In the hope that these developments might open new opportunities for both sides to return to the table of negotiations and dialogue, the World Council of Churches (WCC) sent a small ecumenical delegation to the divided island nation to assess developments since the 1997 WCC Executive Committee resolution on Cyprus was adopted. The delegation consulted with the Church of Cyprus, political leaders, academics, civil society groups and key international embassies, including especially the Acting UN Special Representative in Cyprus, with respect to possible new ecumenical initiatives for peace and reconciliation.
The Very Rev. Dr. Georges Tsetsis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a member of the WCC Central and Executive Committees, led the delegation. He was joined by Canadian Mennonite, Dr. Ernie Regehr, a specialist in peace and conflict transformation, and a member of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), and by Ms Salpy Eskidjian, International Relations staff, responsible for the Middle East and Mediterranean.
The delegation held meetings with Archbishop Chrysostomos, Primate of the Church of Cyprus, President Clerides of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. Cassoulides, the Foreign Minister, and other high-level government officials. They also held discussions with leaders of the main political parties of the country, and with journalists and significant civil society movement figures, including groups involved in bi-communal dialogue initiatives. Meetings were also held with the Acting UN Special Representative, the European Union ambassador, the ambassador of Greece, the British High Commissioner and with officials of the embassy of the United States of America.
Encouraged by the positive response by the Archbishop and the President to their query about the appropriateness of visiting the occupied areas in the north of the island to meet with Turkish Cypriot leaders and community representatives, the delegation arranged a brief visit and crossed the dividing line. There, meetings were held with high level representatives of the self-declared "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", including political party leaders, and with representatives of civil society. This was the first WCC visit to the northern part of the island, since its unilateral declaration of statehood in 1983. The last visit occurred soon after the Turkish invasion of 1974, when, at the initiative of all parties, WCC had dispatched a staff member, who toured both sides of the island, to investigate allegations of desecrations of churches and mosques.
The delegation noted that both parties have legitimate concerns and fears that must be addressed as soon as possible. Comprehensive negotiations, without preconditions, covering all relevant issues are necessary. The delegation expressed its solidarity with the people of Cyprus and recommended WCC's full support to the good offices of the UN Secretary General in his peaceful efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem. The delegation was encouraged by the commitment of Cypriots to restore harmonious relationships and by the vision for a shared Cyprus. It was convinced that civil society initiatives promoting peace and reconciliation, that reestablish and strengthen relationships between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, should be encouraged and strengthened.
The delegation visit coincided with intensive new diplomatic initiatives led by the USA aimed at re-starting the negotiations. Hosted by the Church of Cyprus, the delegation was extremely satisfied with the talks held with both Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders and civil society representatives and recommended that dialogue with both parties should continue and be strengthened. Both sides agreed that this is not a religious conflict between Christians and Muslims, and civil society groups, in particular, expressed the hope that religious leaders would lend their support to bi-communal dialogue and initiatives.
A full report of the visit, including recommendations for advocacy by churches and others outside Cyprus, is in preparation and will be shared as soon as it is available.
World Council of Churches, Geneva
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