Northern Cyprus

Northern Cyprus remains divided from southern Cyprus by the Green Line established in 1974. The self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is officially recognised only by Turkey, though the “Turkish Cypriot State” has observer status with the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation. The ethnically Turkish population of approximately 350,000 is predominantly Sunni Muslim with a small Alevi community (an offshoot of Shi’a Islam). The small number of Christians are predominantly within expatriate communities, including student groups. Northern Cyprus hosts several Greek Orthodox churches and religious sites, though most are not regularly operating as places of worship. There are known to be several functioning Catholic congregations including a Maronite church, as well as an Anglican church and chaplaincy, primarily serving expatriates.

The Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus provides authority to the Church of Cyprus to regulate its internal affairs, and establishes that regulation of the religious activities of Turkish Cypriots shall be overseen by a Sunni Muslim institution, the Vakif. In practice, the legal framework in Northern Cyprus is generally supportive of freedom of religion and belief. Sunni Islam has some preferential treatment, including tax-exempt status for some institutions. Adherents of any faith are allowed to register associations. The state school curriculum includes compulsory religious instruction focusing primarily on Islam, but also including comparative religion. Non-Muslim students may be excused from attending these classes at the request of their guardians. In October 2013 an agreement was concluded between religious leaders from the whole of Cyprus whereby Muslim and Greek Orthodox religious leaders are entitled to cross the Green Line freely.

Northern Cyprus cannot be a state party to international treaties as it is not recognised by the United Nations. However, Northern Cyprus is not exempt from conforming to international norms. According to some interpretations, the obligations entered into by the Republic of Cyprus (including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which upholds the right to freedom of religion) apply equally within Northern Cyprus as in the rest of the island.

The Greek Orthodox Church in the Republic of Cyprus has made regular complaints in recent years about desecration of buildings, restrictions on or non-recognition of priests, and obstructions to the use of Church properties. The Church has repeatedly been denied permission to undertake repairs to properties in Northern Cyprus, and has been unwilling to authorise the Turkish Cypriot authorities to undertake its own repair work on Christian sites. However, in recent years some reconstruction and renovation of church buildings has been permitted, including a monastery, especially in tourist areas. In early 2016 Cypriot religious leaders, including the Greek Orthodox Archbishop and the Grand Mufti, gave joint public support to renewed efforts towards reunification of the island. Expatriate Christians in Northern Cyprus face few restrictions on worship, provided they are sensitive to the predominantly Muslim host communities. Those who choose to leave Islam may face some family and societal pressure.