“That Turkey has been placed on the list of the worst violators of religious rights, comes as no surprise to Cypriots,” said Theo Theodorou, spokesman for Lobby for Cyprus.
He was referring to the report just published by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which cited Turkey for "systematic and egregious limitations" on religious liberty.
“In Cyprus,” Theodorou said, “more than 500 Greek, Armenian and Maronite churches, cemeteries and monasteries have been destroyed or desecrated, according to a report filed with UNESCO.” He added, “And, in Turkey itself, Christian churches and other property have been confiscated and, despite appeals and outcries from around the world, Turkey continues its policies.”
The USCIRF annual report critises Turkey‘s military control in occupied Cyprus for "numerous arbitrary regulations" which limit religious activities and "threaten the long-term survival of non-Muslim religious communities."
The report recommends that the US government urges Turkey to:
- allow religious minority communities in occupied Cyprus access to, including rights to restore, maintain, and utilise religious sites and cemeteries;
- abandon all restrictions on access and use of places of worship;
- return all religious places of worship and cemeteries to their rightful owners;
- cease ongoing desecration and destruction of Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Armenian Orthodox and Jewish religious properties;
- cease using such religious sites as stables, military storage sites, vehicle repair shops, public entertainment venues or for any other non-religious purpose;
- return Christian religious iconography and other religious art to their rightful owners;
- and to allow UNESCO access to review religious materials under possession of the occupation regime.
Among other problems, the report criticises Turkey for regulating non-Muslim groups in Turkey by restricting how they can train clergy, offer education and own their places of worship. “A good case in point,” Theodorou stated, is the denial of the Greek Church in Turkey from training priests. This is critical,” he went on, “because Turkey in defiance of the Treaty of Lausanne has passed a law that Christian priests must be Turkish-born citizens, which means non-Turkish priests cannot serve the Church.”
Congress established the commission in 1998 to compile the reports for use by the president, the secretary of state and lawmakers. According to the report, the other countries on the list which Turkey now joins are: China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
Lobby For Cyprus is a non-party-political NGO which calls for the reunification of Cyprus, the return of refugees, removal of Turkish troops and and end to Turkey's policy of colonisation as stipulated by United Nations resolutions.