Republic of Cyprus

RELIGIOUS AND BELIEF MINORITIES RESOURCES INTERACTIVE INFOGRAPHICS

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

With the exception of sporadic Arab invasions, Cyprus remained for more than eight and a half centuries – between 325 and 1191 – part of the Byzantine Empire. Thus, Christianity was the state religion of the island. During the period of Frankish rule (1191-1489), the Roman Catholic or Latin Church was established as the official church of the new kingdom at the expense of the autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus. Following the Venetian period, which lasted for 82 years (1489-1571), there were more than three centuries of Ottoman rule (1571-1878). During that time and the period of British occupation that followed it (1878-1960), the Orthodox Church had a dual role. It was both the ministering religious organisation of Orthodox Christians of the island, and the nation-leading political coalition of the Greeks under foreign sovereignty.

The United Kingdom acquired the rights of possession and administration of Cyprus by signing the 1878 Treaty of Alliance with the Ottoman Empire. The UK agreed to preserve the status quo, including competencies granted by the Imperial prescript, Hatt-i-Humayun (1856), towards the Churches and religious authorities. These competencies included spiritual advantages and exemptions. This state of affairs remained in effect, even after the annexation of Cyprus by the UK in 1914, the recognition of this annexation by Turkey in 1923, and the proclamation of the island as a Crown Colony in 1925. The 1914 Charter of the Orthodox Church was drafted and put into effect by the Church itself, with no intervention from the British authorities, though it was never invested with state authority. It remained in operation for 66 years, until the enactment of the 1980 Charter. The Church of Cyprus was established as a legal entity under private law. Acts of the Church that were of a legislative and administrative nature, the decisions issued by ecclesiastical courts on any subject, and marriages contracted only through a church ceremony, were recognised by the state administration and justice. The election of Bishops and administration of ecclesiastical property were considered to be internal affairs of the Orthodox Church. Laws enacted in 1937 attempted to restrict Church’s privileges by providing that the elected Archbishop should be approved by the colonial government; however, they were eventually superseded by Law 20/1946 after strenuous protests by the Church.

Achilles C. Emilianides

Emilianides, A. C. (2019). State and Church in Cyprus, in G. Robbers (ed.), State and Church in the European Union. Baden-Baden: Nomos, pp. 282-283

RELIGIOUS AND BELIEF MINORITIES IN REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS

The Constitution of Cyprus does not legally distinguish between majority and minority religions, in the sense that there is no prevailing, official, or established religion in Cyprus. The five main religions of the island generally enjoy a similar constitutional and legal status. Taking also into account social realities the Orthodox Christian religion is the majority religion, and the Islamic religion is the religion representing the other major community of the island. In view of the above, the three religious minorities that are explicitly recognized by the Constitution are the Maronites, the Armenians, and the Roman Catholics (Latins), i.e. the “religious groups”. All three religious groups have collectively opted to become members of the Greek Community. 

The system is one of equal promotional neutralism, in the sense that each religious belief is considered as equally worthy of being fulfilled and there is a demand for equality in such fulfilment. Where the function of the state overlaps with religious concerns, the state seeks to accommodate religious views, in so far as they are not inconsistent with state’s interests. Accordingly, whenever matters of common interest arise, such as religious education, the State and the religious corporations debate in order to reach a commonly accepted solution; if, however, this is not possible, the State may reach any decision, so long as it does not interfere with the internal affairs or the administration of the property of the constitutionally protected religions

In consequence, pluralism is achieved through the recognition that the state and the various religions occupy in principle different societal structures; religious neutrality is not, however, achieved simply because there is religious autonomy, but also through positive measures on behalf of the state, which aim at the protection of religions.

The Republic of Cyprus has ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe, which it considers as applicable to all three religious groups as well as, and without prejudice to their constitutional position, to the Turkish Cypriots living in the non-occupied areas. This effectively means that the definition of ‘religious minority’ thus operates on two different levels: the three religious groups of the Republic (as well as the Islamic religion of the Turkish Cypriots) enjoy the status of a national minority, although they are defined as religious minorities, whereas other religious minorities, enjoy full protection as religious minorities by virtue of Article 18 of the Constitution which safeguards religious freedom. For a religion to be protected it needs not register with the authorities; the only requirement is that its doctrines or rites are not secret. In principle, not only mainstream religions, such as Christian denominations of various kinds, but also less known religions, or new religious movements, have been deemed to constitute a religion in the sense enshrined in Article 18 §2 of the Constitution, so long as their doctrines or rites were known.

Achilles C. Emilianides

 

 

RESOURCES

Data and information concerning religious demography are provided by    

Johnson, T. M., Grim, B. J. (eds.)(2024). World Religion Database

General information on minority issues (including some references to religious or belief ones) can be found at the page devoted to Cyprus in 

Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples  A report on the Cypriot legal system and government policies about freedom of religion (with some references to religious or belief minorities) is provided in

U.S. Department of State: Office of International Religious Freedom. 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom: Cyprus     

See also

UN Human Rights Council (HRC) (2013). Report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt: addendum, A/HRC/22/51/Add.2

and

ACN International, Religious Freedom in the World Report: Cyprus (last updated 2023)

A general overview of the relations between state and religious organizations is provided by

Emilianides, A. C. (2019). Religion and Law in Cyprus. Alphen aan den Rijn: Kluwer Law International

Emilianides, A. C. (2019). State and Church in Cyprus, in G. Robbers (ed.), State and Church in the European Union. Baden-Baden: Nomos, pp. 281-296

The issues concerning education and family law are examined in

Latif, D. (2022). Dilemmas of Religious Education, Freedom of Religion and Education in Cyprus.  

Emilianides, A. C. (2019). Family and Succession Law in Cyprus. Alphen aan den Rijn: Kluwer Law International

 

 

INTERACTIVE INFOGRAPHICS

1 promotion of rights
0 respect of international standards
-1 restriction of rights
1 low equality
0 equal treatment of RBMs
0 no gap between religious majority and minorities
-1 high gap between religious majority and minorities
TORNA SU

RELIGION DEMOGRAPHY

(source: World Religion Database, 2021)