except for those in Morphou and Rizokarpaso and Engomi which are allowed more than one permit, did not coincide with human rights practices.
A joint statement from the two groups and two others, Youth Famagusta and Solidarity, called on the ‘government’ in the north to change its decision and review its policy on issuing permits altogether.
“The celebration of religious ceremonies on both sides enhances the feeling of trust and cooperation between the two communities,” the statement said, pointing out that the Greek Cypriot side unconditionally allows Turkish Cypriot Muslims to visit their holy shrines in the south of the island on their feast days.
“The government’s position shows that it completely ignored the common will to live together,” the statement said. It also urges the removal of all restrictions on religious freedom for Greek Cypriots.
If the Turkish Cypriot authorities do not relent on Ayios Georgios Exorinos, the Good Friday ceremony would be moved to Ayios Synesius in Rizokarpaso where there are no restrictions, CNA reported, citing a Greek Cypriot representative of the organisation ‘Famagusta Our City’.