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Bishop of Karpasia denies he consented to alleged Apostolos Andreas masjid

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The rooms near Apostolos Andreas which will be used as a masjid

The Bishop of Karpasia Christophoros has denied reports that he had verbally agreed to the construction of a masjid, a Muslim place of worship, on the grounds of the Apostolos Andreas monastery in Karpasia.

Speaking to the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) on Wednesday, he rejected an apparent claim by the Turkish Cypriot Religious Foundation administration (Evkaf) that he had had no complaint on the issue.

He said he was not informed of any move, and added “any announcement of a decision does not mean consultation”.

The issue of the planned masjid came to light when left-wing Turkish Cypriot politician Dogus Derya announced the as yet unconfirmed plans on social media.

Derya described the plans as “a political provocation”. She added that those who have put forward the plans “want to incite hostilities between the two sides”.

“They are trying to provoke Greek Cypriots by building a masjid,” she said.

The claim has been corroborated by the Risokarpasia environment and nature protection association’s chairman Firat Borak, who shared a photograph on social media of an empty building on the site which he says will be converted into a masjid.

The bishop said the building which is reportedly planned to be converted into a masjid had initially been planned to be used by vendors.

“It now seems that they want to place carpets in those rooms for the Muslims who visit the monastery to pray.”

However, he made his opposition to the plans clear.

“Just as we respect the Hala Sultan Tekke in Larnaca and we do not want its character as a place of prayer or its surrounding area to become something other than what it is, a Muslim place of worship, we would like the same,” he said.

“The Apostolos Andreas monastery, which has an ecclesiastical, monastic character, should not have its character changed. From both sides, there should be respect towards religious places, which help us to coexist in the form in which they have existed for so many centuries.”

He also said that there was already a large mosque in Risokarpasia and said that many Muslims from both Cyprus and abroad travel to the Apostolos Andreas monastery to give offerings.

He confirmed that he will visit the monastery on Monday or Tuesday “to have my own understanding” of the situation.

Both the Risokarpasia mayor Hamit Bakirci and the chairman of Evkaf Ibrahim Benter are quoted on the topic by online outlet Bugun Kibris, with both supportive of the move.

According to Bugun Kibris, Bakirci said the building in which the masjid is set to be located belongs to Evkaf and not to the church.

“Evkaf granted permission for it. The Muslim community visiting the area will use it. Look at Israel today, where churches and mosques stand opposite each other. I don’t understand why people are embarrassed about this,” he reportedly said.

“It is not a mosque, it is a room. The call to prayer will not sound, nor will services be held.”

Asked how he would react if a similar move was made at the Hala Sultan Tekke in Larnaca, he said “of course we wouldn’t be able to accept it if they did this in a place that is close enough to disturb us”.

However, he noted the difference that “with us, the priest is in charge of the church. He has a key, he opens it and closes it and stays in it whenever he wants. But Hala Sultan is affiliated with the Antiquities Department in the south”.

Continuing, he reportedly said “every morning someone from a government office goes there and opens it at nine and closes it at five. We come and go as guests. There are rooms to the side of the mosque and we are not allowed to use them. The real freedom is over here”.

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