Not a favour but simply justice…
“Please Mr. Ambassador… Help us get the permission to worship in our church in Kyrenia,” pleaded the elderly man choking back his tears. He was one of the participants of a panel held this week on Eastern Mediterranean security, where US Ambassador John Koenig gave a speech. His was a very irrelevant, yet a painfully legitimate request.
I am not a religious person. I can never claim to understand the emotions of a religious person deprived of his place of worship. But the feeling of injustice this gentleman and hundreds of thousands like him were suffering, tore my heart out.
It made me think about the Good Friday liturgy held at the Ayios Giorgos Exorinos church in the walled city of Famagusta on 18 April. It was a very emotional gathering not only because it represented tolerance, mutual respect for values, freedom of religion and faith and brought together thousands and thousands of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, but also because it served to amend a great injustice.
On that very special day, Greek Cypriots were given back what always belonged to them. They were given back their right to worship at a church, which had been denied to them for almost 60.
And thousands of Turkish Cypriot activists, politicians, academicians, artists and individuals joined their Greek Cypriot countrymen in the liturgy, not because of religious reasons, but because they wanted to be there for reasons of reconciliation, respect, unity, peace and justice.
The event on 18 April should not be the extraordinary or the exceptional. What is more natural, more valid, more just than devout Greek Cypriots holding their religious ceremonies in their own churches anywhere on this island? What is more natural, more valid, more just than recognising their right to exercise their religious beliefs in any way they want to?
Only when we recognise the naturality and validity of such events and cease viewing them as a ‘favour’ will we have reinstated some sense of justice in the hearts of people, and can start to recover from our wounds of the past.