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La communauté maronite

The earliest settlements of Maronites in Cyprus date back to the 8th Century A.D, when Islamic conquests and inter-Christian rivalries caused many Maronites from Syria and Palestine to take refuge on the island. The available historical sources give reason to assume the existence of active communities on the island, with their own clergy residing among them, by the early 12th century. Throughout the Latin Period (1192-1572), Maronite immigration continued. Many Maronites followed Guy de Lusignian’s call for Christians of the Near East to settle on the island. Yet, the Maronite Community did not only thrive during the Latin Period, but also experienced Latinizing pressures, especially under the Venetians (1489-1572).

Following the Ottoman Conquest of the island, the Maronite Community had to face up to further suppression and severe restrictions of their rights. Many immigrated to Lebanon or followed the Venetians to Malta. Throughout the 17th century, large numbers of Christians, Maronites as well as Greek Orthodox, adjusted to the new hegemonial system by converting to Islam. In 1671, the Latin clergy was exiled from Cyprus. The confessional proximity of the Maronites and Latin populations, as well as the new aggravated circumstances for Catholics, brought the Maronite and Catholic communities closer together. In 1690, Archbishop Maronios held the service in the Maronite and Roman-catholic rite.

The Maronite Communities also experienced pressures from the Orthodox populations. Following an original Berat of the Sultan, they were subjected to the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in the mid 18th century. The Maronite Clergy preferred to reside in Lebanon, and it was not until a French intervention in 1845, that a Maronite bishop returned once again to the island as general vicar. After continuous regression of their numbers on the island, the Maronite Community recovered under British administration (1878-1960). Their political and religious rights were consolidated, while the new government financed the building of schools.

The Demographic Report of the year 2004 estimates the Maronite population of Cyprus at 4.800 people. Following the interethnic conflicts of 1963, most of the Maronites have emigrated to the South, where they live among the Greek Cypriots, making up about 0, 7 % of the Population. There are, however, four Maronite villages left in the North : Kormakiti, Asomatos, Agia Marina, Karpasia, with an overall population of about 200 persons.

As the Maronite Community of Cyprus has largely been agricultural, the experience of displacement of the rural populations has had a devastating effect on the small village communities. Yet, until the opening of the Green Line in 2003, Maronites had the right to acquire three-day passes for the North, while Maronites in the North were entitled to five day passes for the South. Thereby, the contact between the village communities and Maronite refugees in the South could be maintained.

With Government assistance they now have churches in Nicosia and Limassol, and one elementary school in Nicosia. Today, however, Maronites largely attend Greek Cypriot schools. The post-1974 period has been one of strong assimilation and increased intermarriage with Greek Cypriots. In 1998 the St Peter’s Centre or "Maronite Cypriot House" has been established in Lebanon, with the intentions to strengthen ties of Cypriot Maronites with their homeland and to provide a setting for the dissemination of, and education in Maronite religion and culture.

D 12 septembre 2012    AIrene Dietzel

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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