The Turkish Cypriot authorities continued the practice of limiting access to Greek Orthodox, Maronite Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox religious sites and placed other restrictions on these religious groups. At the same time, the authorities permitted religious services to be held in a number of churches for the first time in 40 to 50 years.
After 10 years of applications, the authorities allowed a Turkish-speaking Protestant congregation to form the Turkish Protestant Association. The group reported better treatment by the police after registration. A religious leader from the association said its registration had caused police surveillance to become more subtle than in prior years although the surveillance continued. In one incident, the police interrupted a service but allowed it to continue after seeing the congregation’s registration document.
Alevis continued to be registered as a nongovernmental association. There were no reports of other religious groups attempting to register during the year.
The authorities restricted access to Greek Orthodox, Maronite Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox places of worship. Greek Orthodox and Maronite Catholics could not freely visit most religious sites located in 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 that of the 93 requests, 57 were approved. Eleven additional requests sent directly to the Turkish Cypriot authorities were also approved.
On January 8, the authorities allowed church services for the first time in 57 years at the Church of Saint George Exorinos in the walled city of Famagusta. Approximately 5,000 Greek Cypriots, including high-level officials, politicians, and religious leaders, attended a Good Friday service at the same church on April 18.
The authorities permitted a religious ceremony to be held at the Armenian church and monastery inside the walled city of Nicosia for the first time in 50 years. The Armenian archbishop conducted the ceremony, and more than 500 people of Armenian descent living in the north and the south as well as high-level officials attended the service.
The authorities allowed church services in the following 14 churches for the first time in 40 years: Church of Saint George Exorinos in Gazimagusa/Famagusta; Church of Panagia Theotokou in Kythrea/Degirmenlik; Church of St. Charalambos in Turkmenkoy/Kontea; Church of Saint George in Kyrenia/Girne; Church of Saint George in Duzova/Exometochi; Church of Ayios Antonis in Degirmenlik/Kythrea; Church of Ayios Ioannis Prodromos in Akova/Gypsou; Church of Panayia Evangelistria in Alaykoy/Gerolakkos Nicosia; Church of St. Nicolas in Mormeneske/Limnia; Church of Ayios Nicolaos in Yayla/Syrianohori; Armenian church and monastery in Lefkosa/Nicosia; Church of Ayios Georgios in Vadili/Vatyli; Church of Ayia Marina in Degirmenlik/Kythrea; and Church of Archangel Michael in Kumyali/Koma tou Yialou.
In May Greek Cypriots held a religious ceremony at the St. Irini Church in Akdeniz/Ayios Irini village. Press reports said the Turkish Cypriot police monitored the service and the church was in disrepair.
The Turkish Cypriot authorities denied permission to use certain Christian religious sites for religious services, including the Akanthou/Tatlisu church. The authorities had granted permission for a church service but later rescinded it, as the church was being used as a cultural center and museum.
In April the archbishop of the Church of Cyprus sent a statement to the press saying the authorities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots had rejected his request to visit the Apostolos Varnavas Monastery near Famagusta. In May Turkish Cypriot police stopped a Maronite religious ceremony at the St. Antonis Chapel in Kythrea/Degirmenlik, minutes before the service was to end, reportedly because the Maronites had not applied for permission through the designated UN and Turkish Cypriot channels. One hundred Maronites were participating in the ceremony that was also a celebration of the chapel’s restoration. A Maronite representative later described the incident as a “misunderstanding.”
One religious group complained religious items were being held in museums against the wishes of the community.
The “Presidency of Religious Affairs” staffed 190-200 mosques with 370 imams. Members of the majority Sunni religious community voiced concerns the “government” was interfering with religious affairs by selecting the imams.
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 the police questioned him frequently about his activities. Turkish Cypriot representatives stated the purpose of the police presence was to provide security and protect religious icons and artifacts; however, religious groups said the monitoring was intimidation and harassment.
Some non-Sunni Muslims lacked places of worship and funding to construct such facilities. Alevis reported that, due to the lack of a cemevi (house of worship), they were required to conduct funerals inside mosques, contrary to their traditions. Alevi representatives stated they felt no pressure and could freely practice their faith; however, they perceived favoritism in “state” funding toward the Sunni Muslim population through financing mosque construction and administration of mosques. The Alevi Cultural Association, an Alevi NGO, met with Turkish Cypriot authorities to request support to complete its cemevi.
Some non-Sunni Muslim religious groups complained their children were still required to complete the mandatory religion course, focused on Sunni Islam, in public schools.
Fifteen people in the north announced they were conscientious objectors, eight of whom were women and so ineligible for military service; two were declared disabled by the military, and five had ongoing cases in the “military court” at year’s end.
On February 25, Murat Kanatli, a conscientious objector who had refused to participate in the annual military reserve duty since 2009, was found guilty by the “military court.” The “judge” decided Kanatli was not a conscientious objector and ordered Kanatli to pay 500 Turkish liras ($215) or serve 10 days in jail. Kanatli refused to pay and was jailed for 10 days from February 25 to March 6. Many NGOs, unions, and political parties criticized and protested the decision, and Kanatli appealed the decision. On October 9, the “Military High Court” rejected the appeal. Kanatli told the press he would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. The “military court” found another conscientious objector, Haluk Tufanli, guilty in December and ordered him to pay 500 Turkish liras or serve 10 days in jail.