The Turkish Cypriot administration restricted access to Greek Orthodox, Maronite Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox places of worship and placed other restrictions on minority religious groups.
Greek Orthodox and Maronite Catholics could not freely visit most religious sites located in military zones in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. Access to the Church of Ayia Marina/Gurpinar, however, was approved for one visit per year and in July the Maronite community visited the church for the first time since 1974. Restoration of the Maronite church in Asomatos/Ozgun was completed in 2012.
The administration denied permission to use certain Christian religious sites, including the Church of Saint Marina in Kythrea, because the church was being used as a cultural center and library. The administration also denied a request to hold a service at the Church of Saint Georgios because the church was being used as a youth center. The administration denied a request to use the church on Panagia Chrysopolitissa without a stated reason, and denied a request to restore tombstones and crosses of the graves at the cemeteries of Pano and Kato Dikomo, also for no stated reason.
The “Presidency of the Religious Affairs of the TRNC” staffed 190-200 mosques with 360 imams. Members of the majority Sunni religious community voiced concerns about such actions interfering with religious affairs.
Reports indicated that Turkish Cypriot authorities did not allocate additional funds beyond 546,430 Turkish lira ($346,000) in 2006 to complete the restoration of 15 Greek Orthodox churches in the north. In addition, authorities stated that some Greek Orthodox and Maronite churches had long been converted to other uses. One religious group complained that religious items were being held in museums against the wishes of the community. The Cultural Heritage Technical Committee members cleaned and carried out minor repairs in ten churches and mosques in both communities by using their combined resources.
As part of the reciprocal religious visit arrangement, in October Turkish Cypriots lifted the travel ban against the Bishop of the Karpas and he entered the north to visit the Apostolos Andreas monastery with the Turkish Cypriot Imam. He returned to perform the liturgy at Apostolos Andreas in November, a ceremony attended by thousands. Religious leaders continued to meet and arrange visits across the “green line.”
Some religious groups reported that Turkish Cypriot authorities, including the police, monitored their activities. A resident Greek Orthodox priest reported heavy police presence during church services and stated that the police questioned him frequently about his activities. Turkish Cypriot representatives stated that the purpose of the police presence was to provide security and protect religious icons and artifacts; however, religious groups perceived the monitoring as intimidation and harassment.
Turkish Cypriots eased restrictions on holding regular religious services in certain churches, although they did not approve all requests. UNFICYP reported that of the 61 requests made to date, eight were refused on various grounds. One denied request came from Greek Orthodox non-resident worshipers who sought permission to conduct religious service at the Church of Panayia Perghamiotissa in the village of Akanthu on November 17.
The four churches in the primarily Maronite village of Kormakitis and the Maronite church in Karpashia functioned regularly and did not need special permission for any services. Three smaller Maronite churches continued to require special permission to hold services, and one church in Kambyli required a special permit at all times.
In August, the press reported that approximately 250 Maronites held a mass at Panagia Kambyli Church to celebrate Assumption Day at Kambyili/Hisarkoy.
Some non-Sunni Muslims lacked places of worship and funding to construct such facilities. Alevis, which like all non-Sunni Muslim religious groups were recognized by the authorities as an association and not as a religious group, reported that due to the lack of a cem evi (house of worship), they were required to conduct funerals inside mosques, contrary to their traditions. Alevi representatives stated that they felt no pressure and could freely practice their faith; however, they perceived favoritism in “state” funding toward the majority Sunni Muslim population through financing mosque construction and administration of mosques. In April 2012, the Pir Sultan Abdal Association, an Alevi NGO, visited Turkish Cypriot political parties to request support to build a cem evi and to advocate the inclusion of Alevism in the education curriculum. While several of the parties expressed support for the inclusion of Alevism in the education curriculum, there were no reports of further action.
Some minority religious groups complained that their children were still required to complete and pass the religious course which is focused on Islam and is mandatory in public schools. In September, the Hala Sultan Religious High School in Haspolot held a high-profile opening ceremony that was attended by senior Turkish Cypriot representatives and visiting Turkish political figures. At the same time, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the construction of a large mosque within the same complex. The press reported that the curriculum included the Quran, career Arabic, basic religious knowledge, history of Islam, Islamic law, the prophet’s life, interpreting the Quran, and oration. Secular members of the Turkish Cypriot community, unions, and NGOs criticized the opening of the school, saying that Turkey was trying to “Islamize” secular Turkish Cypriots.
In July the secular Turkish Cypriot Teacher Trade Union criticized the then interim “government” for allowing the continuation of Quran courses, despite its policy to abolish such courses.
The “Constitutional Court” held a hearing in October on Turkish Cypriot Murat Kanatli’s declaration of conscientious objection to the one-day annual reserve duty requirement. The “court” rejected Kanatli's conscientious objection, stating that reserve duty and military duty were not against the “constitution” and that these were a citizen’s duty. The “Constitutional Court” sent the decision to the “Military Court.”
The rebuilding of the 200-year-old Greek Orthodox Chapel of Saint Thekla, that had been demolished in 2011, was completed.