The Turkish Cypriot ‘government’ is trying to create a religious problem in Cyprus that never previously existed, chairman of the municipalities union and Famagusta Mayor Alexis Galanos said on Wednesday.
He was referring to a ‘foreign ministry’ decision to restrict religious ceremonies in churches in the north to once a year on Christmas, Easter or the name days of the churches.
Major sites like Ayios Barnabas, Apostolos Andreas and Ayios Mamas are exempt. The move was taken to prevent “the exploitation of this right” by Greek Cypriots according to the ‘ministry undersecretary.’
Galanos condemned the move saying it was “certainly stoked by Ankara” and was “religiously racist, an act of intolerance and a bid to send a message”.
“The message is the so-called ‘government’ in the occupied territories wants to undermine the talks and move towards division and to turn their leader Mr Akinci into a frontman,” Galanos said.
“This is a targeted political move at a very critical juncture for the Cyprus problem, when there are huge efforts to move towards finding a solution.”
Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides conceded this was a very negative development and there were “even reactions in the Turkish Cypriot community.”
Religious freedoms are a basic human right “and there has been a reaction on a Republic of Cyprus level as well as a European and international level,” he said.
“We will wait and see what the developments are in the next few days and based on the developments, there are thoughts on how the RoC will react.”
Christodoulides added the decision was not taken by Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci but by the ‘government’ in the north.
Nevertheless, Galanos said the Greek Cypriot community was being directly targeted and President Nicos Anastasiades needed to put the matter to the UN and EU while Church authorities should take the case to the World Council of Churches.
Reasons cited by the Turkish Cypriots such as having to provide a police presence at each ceremony were merely excuses, he added and it was offensive. Maronites were allowed to enjoy unlimited religious ceremonies.
“The Greek Cypriot community is being targeted. How can we live together? What’s the message and how can we have cultural committees and rapprochement committees? Where does all this stand with this decision?”
Galanos said people who still believed in reunification get more and more disappointed and it was a shame.
He called on the Turkish Cypriot side to re-evaluate the matter if it really wanted to prove it wanted a solution.
“There was never a religious problem in this place, they’re bringing in a religious problem, let them think twice about it, particularly in light of their meeting with Turkey, which is knocking on Europe’s door and presents itself as a country that wants to be part of a greater Europe.”
DISY MEP Lefteris Christoforou said he had written a letter to the European Commission asking how they would react to Turkey’s and the north’s violation of religious freedoms. It was also sent to the Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker and President of European Parliament Martin Schulz.