‘We do not want any religion, any minority to be isolated’

Does your initiative in inviting the mufti indicate a desire for peaceful coexistence between Greek and Turkish Cypriots? Yes, I have said so several times. On the day I was installed in my post, during my official speech I said that the sound of the muezzin’s voice from the minaret does not bother us. We lived happily together for many years, for centuries, and we are nostalgic for that happy time when we lived together. We want cooperation, we want to meet, we do not want the Turkish Cypriots to be isolated, nor do we want the isolation of any other religion. We do not want any minority to be isolated. My effort will be to persuade the mufti to allow Christians visiting the occupied territory to be able to clean the churches, to begin to restore them and to put doors and windows back on the pillaged churches so that we can observe our rites in the occupied part of our island. We want our Christians to be able to hold services, to observe the saint’s day of a particular church, we want to be able to go back so that Greek Cypriots can come into contact with the Turkish Cypriots. We respect their mosques in the free areas. Many of them were churches and still bear frescoes dating from the 15th and 16th centuries; nevertheless we respect them because they have been Muslim mosques for centuries and we have not turned them into churches again. We have not taken advantage of the current situation. So they should respect our churches as well. It is not acceptable for the churches to be turned into mosques. In fact, I plan to tell the mufti that we do not want the money they get from Europe to go to repairing the churches. We will do it ourselves. Let them build mosques and allow us to use our churches again. In your enthronement speech you said that the problem lay with the occupation forces. I clearly stated that we have no differences with the Turkish Cypriots. We do, however, object to the settlers from Anatolia who illegally came to our island. They have to leave and go back home. They are interlopers and must leave, along with the Turkish troops in Cyprus, which are a threat to the Republic of Cyprus and to all of us Greek Cypriots. In that respect we disagree with the Turkish-Cypriot leaders and with Turkey because it is clearly a question of invasion and occupation. We condemn this action by Turkey and insist that they must leave Cyprus. Both the settlers and the Turkish troops must go back to Turkey. That is our position, which is crystal clear. We cannot accept anything else. Will you be raising this in your talks? Certainly. I will begin with the churches, emphasizing that they are our property, they do not belong to them. We want to maintain them and use them. I insist that they be returned to their rightful owners, the Church of Cyprus, that is our Christians from all parishes that are now under occupation. Are you afraid that there will be an attempt to exploit this historically significant meeting and present it as a form of recognition of the pseudo-state? I will not allow that to happen because I will tell them that they are an occupation force. That Ankara has invaded and is occupying; that it is the Turkish troops who decide what happens there. The Turkish Cypriots are also refugees in their own country. They were uprooted forcefully from their homes and taken to the north. I know quite well what we are experiencing here in Cyprus. I wasn’t born yesterday, nor have I come from Europe or America. I will not allow anyone to exploit this meeting and no one can make me keep silent. I will speak to the mufti very sincerely and if they really want us to live together, we both want it and will, as a church, help that come about speedily so that we can live together as we did for centuries.

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