Turks cross Cyprus divide for Eid prayers

11.07.2016

Hundreds of Turks crossed the "Green Line" dividing Cyprus last Thursday to pray at a mosque in the Greek-majority south, a rare pilgrimage made possible by a 2014 accord.

In searing heat, police escorted a convoy of buses carrying the pilgrims to the Hala Sultan Tekke mosque, a site revered by Muslims as the burial site of the aunt of the Prophet Muhammad. The visitors then held a prayer service marking Eid ul-Fitr, the festival that concludes the fasting month of Ramadan.

The mufti of Cyprus, Talip Atalay, negotiated an agreement in 2014 with Archbishop Chrysostomos II, head of the island's Greek Orthodox church, to allow Turkish pilgrims to pray three times a year at the site.

Yunus, a 21-year-old student from Adana in southern Turkey, said he was delighted to make it to the mosque.

"When I heard that I could come, I was really happy," he told journalists. "We can all pray together, it's very important."

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece. A UN-controlled buffer zone – the "Green Line" – runs across the island and through Nicosia, Europe's last divided capital, separating the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) from the Republic of Cyprus, which is recognised internationally.

The leaders of the Turkish and Greek sides of Cyprus re-launched negotiations in 2015 with UN mediation to reunify the island.

Representatives of the Maronite, Armenian, Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, who have expressed support for the peace process, also took part in the prayers.    (AFP)

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