Tensions high in Cyprus as archbishop says Greek and Turkish Cypriots cannot have equal rights

As Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders are preparing to hold an informal meeting in New York, Archbishop of the Greek Cypriot Orthodox Church Chrysostomos II said that “Turkish Cypriots cannot have the same rights as the Greek Cypriot majority.”

Nikolaos Stelya / DUVAR

Archbishop of the Greek Cypriot Orthodox Church Chrysostomos II said that Turkish Cypriots cannot be granted rights equal to those of the Greek Cypriots, which heightened the tensions ahead of an informal trilateral meeting between Turkish Cypriot President Ersin Tatar, Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and UN chief Antonio Guterres in New York.

The Kathimerini newspaper quoted Chrysostomos II as saying on Sept. 26: "Unfortunately, for the negotiations to restart, Ersin Tatar sees it as a prerequisite that the rights granted to the Greek Cypriot majority should also be granted to Turkish Cypriots. This cannot happen. Unfortunately, Turkish Cypriots, whose population has reached 21 percent with those who have settled, cannot have the same rights.”

The archbishop's remarks caused a protest in the Turkish Cypriot government, with the Foreign Ministry releasing a statement.

Chrysostomos II's statements “clearly portray that the Greek Cypriot elites continue to see the Turkish Cypriot people as a 'minority,'” the Turkish Cypriot Foreign Ministry said in a written statement.

“The Archbishop’s attempt to brainwash the Greek Cypriot people and instill racism also explains the extent of the prejudice and hostility towards the Turkish Cypriot people,” it also said.

The archbishop's statements came a day before Tatar, Anastasiades and Guterres are set to meeting in New York on Sept. 27 to discuss the future of the divided island.

However, the expectations with regards to the meeting's end result are quite low, as the Greek Cyprus administration is said to support a decentralized federation in a reunited state, whereas Ankara insists on a two-state solution.

Cyprus has been divided into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and a Greek Cypriot south where the island’s internationally recognized government is seated since 1974.

Nearly half a century of U.N.-backed peace talks have failed to produce a mutually acceptable deal. Turkey says that an agreement based on two states is now the only way forward, which is rejected by Greece and the Greek Cyprus.