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Orthodox Christians in northern Cyprus still face discrimination and persecution; Turkish occupation must end

The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle strongly condemns the continued violation of the basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, and in particular, the religious freedoms of the Greek Orthodox Christians who continue to live in the northern occupied part of Cyprus.

Coupled with the policy of pillage, destruction and desecration of the cultural heritage of Cyprus that the occupation regime has been following since 1974, which has led to the destruction or desecration of more than 500 Greek Orthodox churches and chapels in the occupied areas of Cyprus and the illegal transfer of more than 60,000 ancient artifacts to third countries, the continuous violation of the religious freedoms of the enclaved Greek Cypriots is regrettably an unacceptable reality. This latest action manifests complete and utter disrespect for the religious freedoms of the enclaved Greek Orthodox Christian Cypriots and violated in clear and unambiguous terms, among others, 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, the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Order of Saint Andrew calls upon Turkey to fully respect the religious freedoms of the Greek Orthodox Christians who continue to live in the northern occupied part of Cyprus and urge the United States Government to condemn this unacceptable act and work towards truly safeguarding the basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the religious freedoms, of the enclaved Orthodox Christians who reside there.

“Justice for Cyprus: The goal should be freedom from occupation,” by Uzay Bulut, HFusion Media Group, July 9, 2018:

Cyprus, a member state of the European Union, has been illegally occupied by Turkey since 1974. Turkey’s false excuse for its presence on the island is the “protection of Turkish Cypriots from Greek violence.”

However, in 2017, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Tuğrul Türkeş revealed the real reason behind Turkey’s control of Cyprus: “There is this misinformation that Turkey is interested in Cyprus because there is a Turkish society there… Even if no Turks lived in Cyprus, Turkey would still have a Cyprus issue and it is impossible for Turkey to give up on that.” Turkey has occupied and colonized the island mainly for economic and strategic reasons. And even though Cyprus is, militarily, a much weaker nation than Turkey, it has been abandoned and left to the tender mercies of Turkey by the West. Turkey, however, does not even recognize Cyprus as an authentic nation. According to the official website of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cyprus is “geographically an extension of the Anatolian peninsula” and “has never been a Greek island.” Actually, both Cyprus and Anatolia − whose name comes from the Greek word “Anatole,” meaning “east” or “sunrise” − are historically Greek territories. The Turkish presence in Cyprus, however, only dates back to the Ottoman occupation from 1571 to 1878. Since the beginning of recorded history, Cyprus has been a majority Greek island – demographically and culturally. Never until the Turkish invasion in 1974 did the northern part of the island have a Turkish majority. Both the north and south of the island were majority-Greek and majority-Christian until then. Nonetheless, the myth of Cyprus being a Turkish island is popular with Turks. For example, a June campaign ad for Turkey’s nationalist MHP party, which supported Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the recent presidential election, depicted Cyprus as “Turkish territory”. And the head of the party Devlet Bahçeli once again declared: “Cyprus is Turkish and will remain so.” As a result of the ethnic cleansing of Greek Cypriots in the northern part of the island, the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC) was established in 1983 but is recognized only by Turkey. The Turkish government sees the TRNC as a province or extension of Turkey, the “mother homeland” (anavatan), and calls occupied Cyprus “yavru vatan” or “baby homeland”. Turkey also supported the Kofi Annan Plan of 2004, which offered “bi-zonality” and “bi-communality” within a federal government comprised of two constituent states, namely “the Greek Cypriot state” and “the Turkish Cypriot state.” But would a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation (BBF) be a just settlement? What should the requirements be for achieving justice for Cyprus?

An end to ethnic/religious segregation:During and following the invasion, Turkey engaged in several criminal activities on the island, such as transporting Turkish fighters to Cyprus to kill Greek Cypriots, importing tens of thousands of illegal settlers from Turkey, permanently deploying around 40,000 Turkish soldiers, forcibly changing the demographics of the island, seizing the homes and other property of Greek Cypriots, and wiping out the island’s historic Hellenic and Christian identity through the destruction of its cultural heritage. Hundreds of Greek Cypriot civilians, including women and infants, were murdered, unlawfully arrested and tortured, and many Greek Cypriot children and women were rapedA BBF would legalize and normalize the illegal occupation and all of those crimes committed during and after the invasion. According to Minority Rights Group International: “The [1960 Cypriot] constitution stipulates that the Cypriot president must be Greek and the Vice President Turkish; the latter office has been vacant since the island’s division. This provision denies other minorities the opportunity to run for either of the top two executive posts. “In the unrecognized northern TRNC, Turkish Cypriots elect a parliament, which in turn chooses a prime minister. Greek and Maronite Cypriots are denied the opportunity to run for office, and there are no minorities in parliament.” Thus, the Cypriot territory illegally occupied by Turkey is run by an apartheid regime based on ethnicity and religion. A BBF system would legalize this segregation by normalizing the apartheid regime. Enabling a BBF system for Cyprus would give Turkey permanent control of half of Cyprus on a silver platter. Professor Stephanos Constantinides describes the “bi-zonality” imposed on Cyprus: “This new state structure will emerge with the dissolution of the Republic of Cyprus and will be structured on the basis of racial criteria. “This means that there will be an ethnic vote and citizens will not vote with single electoral lists but with lists based on their ethnic origins and religion. “They will also elect their representatives from a list of ethnic candidates and on the basis of ethnic quotas. Therefore, the democratic principle of one person, one vote from single electoral lists, as is happening all over the world does not apply. In practice, this means that Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots will elect their representatives separately, plus there will be political and numerical equality, even if Greek Cypriots account for 80% of the population and Turkish Cypriots for 18%. But this is something that does not exist anywhere else in any modern state, federation or single state. “How, however, will such a unification process be applied in a country divided by occupation? Above all, there will be frontiers between the two states that will make up the confederal structure and preserve their ethnic population’s purity! For example, only 20% of refugees will have the right to return to their homes, precisely to preserve the ethnic purity of the Turkish Cypriot state. “No federation in the world is ever discussed on a territorial and, above all, property issue on the basis of race criteria. In Cyprus this issue arose because of the Turkish invasion and ethnic cleansing imposed by Turkey on the violent movement of the populations.”

A unitary Cyprus for all Cypriots: The focus and goal of the solution should be freedom from occupation and not just “reunification.” The end of the illegal occupation of Cyprus by the Turkish army will also help reunify the legal citizens of Cyprus in a just system. The term “reunification,” minus any reference to an end to the occupation, plays into the BBF agenda of “us” and “them.” When it comes to minority rights, Cyprus has always been a much more democratic and progressive country than Turkey. Unlike Turkey, the governments of Cyprus – since its independence in 1960 – have always recognized the existence and rights of minorities. Hence, a just solution for the problem of occupation would be to establish a single, unitary Cypriot state that respects the rights of Cypriots of all ethnic backgrounds.

Human rights for all Cypriots: Turkish Cypriots are not the only minority in Cyprus. There are Maronites, Armenians and Latins (Roman Catholics), among others. Following the 1974 Turkish invasion of the island, the Greek Cypriot population of the northern part of Cyprus – some 200,000 people – became refugees in their own homeland. The rights of all refugees and internally displaced people of all ethnic backgrounds need to be recognized. And the human, cultural and property rights of all Cypriots should be respected by the unitary Cypriot state that encompasses the entire island.

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