Maloney, Bilirakis introduce resolution to protect religious sites in Cyprus

Sep 17, 2010
Press Release
WASHINGTON, DC (September 17, 2010) – U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, introduced a resolution Thursday that calls for the protection of religious sites and artifacts from and in Turkish-occupied areas of northern Cyprus as well as for general respect for religious freedom.
Since Turkey invaded the northern area of the Republic of Cyprus on July 20th 1974, the Turkish military has overseen the regular destruction of religious sites and the illegal looting of a large number of religious and archaeological objects.

“Passage of this resolution will show that Congress makes international religious freedom a priority,” said Bilirakis, Hellenic Caucus Co-Chair and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “As the Republic of Cyprus prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary as a nation, the very future and existence of historic Greek Orthodox, Maronite, and Armenian communities in the north are in grave danger of extinction.”

“This year, we marked the 36th anniversary of the Turkish invasion and continuing illegal occupation of the northern part of the Republic of Cyprus. Since the 1974 invasion, many priceless symbols of Cyprus’ religious and cultural heritage have been destroyed, looted or vandalized, and even stolen or illegally excavated for sale abroad,” said Maloney, Hellenic Caucus Co-Chair. “Passage of this resolution would demonstrate the United States’ commitment to protecting the rights and fundamental freedoms of the Cypriot people and religious freedom everywhere.”

According to expert testimony provided at a hearing for the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Turkey must be held responsible for the continued violations of humanitarian law with respect to the destruction of religious and cultural property.

Bilirakis and Maloney also urged the Turkish government to protect the cultural and religious heritage of the Greek Cypriots living in the northern-occupied areas of the country, who have been prohibited from worshiping freely due to the restricted access to religious sites and continued destruction of the property of the Church of Cyprus.

“We’re calling on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom to investigate and make recommendations on violations of these religious freedoms,” Bilirakis said.

The 13 original cosponsors joining Reps. Bilirakis and Maloney include: House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), International Religious Freedom Caucus Co-Chair Trent Franks (R-AZ), Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV), Rep. Mario Diaz-Ballart (R-FL), Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Rep. Zach Space (D-OH), and Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV).