UN Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide, said on Wednesday he discussed with the island’s religious leaders issues concerning their institutions’ property and places of worship on both sides of the divide.
Eide, accompanied by the head of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), Lisa Buttenheim, met with the island’s religious leaders, Archbishop Chrysostomos, Turkish Cypriot Mufti Dr Talip Atalay, Maronite Archbishop Youssef Soueif, the Latin Representative Father George Kraj and the representative of the Armenian Archbishop Nareg, at a special lunch hosted by the Swedish Ambassador Klas Gierow, in his residence in Nicosia.
Following the meeting, Eide told members of the press, that the religious leaders were working closely to support reunification.
“This island is an island of many faiths and people of different traditions but without any form of religious conflict,” Eide said. He added there were many conflicts in the region, though political in nature were being exploited as religious wars, this was not the case in Cyprus.
“[…] there is no chance that this can happen in Cyprus given the strong leadership and the strong will of the religious leaders to be supportive of peace and unity in Cyprus,” Eide said.
He added that he had discussed with the religious leaders more specific issues involving “the status of religious communities and holy sites, houses of worship and properties of the different religious organisations, which are all relevant questions for the negotiations led by the two leaders Mr Mustafa Akinci and Mr Nicos Anastasiades”.
He added that he felt inspired talking to the religious leaders, and taking their advice “on the general picture”. Commenting on the religious leaders’ joint activities, Eide said, they give “added hope for the peace negotiations towards the reunification of Cyprus”.
In their turn, the religious leaders reiterated their commitment to support Anastasiades and Akinci.
“As the religious leaders, we agree on all issues and we give our blessings to the two leaders to achieve a solution, and we will contribute towards that end so that our people will live together again in peace,” Archbishop Chrysostomos said.
Atalay said that unity was important not only for Cyprus but for the whole world.
In the past, he said, in the Ottoman and British eras, the religious leaders of Cyprus were united and these were good memories, “which we should learn from, so that in the future we can have better memories”.
He also said that they would offer their support to the two leaders in the hope that the negotiations were successful, “so that we can take our place in history as a successful cooperation between political and religious (tracks) that brought peace on the island”.
“We hope to be a good example for the whole region which is suffering at the moment,” Atalay said.
Maronite Archbishop Yussef Sweif said that during the religious meetings, they discuss “issues related to the religious dimension of our communities, we recall and call the importance of the freedom of access to all the worship places, churches, monasteries and mosques, across the island”.
He added that this initiative, which falls within the framework of confidence building measures, “will help the psychology of the people, will help the two leaders and the whole country to enter to a spirit of reconciliation and peace”.
The meeting was facilitated and hosted by the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the auspices of the Embassy of Sweden.