Freedom of Religion, thought and conscience are under the protection of the Constitution of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). All individuals residing in our country, including foreign nationals, are free to join any sorts of religious ceremonies and liturgies as long as they are not in violation of the public order and public morality.
It should also be noted that Maronites and Greek Cypriots, who opted to reside within the territory of the TRNC are free to conduct religious services, held by their own priests in eight major Churches in the villages they are residing (Dipkarpaz, Sipahi, Koruçam, Karapaşa, Hisarköy and Özhan) without any prior permission. After coming to power, the UBP-DP Government announced a decision to lift the restrictions on religious services to be hold in 3 significant churches (Apostolos Andreas, St Barnabas and St. Mamas) that are within the territory of the TRNC.
However, in the absence of a settlement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of TRNC evaluates the requests by the Greek Cypriots residing in the South wishing to hold mass religious services in the Churches in TRNC, according to the following criteria and grants permission accordingly.
1) The day of the requested service to be religiously significant day (Easter, Christmas or Name Day of the Church)
2)The Physical condition of the religious site should be suitable to host a religious service ( whether is it secure to accept visitors)
3)The religious site should not be in use for another purpose (i.e. museum, cultural centre, library etc.)
4)Religious site should not be situated in a military zone.
For years, our Ministry has been evaluating the requests by the Greek Cypriots, which are communicated to our Ministry through UNFICYP, according to the criteria above.
The statistics of the requests for upholding religious services in the recent years are presented below;
In 2014, 71of the 107 applications were granted permission, whereas 36 were denied permission.
In 2015, 96 of the 128 applications were granted permission, whereas 32 were denied permission.
In 2016, 71 of the 93 applications were granted permission, whereas 22 were denied permission so far.
Within this vein, we have been regretfully observing an intention to create a misperception that “Applications are not being granted permission after the UBP-DP government came to power, whereas all requests were being evaluated positively by the previous governments.” Moreover, we condemn the fact that H.E. Mustafa Akıncı, President of the TRNC, has also taken part to this effect.
I have been re-appointed to serve in the same position as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of TRNC after twelve and a half years lapse. During this time several Foreign Ministers came to office, who shared a similar worldview or similar political affiliation with the President Akıncı. They all evaluated the applications for religious services and granted some while rejecting others. Recently, I have been target to a campaign to the effect that “The newly appointed Minister with a repressive mind-set is denying permissions for religious services.” While the President has the right to detest some of the decisions taken by the government, at the same time, the government has the right to disagree with some of the statements made by the President. However, both sides need to respect each other.
We would like to emphasize once again, that taking necessary precautions against the misuse of religious services as a political tool, lies within the responsibility of our government.