Gross Violation of Religious Freedoms in the Occupied Part of Cyprus on Christmas day.
Nicosia.- During the morning service on Christmas at the Church of Agios Synesios at Rizokarpaso, located in the northern Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus, so-called “police officers” of the illegal Turkish Cypriot regime entered the church, ordered the priest to stop the liturgy, forced the priest and the Christian Orthodox Cypriot worshippers attending the service out of the church and proceeded to lock its doors.
The “police officers” claimed that they stopped the service on instructions by the so-called “Ministry of Foreign Affairs” of the occupation regime, because the priest did not obtain prior permission to conduct Christmas service. However, the church has been operating for 36 years (since the Turkish invasion and subsequent occupation) on a regular basis without the need for prior permission. This notwithstanding, the Archbishop of Cyprus stated that permission was obtained in this instance.
On Christmas morning, Saturday 25 December 2010, Father Zacharias and a large number of people went to the Church of Saint Sinesios in Rizokarpaso to begin Matins for Christmas. Meanwhile men of the occupied forces rushed to the church, interrupted the service, urged the priest to remove his vestments, and ordered everyone leave the church. When everyone had left, the doors were sealed.
The same happened in the Church of the Holy Trinity where Father Konstantinos was serving.
The incident was confirmed by the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), which has asked for a full explanation for the events from the occupation regime.
The Government of the Republic of Cyprus condemns this unacceptable action of the Turkish occupation regime carried out on one of the most holy days for Christianity. The act constitutes a clear violation of the basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, and in particular, the religious freedoms of the Christian Orthodox Greek Cypriots who continue to live in the northern occupied part of Cyprus.
More specifically, the interruption of the church service by the Turkish occupation regime violated:
(a) The Third Vienna Agreement of August 1975 which continues to be the only agreement providing for the treatment of Greek Cypriots living in the occupied areas of Cyprus. According to this agreement, “â€¦ the Greek Cypriots at present in the North of the Island are free to stay and that they will be given every help to lead a normal life, including facilities for education and for the practice of their religionâ€¦”
(b) Articles 3 and 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECoHR), which state that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 3) and that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom…, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance” (Article 9). Turkey was found responsible for violating both these articles in the Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Cyprus v Turkey (May 10, 2001).
(c) Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 10, 1948), according to which “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Archbishop Chrysostomos II, reported to the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and a UN representative, the interruption of the Christmas liturgies in the Turkish occupied north of Cyprus by Turkish troops, stressing that the Greek Cypriot side will not tolerate a similar situation. The primate of the Greek Orthodox Church on the island also handed letters to the diplomats, explaining what had happened on December 25. As he stressed, the Christmas liturgy in the Turkish occupied villages of Rizokarpaso and Ayia Triada were interrupted by the Turkish troops, which also harassed the priest and the congregation, despite the permission that had been obtained in advance for the liturgy.
In statements after the meeting, the Archbishop said ”we invited the representatives of the permanent members of the SC to report the monstrosity that took place on Christmas Day by Turks”.
”I made it clear to them that we will not tolerate such incident” again, he added.
The Archbishop revealed that he had intended to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu, following an initiative by the US Ambassador. However ”I will not meet him if he does not allow the priests to conduct the services in the occupied areas unhindered and the Bishop of Karpasia to visit Karpasia and carry out liturgies, serving the Christian enclaved in the area”, he said.
He said it was the inalienable right of the Bishop and if the Turks want to have a European course, then they should act in a European manner, respect human rights and religious beliefs”.
The Archbishop underlined that everything in the occupied areas are directed by Ankara, ”it is not the Turkish Cypriots who are prohibiting the liturgies and violate our human rights but it is Ankara. Ankara should at last be unveiled that it maintains these beliefs; it does not want anything Christian or Greek in the occupied areas”.
Referring to his meeting with Eroglu, the Archbishop said it was already scheduled but postponed due to the Turkish Cypriot leader’s health. ”However I do not think I should tolerate such mockery, especially when he does not allow liturgies to take place, the Christmas Liturgy. How can I meet him? For what reason? I will not meet him if the promises we have been given are not fulfilled.
In his statements after the meeting, Russian Ambassador Vlacheslav Shumski said the permanent members of the Security Council were invited by his beatitude where they discussed in detail what happened a couple of days ago in the north of the island, ”the unfortunate situation with the celebration of Christmas”.
”We expressed our gratitude for the detailed information and I personally, as a representative of the Russian government, think that this is a most unfortunate and unacceptable situation because it is directed against basic human rights and religious feelings”, he said.
What happened at Christmas, he added, is against the policy of taking confidence-building measures in the process of trying to find a just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem.
I am quite sure that being a Christian or Moslem, you have an inalienable right to worship, he added.
Answering a question, the Ambassador said he had already reported the incident to his government.