The Annual Report of 2012 of the independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom refers among others for the situation in the occupied part of Cyprus:
The USCIRF delegation investigated only religious freedom issues in northern Cyprus and did not examine or comment on the legal status of northern Cyprus or ongoing efforts of reunification.
The USCIRF delegation found three main issues in northern Cyprus: 1) the inability of Orthodox Christians, other religious communities, and clergy to access and hold services at their places of worship and cemeteries in the north, particularly those in Turkish military bases and zones; 2) the disrepair of churches and cemeteries and issues relating to the preservation of religious heritage, such as iconography, mosaics, and other religious symbols; and 3) the lack of schools and opportunities for young people in the north, which has led to an exodus of Greek Cypriots and other religious minorities.
These combine to hamper the freedoms of the remaining members of these communities, including religious freedom and any meaningful perpetuation of these minority faiths in the north.
Turkey has approximately 35,000 to 40,000 military troops in northern Cyprus and provides an estimated US $6 to 8 billion annually to subsidize the economy of the area. Overall, the degree of autonomy of the local Turkish Cypriot authorities vis-à-vis Turkey is unclear, although most experts agree that Turkey exercises substantial control over the politics and security of the local Turkish Cypriot authorities. The presence of the Turkish military in northern Cyprus directly impacts all aspects of religious freedom for religious minorities in the north, including the small Greek Orthodox Cypriot enclaved community living in the north and all religious minorities seeking access to the northern part of the island.
In areas not directly under the control of the Turkish military, there is greater access to religious sites, but restrictions exist. In February 2011, soon after USCIRF‘s visit, the Turkish Cypriot administration changed its policy regarding applications for permission to access some religious sites and hold services. The policy allows Orthodox Greek Cypriots to hold services on any day and at any time in churches already in use in their areas of residence; For religious services in churches or monasteries that are not already in use, or for services administered by a priest other than the two priests already serving northern Cyprus, or for services that southern Greek Cypriots plan to attend, permission will be required 10 working days prior to the service.
Since February 2011, 43 applications have been submitted, 34 were approved, and nine rejected. The Bishop of Karpasia has twice been denied permission to perform religious services in northern Cyprus.
The Republic of Cyprus and Christian and Jewish leaders report that approximately 500 monasteries, churches, and cemeteries in northern Cyprus have been purposely desecrated, are in ruins due to Turkish and Turkish Cypriot authorities‘ negligence, or are being used for non-religious purposes such as storage or community halls.
In February 2012, the Bicommunal Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage organized under the auspices of the United Nations announced that it would proceed with an emergency plan to support and restore the Saint Andreas Monastery located on the Karpasia peninsula in northern Cyprus. The plan was by the Patras University in Greece.
Currently, the Bicommunal Committee will have the general responsibility for the maintenance and it will be overseeing the emergency and restoration work.
In May 2011, the 200-year-old Greek Orthodox Chapel of Saint Thekla in the village of Vokolida was demolished, reportedly by accident. The Turkish Cypriot authorities publicly condemned the demolition. In addition, two individuals were arrested for demolishing the church and the department of antiquities and museums promised to rebuild it.
Recommendations: Due to systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government designate Turkey a CPC, and in its bilateral relations with Turkey, urge the Turkish government to bring its laws and practices into compliance with international standards on freedom of religion or belief.
Recommendations concerning northern Cyprus: The U.S. government should:
- urge the Turkish government to allow religious communities living in the Republic of Cyprus and religious minority communities living in northern Cyprus access to (including rights to restore, maintain, and utilize) religious sites, places of worship, and cemeteries that are located in Turkish military bases and zones in northern Cyprus;
- urge the Turkish government and/or Turkish Cypriot authorities to abandon all restrictions on the access and use of churches and other places of worship, including requiring applications for permission to hold religious services;
- urge the Turkish Cypriot authorities and Turkish military to return all religious places of worship and cemeteries to their rightful owners; cease any ongoing desecration and destruction of Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish religious properties; and cease using any such religious sites as stables, military storage sites, vehicle repair shops, and public entertainment venues or any other non-religious purpose;
- urge the Turkish government and/or the Turkish Cypriot authorities to permit the restoration of St. Andreas monastery and other churches located in northern Cyprus;
- urge the Turkish government and/or the Turkish Cypriot authorities to return Christian religious iconography and other religious art that is in the hands of Turkish Cypriot authorities and that remain in churches to their rightful owners; and
- urge the Turkish Cypriot authorities to provide a full list of catalogued religious artifacts and to allow access by UNESCO authorities, if UNESCO deems it appropriate and necessary to review such materials under possession of the Turkish Cypriot authorities and/or Turkish military.