The Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The basic law in the Turkish Cypriot community also provides for freedom of religion, and the Turkish Cypriot authorities generally respect this right in practice.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion; however, reciprocal visits to religious sites continued to be restricted during the period covered by this report.
The generally amicable relationship among religions in Cypriot society contributed to religious freedom; however, there were a few reports of vandalism of unused religious sites.
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the authorities in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.
Section I. Religious Demography
The country has a total area of 3,571 square miles, and its population is estimated at 759,100.
Prior to 1974, the country experienced a long period of intercommunal strife between its Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. In response, the U.N. Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) began peacekeeping operations in 1964. The island has been divided since the Turkish military intervention of 1974, following a coup d'etat directed from Greece; the southern part of the island is under the control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus, while the northern part is ruled by a Turkish Cypriot administration. In 1983 that administration proclaimed itself the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" ("TRNC"). The TRNC is not recognized by the United States or any other country except Turkey.
Approximately 96 percent of the population in the government-controlled area are Greek Orthodox. Approximately 0.7 percent of the remaining population are Maronite, slightly less than 0.4 percent are Armenian Orthodox, 0.1 percent are Latin (Roman Catholic), and 3.2 percent belong to other groups; the latter category includes small groups of Cypriot Protestants and foreigners of various religious beliefs.
A 1998 opinion poll indicated that about 48 percent of Greek Cypriots attend church services regularly, while 49 percent attend only for major religious holidays and ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. The remainder do not attend religious services at all. Approximately 10 percent of the population in the north attend religious services regularly.
An estimated 99 percent of the Turkish Cypriot population is at least nominally Muslim. There is a small Turkish Cypriot Baha'i community. Most other non-Muslims in the north are foreigners from Western Europe who are frequently members of the Roman Catholic or Anglican Churches.
There is some western Protestant missionary activity in the government-controlled area.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The basic law in the Turkish Cypriot community also provides for freedom of religion, and the authorities generally respect this right in practice. Turkish Cypriots residing in the south and Greek Cypriots living in the north are allowed to practice their religions.
The 1960 Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus specifies that the Greek Orthodox Church (which is autocephalous and not under the authority of the mainland Greek Orthodox Church) has the exclusive right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and property in accordance with its holy canons and charter. The Constitution states that the Turkish Cypriot religious trust, the Vakf (the Muslim institution that regulates religious activity for Turkish Cypriots), has the exclusive right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and property in accordance with Vakf laws and principles. No legislative, executive, or other act can contravene or interfere with the Orthodox Church or the Vakf. Both the Greek Orthodox Church and the Vakf are exempt from taxes with regard to religious activity. According to law, they are required to pay taxes only on strictly commercial activity.
Three other religious groups are recognized in the Constitution: Armenian Orthodox, Maronite Christians, and Latins (Roman Catholics). These groups also are exempt from taxes and are eligible, along with the Greek Orthodox Church and the Vakf, for government subsidies to their religious institutions. No other religious group is recognized in the Constitution.
Both the Government of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot administration have constitutional or legal bars against religious discrimination. The basic agreement covering treatment of Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the north and Turkish Cypriots living in the south remains the 1975 Vienna III Agreement. Among other things, this agreement provides for facilities for religious worship.
Religions other than the five recognized religions are not required to register with government authorities; however, if they desire to engage in financial transactions, such as maintaining a bank account, they must register as a nonprofit company, and most do so. The registration process involves submission through an attorney of an application that states the purpose of the nonprofit organization and provides the names of the organization's directors. Annual reports of the organization's activities are required. Such nonprofit organizations are tax-exempt. Registration is granted promptly, and many religious groups are recognized. No religious groups were denied registration during the period covered by this report.
There are no prohibitions against missionary activity or proselytizing in the government-controlled areas. Foreign missionaries must obtain and periodically renew residence permits in order to live in the country; normally renewal requests are not denied.
Instruction in the Greek Orthodox religion is mandatory for all Greek Orthodox children and is taught in all public primary and secondary schools in classes held twice per week in the government-controlled area. Members of Jehovah's Witnesses and Maronite parents can request that their children be excused from such instruction. Such requests routinely are granted. There are no reports of practitioners of other religions requesting such an exemption.
There is no government-sponsored interfaith activity.
The Government of Cyprus recognizes the following religious holidays as national holidays: the Epiphany, Annunciation, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Holy Spirit Day, Assumption Day, and Christmas Day.
In the northern part of the island, the Turkish Cypriot basic law refers specifically to a "secular republic," and provides for religious freedom; no specific religion is recognized in the basic law. However, based on the 1960 Constitution, the Vakf, which pays the costs of Muslim religious activities and the salaries of Muslim religious leaders, is tax-exempt in regard to its religious activities (the Vakf pays taxes on its commercial and real estate operations) and receives official subsidies. No other religious organization is tax-exempt or receives subsidies.
Religious organizations are not required to register with the Turkish Cypriot authorities unless they wish to engage in commercial activity or apply for tax-exempt status. There are no legal restrictions on missionary activity; however, such activity is rare.
There is instruction in religion, ethics, and comparative religions in two grades of the primary school system in the Turkish Cypriot community. There is no formal Islamic religious instruction in public schools, and there are no state-supported religious schools.
The Turkish Cypriot authorities do not sponsor any interfaith activity.
The following religious holidays are observed widely in the Turkish Cypriot community: Kurban Bairam, Birthday of the Prophet, and Ramazan Bairam.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
In May 2001, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Government of Turkey was responsible for restrictions imposed on Greek Cypriots resident in the north in regard to their access to places of worship and participation in other areas of religious life.
In 2001 Turkish Cypriot authorities and the Government of Cyprus came to an agreement, after 4 years, on the assignment of a second Orthodox priest to work in the north. However, the Government of Cyprus still had not identified a candidate for the position at the end of the period covered by this report.
In May 2000, the Turkish Cypriot authorities eliminated the system of fees imposed in 1998 for crossing the buffer zone, although a $1.55 (1 Cyprus pound) processing fee remained in effect. Reciprocal visits to religious sites were suspended in July 2000. Such visits took place under a 1997 agreement that allowed Greek Cypriots to visit the Apostolos Andreas monastery in the north on designated Christian religious holidays, and Turkish Cypriots to visit the Hala Sultan mosque in the south on certain Muslim religious holidays. In July 2000, Turkish forces established a checkpoint in a location adjacent to the Greek Cypriot village of Strovilia and the British eastern Sovereign Base Areas. Although access to Strovilia had been largely unimpeded, the checkpoint provides Turkish forces the ability to control the approach to the village. Despite protests from the UNFICYP and others, Turkish forces remained at the contested checkpoint at year's end in violation of the status quo. Turkish forces restricted UNFICYP movement, including refusing to allow the UNFICYP to man a checkpoint in Kokkina. On July 31, 2000, Greek Cypriot officials responded to those moves and denied Turkish Cypriots land passage to Kokkina. Visits to this pocket of land (which contains a memorial and is surrounded by the government-controlled area) are included in the 1997 reciprocal visit agreement. In August and November 2000, Turkish Cypriot officials denied access to southern Greek Cypriots to visit the Apostolos Andreas monastery. No reciprocal visits took place during the period covered by the report.
Maronites may not visit certain religious sites in the north located in military zones. Armenians may not visit any religious sites in the north.
Although missionaries have the legal right to proselytize in both communities, missionary activities are monitored closely by both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot authorities. The police may initiate investigations of religious activity based on a citizen's complaint under laws that make it illegal for a missionary to use "physical or moral compulsion" in an attempt to make religious conversions. They also may investigate when missionaries may be involved in illegal activities that threaten the security of the republic, constitutional or public order, or public health and morals. There are occasional apprehensions under these laws resulting in publicity but no arrests. On June 20, 2002, police brought in three American citizens who were walking along a busy Turkish Cypriot road with a large Christian cross to Turkish Cypriot police headquarters. They were warned that their activity was unwise in a Muslim area and released.
In both the government-controlled areas and the Turkish Cypriot community, there were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.
Forced Religious Conversion
In both the government-controlled areas and the Turkish Cypriot community, there were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
There are polite relations between the Greek Cypriot Orthodox Church and the other religious communities in the south. In the north there are few non-Muslims, but there is no friction between them and the nominally Muslim population. Greek Cypriots living in the north report that unused Orthodox churches continued to be vandalized. Although Turkish Cypriots reported that unused mosques in the south also have been vandalized, the Government routinely carried out maintenance and repair of mosques in the south. A previously unknown Greek Cypriot nationalist organization claimed responsibility for an arson attack on a mosque in the south in August 1999. Damage was light. The authorities repaired and built a fence around the mosque and pledged to increase protection of Muslim sites. No one was arrested for the attack, and the case remains unresolved.
The Orthodox Church is suspicious of any attempts to proselytize among Greek Cypriots and closely monitors such activities. On occasion the Greek Cypriot media has given extensive coverage to the activities of foreign missionaries, creating a chilling effect on those activities.
There has been little official effort at ecumenical activity. In March 2001, a monastery in the Greek Orthodox Church sponsored an international ecumenical religious congress entitled "Encounter of Religions and Civilizations." Its stated goal was to promote understanding and cooperation in order to eliminate fanaticism and intolerance. In April 2002, the fifth annual Eurasia Islamic Congress took place in the Turkish Cypriot community. This event organized by the Turkish Government included discussions on tolerance and understanding and dialogue among religions.
Religion is a significantly more prominent component of Greek Cypriot society than of Turkish Cypriot society, with correspondingly greater cultural and political influence. One example of the relationship between church and state among Greek Cypriots is the fact that the leader of the Greek Cypriot campaign for independence in the 1950's was the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Makarios III, who became president from independence in 1960 and served until his death in 1977.
As the largest owner of real estate in the south and the operator of several large business enterprises, the Greek Orthodox Church is a significant economic factor. Similarly, the Vakf is the largest landowner in the north.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the authorities in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.
The U.S. Embassy played a key role, working closely with the U.N., in obtaining agreement from both sides in January 2000 to initiate a project to restore the island's two most significant religious sites, the Apostolos Andreas monastery and the Hala Sultan mosque. Restoration work at the sites began in 2001 based on recommendations from the world's leading experts in structures of this type and period. Both sites have been cleaned, fenced, and re-landscaped. The ancillary buildings at both sites have been renovated, and work on the church and mosque buildings is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2002.
The Ambassador and other Embassy officers meet periodically with Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot religious authorities regarding specific religious freedom concerns.