Alevi Muslims, who had already registered as an association, established the Alevi Culture Foundation, an NGO, in order to receive funding and donations. The “government” recognized the foundation during the year, the first time it had done so for a non-Sunni religious institution. The foundation had the right to request a tax exemption from the “Ministry of Finance” after providing proof its commercial activities were carried out for charitable purposes, but it had not yet carried out any commercial activities or requested a tax exemption. After it was established, it received 250,000 Turkish Lira ($85,675) from the “government” in May for construction of what would be the first cemevi (Alevi house of worship) in Cyprus. Construction of the cemevi began in 2007 but was delayed for lack of funds. There were no reports of other religious groups or of foundations linked to them attempting to register during the year.
The “Religious Affairs Department” staffed 190-200 mosques, all Sunni, with 360 imams. Members of the majority Sunni religious community voiced concerns the “government” was interfering with religious affairs by selecting imams.
Catholic students at Near East University were granted use of a multipurpose room for celebrating Mass in March. Beginning in November 2014, Catholics at Eastern Mediterranean University also had regular access to campus facilities to celebrate Mass.
Turkish Cypriot authorities restricted access to Greek Orthodox, Maronite Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox places of worship. Greek Orthodox and Maronite Catholics could not freely visit religious sites located in Turkish military zones in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. One Greek Orthodox monastery was open for prayer but still required special permission for Mass.
Turkish Cypriots eased restrictions on holding regular religious services in certain churches, although they did not approve all requests. UNFICYP reported of 128 requests, 88 were approved. Eleven additional requests sent directly to the Turkish Cypriot authorities were also approved.
The Turkish Cypriot authorities allowed church services to take place in the following 14 churches for the first time in 40-50 years: Panagia Monastery in Agillar/Mandres; Church of Ayios Georgios of Xalona in Bostanci/Zodia; Church of Saint George in Alsancak/Karava; Church of Ayia Irene in Akdeniz/Ayia Irene; Church of Ayios Afxentios in Buyukkonuk/Komi Kepir; Church of Timios Prodromos in Bogazici/Lapathos-Ammochostos; Church of St. Marina in Tepebasi/Diorios; Church of Ayia Foteini in Yesilkoy/Ayios Andronikos; Church of Panagia Galaktotrofousa in Balikesir/Palaikythro; Church of Archangelos Michael in Yenierenkoy/Ayialousa; Church of the Christ the Savior in Gecitkale/Lefkoniko; Church of Saint Epifanios in Yildirim/Milia; and the Church of Artemios in Gazikoy/Afancia.
Religious groups continued to complain that religious items, including icons, were held in storage rooms or displayed in museums against the wishes of the communities to whom they are sacred.
In September the press reported restoration work at the Maronite St. George Church in Kormacit/Kormakitis village had stopped because authorities did not give the necessary permission for the restoration. According to a Maronite representative, the group had applied for the permit at the wrong office. He stated that after the error was discovered, the authorities promptly issued the permit and the restoration was completed in December.
Some non-Sunni Muslims lacked places of worship and funding to construct such facilities. An Alevi NGO reported that initially, due to the lack of a house of worship, Alevis were required to conduct funerals inside mosques, contrary to their traditions. They also said they perceived favoritism in “state” funding toward the Sunni Muslim population through financing of mosque construction and support for administration of mosques.
Turkish Cypriot religious groups reported Muslim parents seeking to send their children to religious summer courses faced strong public criticism from secular community members, particularly local “government” teachers.
Some Alevis and Christians stated that the mandatory religious education in schools was overly focused on Sunni Islam and their children had no formal recourse to opt out of the classes.
Some minority religious groups reported Turkish Cypriot authorities, including the police, monitored their activities. A Greek Orthodox priest reported heavy police presence during church services, including police inside the church videotaping services held by the enclaved Greek Cypriot community (i.e., those living permanently in the north). Visiting Greek Orthodox worshippers were also accompanied by a heavy police escort. Turkish Cypriot representatives stated the purpose of the police presence was to provide security and protect religious icons and artifacts; however, religious groups said they viewed the police presence as intimidation and harassment.
An Orthodox bishop reported the Turkish Cypriot tourism authorities allowed a Turkish television production company to film a scene from the drama “Valley of the Wolves” at the St. Barnabas Monastery in August without informing the Church of Cyprus. The bishop stated he was offended by this, calling it a “desecration.”