NEWS

Obstacles had to be overcome

The meeting of the two religious leaders is being called an historic opportunity for the two communities to begin an sincere dialogue. It is the result of marathon negotiations involving journalists, clerics and politicians. A number of obstacles had to be overcome within a short time, in order to satisfy conditions laid down by both sides. After Monday’s meeting will you be visiting the occupied territory? Yes that is so. I had set certain conditions, that I am ready to visit the occupied territories as long as my car will not be stopped and that neither I nor the staff accompanying me would be asked for any identification. Then I would be happy to visit the occupied territory. Otherwise I would have no desire to do so. Those conditions were accepted. We have a mutual agreement that the same will apply to them when they visit us at the Archdiocese. After our talks and the official lunch, I will accompany the mufti to Larnaca where he is to visit the mosque dedicated to Umm Haram, who was Mohammed’s aunt. It is an important monument for Turkish Cypriots and to Muslims generally. To be honest, I wanted to visit the Monastery of Saint Andreas in Karpasia, which has not been restored, but it is too far. I am somewhat skeptical about my visit to the Monastery of Saint Barnabas because it is now a museum. They look after it but it has not been completely restored. What I suspect is that after my visit, which will include the press, they will send photographs abroad to show that they have restored monuments and that I have visited the monastery, to show that they respect what Christians hold sacred. At the same time however, there are 500 churches in the occupied territories that have all been pillaged. That bothers me but I am not about to make a fuss. I will say that I would like all churches in the occupied north to be restored as the Barnabas Monastery has been. That they should be used for services, not as stables, warehouses, nightclubs or mosques. Is there any chance of you being able to go to Karpasia? It would be an opportunity to visit the Greek Cypriots in the Rizokarpaso enclave. I don’t rule it out. I will be looking into it until I go. The agreement so far is for the mufti to visit free Nicosia and for me to accompany him to the Larnaca mosque. During my visit, he is to accompany me to the Barnabas monastery… I believe that it would be easy to alter the program but perhaps he himself does not want to go so far. What has been the response to your initiative on the part of President Tassos Papadopoulos and the Cypriot government? The president is aware of it. I have talked to him. I informed the foreign minister of my intentions, not only regarding the meeting with the mufti but what I am intending to do for the national cause as the new head of the Church of Cyprus. I have a plan and it was proper to brief the president and foreign minister before I begin. They agreed with my views and said they would be happy if I carried out my plans, which they saw as helpful. That was the response from both of them. As archbishop, I think that I have both an opportunity and the ability to carry out what I have been thinking about for many years. I am sure that not only the government but all the political parties and the people will support this effort by the Church… We have to serve our flock so it can live happily on the land of its forefathers, and not seek homes elsewhere, outside Cyprus. Some years ago, as Metropolitan of Paphos, you had opposed the plan proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Yes, I had and I am still opposed to the Annan plan because it is disastrous. It would not unite but forever divide the two communities. It would not serve the Cypriot people; on the contrary, if it came into effect it would split the economy, and the Greek Cypriots would be exploited and would be forced to leave. The British wanted somewhere for their bases because they caught on to the fact that there is petroleum on the southern side of Cyprus and wanted to exploit it. Our education would be cut off from its Greek roots. The Annan plan would keep the settlers here as well as the Turkish army. The Turks would not stick to what they promised and I wonder who would order the Turkish troops to leave. Who would drive out the settlers? I still condemn the Annan plan; it is unthinkable that it could be discussed again. Although there are many who would want that, I reject it out of hand.