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Religious minorities

General overview

This heading provides information on the social perception of religious groups in Cyprus. For further information concerning religious minorities in Cyprus, see the Social and religious data (...)

This heading provides information on the social perception of religious groups in Cyprus. For further information concerning religious minorities in Cyprus, see the Social and religious data heading.

  • For further information, see Mineurel, website of information on religious minorities, concerning Cyprus.

D 5 March 2012   

The Armenian Community

Armenian-Cypriot relations date back to the late 6th century, when about 10.000 Armenians, who had fallen captives during the Byzantine-Persian wars, were resettled on the island as mercenaries. (...)

Armenian-Cypriot relations date back to the late 6th century, when about 10.000 Armenians, who had fallen captives during the Byzantine-Persian wars, were resettled on the island as mercenaries. During the Latin Period, intermarriages between the royal houses of the Lusignan and the Cilician kingdom consolidated further the connection between the island and the Armenian people. The geographic proximity of the island just of the shores of Cilicia, enabled many Armenians, fleeing from Arab raids in the early 14th century, to take refuge on the island. The villages Platani, Kornokipos and Spathariko were set up to house the new arrivals.

At the beginning of British administration, however, only a small number of Armenians lived in Cyprus mainly in the urban environments of Larnaca and Nicosia. With the onset of persecutions of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and the genocide of 1915, the Armenian Community of Cyprus was to be fundamentally changed. Cyprus once again became a place of refuge for thousands of Armenians from Western Anatolia. Yet, to a majority of these so-called “Boat People” the island remained a transit place, from where they continued their emigration to other destinations, mainly Britain and the U.S.

Today’s Armenian Community consists mainly of the descendants of these Genocide refugees. Up to 1963, the majority of Armenians lived in a mainly Turkish-speaking neighbourhood of Nicosia. With the outbreak of interethnic conflicts, nearly the entire community of about 3.500 persons moved to the South to live among the Greek-Cypriot majority.

According to the estimations of the Demographic Report of 2004, the Armenians of Cyprus make up about 0, 3 % of the total population of the island. They are predominantly of Gregorian-Apostolic faith, though there are also a few Catholic and Protestant families. This confessional diversity, however, has not been a hindrance for intermarriages within the Armenian Community.
The fall of the Eastern Block has brought further Armenians, this time from the Republic of Armenia to Cyprus. The integration of these new arrivals into the Community has been a special challenge.

Since the 1930s, the Armenian-Apostolic Church of Cyprus stands under the jurisdiction of the Catholicosat of Antelias, Lebanon. In the 1980s a new church with an elementary school has been constructed in Nicosia to cater for the needs of a growing community.

The historical centres of Armenian life in Cyprus are the Sourp Magar Monastery in the Kerynia district, a formerly Coptic monastery handed over to the Armenian Church by the Ottomans, and the St. Asdvadzadzin Church in the old town of Nicosia, which was originally constructed in the 13th century as cloister for Benedictine nuns. Today, both centres lie in ruins. Being situated in the North of the island, they have been inaccessible to the community. Attempts to safe these places of cultural and religious heritage, have led Cypriot Armenians to appeal to charitable organisations of the Armenian Diaspora.

A further centre of major importance for Armenian diasporic life has been the Melkonian Educational Institute (MEI), situated in Nicosia. Founded in 1926 as an orphanage by Krikor and Garabed Melkonian, it has since developed into a major diasporic institution providing Armenian secondary education for Armenian youth, Cypriot and foreign. The decision of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) to close the school in 2005 is likely to have an effect not only on the Armenian Community of Cyprus, but also throughout the wider Armenian Diaspora. Armenians in Cyprus are currently involved in finding new ways to provide Armenian secondary education for members of their own community.

D 12 September 2012    AIrene Dietzel

The Latin Community

The history of the Latin Community of Cyprus is one of urban populations and monastic institutions. The term "Latin" refers to Roman-Catholic Cypriots of European origin, thereby drawing a (...)

The history of the Latin Community of Cyprus is one of urban populations and monastic institutions. The term "Latin" refers to Roman-Catholic Cypriots of European origin, thereby drawing a distinction to Armenian or Maronite Catholics. The Latin presence of the island goes back to the main phases of settlement during the Lusignan (1192-1489) and Venetian (1489-1572) periods. With the beginning of Frankish rule on the island, the bull of Pope Celestine III of 1196 establishes the Catholic Church as the main Church of Cyprus, which it was to remain until the Ottoman Conquest in 1571. During this hegemonic period, the Latin Church strengthened her supremacy by reducing the number of Greek-Orthodox bishoprics from 14 to the 4 it holds today (Paphos, Larnaca/Kition, Kyrenia and Nicosia).

During the Ottoman period, the Roman-Catholic Church lost her primacy over Cyprus. Monastic organizations, however, continued to function on the island and to meet the needs not only of Catholic inhabitants, but also numerous Christian Pilgrims, who traveled through Cyprus on their way to the Holy Land.

The Franciscan convent of St. Lazarus was founded in Larnaca in 1593. Being a place of equally high importance to the Orthodox Church, it proved to be a contested object – in 1784 following the Orthodox Clergy’s protests to the Ottoman authorities, the celebration of Latin service in the Church was forbidden. In such circumstances, overlaps of Orthodox and Catholic ritual spaces were not uncommon – such as an Orthodox church in Aya Napa that housed a separate Altar for performing sacraments according to Catholic rite.

Maintenance of Catholic presence and influence, however, continued to be of major concern to Catholic authorities in Western Europe. In 1629, the Congregation for the Propagation of Faith (Propaganda Fidei) founded a Roman-Catholic bishopric in Paphos with jurisdiction over Latins and Maronites.
Throughout the 18th century the Franciscans and Capuchin Friars maintained houses in Paphos and Larnaca. Towards the end of the century, the Venetians revive their longstanding connection to the island and establish a consulate in Larnaca. The harbor of Larnaca becomes a magnet for many Western European Catholics involved in trade and commerce. Italians and Maltese begin to settle in and around the city and Italian becomes an important language for the affairs of the harbor. According to traveler’s accounts from the 19th century, there are also about 1,000 Greek-Catholic (Uniates) living in the city.

The 19th century in Cyprus is a time of heightened missionary activity. While American Protestant activities turned out to be rather short-lived, (1833-1841), following charges of proselytizing and outspoken antagonism from the Orthodox Church, the Sisters of the Roman Catholic Order of St Joseph of the Apparition still founded a hospital, a pharmacy and a girls school in 1844. Further small schools that were founded towards the end of the 19th Century in the district of Limassol had to close due to competition of the flourishing Greek-Orthodox educational institutions.

Just like Maronites and Catholics, the Latins make up one of the official religious communities of the Greek-Cypriot majority of the island. The Demographic Report of 2004 estimates the number of Latins to 900, or 0, 1% of the Greek Cypriot community. Another survey, however, conducted with the assistance of the Roman Catholic clergy, states that the Latin Community currently consists of roughly 7.000, members, including foreign residents. These estimations rise to 13.000 Roman Catholics, when immigrants and oversea workers are added to this number. The Latin Community of Cyprus has always been ethnically heterogeneous, while from a socio-economical perspective, the Latins were and are almost entirely urban dwellers. Lately, the Latin Church of the Holy Cross in Nicosia has adjusted to the influx of large numbers of Philippine and Sri Lankan Catholics by providing services in the immigrant languages.

D 12 September 2012    AIrene Dietzel

The Maronite Community

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 (...)

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 September 2012    AIrene Dietzel

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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