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The soft power role of the Egyptian Orthodox Church in resolving future religious conflicts

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Perhaps one of the most difficult and complex global analyzes for the Egyptian academic researcher, is my perception of a special future vision revolving around (the role of the Egyptian Orthodox Church in the possibility of its leadership in the international Orthodox church scene to resolve the religious dispute between Russian and Ukrainian priests and Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox cathedrals), especially on the impact of the issue of politicizing the religious dispute between the two churches for purely political reasons through Turkish politicians to play a role in that crisis, through (Patriarch of Constantinople “Bartholomew” in Istanbul, Turkey, confessing the separation of the Ukrainian Church).

  Therefore, the Egyptian researcher monitored and analyzed a number of the following points to understand the roots of the dispute between the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches and the role of Turkey in it. The scholar here is attempting to make and create such a role for the Orthodox Church in Egypt, to play a conscious religious role for the (unity of Eastern Orthodox Christian peoples around the world), and ultimately contribute to (resolving the political dispute between Moscow and Kiev), which caused the separation of the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches from each other in September 2018, as follows:

 The Egyptian researcher noted the extent of (the Turkish government’s interference and politicization of Orthodox church religious affairs in the face of Russia and Ukraine), through its interference in the affairs of the Orthodox Church of the Great Cathedral in Constantinople, to the extent of (compulsory Turkish President “Erdogan” to religious leaders in the Constantinople Orthodox Church in Istanbul, Turkey, that the nationality of the Pope and the Grand Patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Constantinople is Turkish, despite the presence of prominent priests, monks and priests of different nationalities), which confirms the validity of my new international analysis, regarding “Turkey’s politicization of the issue of the religious-ecclesiastical conflict” between Russia and Ukraine for political reasons related to Turkey and its political relations.

   According to my analysis of the reasons for Turkey’s politicization of the religious role of the Turkish Ecumenical Church in Istanbul in the face of Russia in the first place, it is the Turkish desire to exploit this ecclesiastical religious crisis between Russia and Ukraine, in order to (create a kind of Turkish rapprochement with members of “NATO” and the Western and American camp in  Confronting Russia, using the religious pressure card by the Constantinople Church in Istanbul, Turkey by recognizing the separation of the Ukrainian Church from its Russian counterpart), which creates a burning crisis between the two sides in favor of passing a number of Turkish policies and decisions in the face of everyone to pass their interests.  Given that the separation of the Russian and Ukrainian churches is the major crisis between the two parties that led to this conflict in the end, and may be one of the direct causes of the current crisis between Russia and Ukraine.  Then the direction of my academic vision towards the extent of the possibility of (developing a future vision for the role of the Egyptian Orthodox Church and Pope Tawadros II, in resolving that future religious conflict between Russia, Ukraine and Turkey), and its role in the unity of the Eastern Orthodox Christian peoples.

  My raising of this point comes, especially after a turmoil was aroused in all Coptic and international ecclesiastical circles in confusing (the recognition of the Greek Orthodox Church in Alexandria headed by “Pope Theodore”) with the separation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Kyiv from the Russian Orthodox Church in September 2018, in exchange for the refusal of The Egyptian Orthodox Church, headed by Pope “Tawadros II”, acknowledged this separation that occurred between the Russian and Ukrainian churches, in the interest of the spirit of religious tolerance and the non-politicization of religious issues.

  According to my understanding, this confusion of attitudes between the Greek Orthodox Church in Alexandria headed by Pope “Theodoros” and the main Egyptian Orthodox Church headed by Pope “Tawadros II” may have caused a state of intense controversy, until the Egyptian Orthodox Church affiliated with Pope Tawadros clarified the whole matter, and emphasizing (the difference between the Greek Orthodox Church in Alexandria, which is followed by several foreign communities that settled there, and the Egyptian Orthodox Church), which is the old main eastern church, which most Egyptian Christians follow.

  What confirms the importance of the future role of the Egyptian Orthodox Church of Pope “Tawadros II”, Patriarch of Alexandria, regarding the religious conflict of political significance between “Russia and Ukraine”, which caused the separation of the Ukrainian Church from the Russian, which was likened in Ukraine as a “separation from  followers of Satan”. Therefore, what sparked my most research and academic curiosity was what the Russian Orthodox Church announced at the end of December 2021, of its decision to (build its own cathedral in Egypt), and to issue an official church statement to that, confirming:

 “The issue of allocating a plot of land in Cairo to build our cathedral there has been resolved, as the Russian Church wants to build its own cathedral in Egypt”

  This news of the construction of a new Russian cathedral in Cairo was confirmed by the Patriarch of the African Episcopal “Leonid Klinsky”, who confirmed in an official statement on December 30, 2021, that “the transfer of the bishops of the Alexandrian Patriarchate to the Russian Orthodox Church is not excluded”.

  The affirmation of the Patriarch of the African Episcopate, “Leonid Klinsky” as well, that:

  “According to our estimates in the Orthodox Church, 102 clergymen from all over the African continent have submitted applications for admission to the Russian Orthodox Church, and there is a significant percentage of the total number of clergymen, some of whom have been waiting for this since 2019. We expect an increase in the number of applications, and the establishment of  Churches of the Russian Orthodox Church in African countries shall be as needed”

  Here, I am reminded of the controversy raised at the time, following (the Russian Church’s decision to sever relations with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa, Pope “Theodore II” after his recognition of the independent Ukrainian Church), which sparked a controversy at the time in Coptic circles in Egypt and deepened the religious dispute between Moscow and Kiev.

 The Russian Church, in a statement published on its official website in the English language in December 2019, expressed its “strong anger at the decision of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa”, Pope “Theodoros II”, who entered into a partnership with the Ukrainian schismatics, i.e.: (the splinter Ukrainian Orthodox Church), declaring to stop mentioning the name of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and Africa (Pope Theodore II) during the liturgy.

  Pope “Theodoros II”, in his capacity as the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa, announced during the Divine Liturgy that was held in November 2019 at the “Zahir Archangels” Church in Cairo, his recognition of “Epiphanius Metropolitan of Kyiv’s Bishop” as head of the Ukrainian Independent Church.

  A strict assertion by the Russian Orthodox Church, according to my reading of all the circumstances surrounding these facts, that it had noticed that “Pope Theodore II’s decision was not presented at the session of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate in Alexandria, which was held from 7 to 9 October 2019, and was not taken into account”. It was put to a vote, and it was issued in an “unusual way”, stressing that it will close a representative office of the Patriarchate of Alexandria in Moscow and that all (Russian Orthodox dioceses in Africa are no longer under the supervision of the Egyptian Patriarchate, but under the direct leadership of the Russian Patriarch Kirill).

 Therd’re not statements were issued regarding this matter from (the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Alexandria), and Anba “Nicolas Antonio”, Metropolitan of Gharbia and Tanta for the Greek Orthodox, and the official spokesman of the Church in Egypt refused to answer any questions in this regard when asked, citing that he was not authorized to comment or respond to this type of inquiries.

  After the outbreak of that crisis that took place between (the followers of the Greek Orthodox Church against the background of the split of the Ukrainian Church and its separation from the Russian religious guardianship over it, which has been going on for 332 years), the Orthodox clergy held a wide assembly in Kyiv in October 2018, to take a (historic decision to establish an independent church). On behalf of the Russians, with the support of the (Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul, Turkey), which is the seat of the global spiritual leader of about 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world.

  The step of ecclesiastical secession in Ukraine from Russia and its recognition by the Church of Constantinople in Turkey provoked widespread Russian anger, after which the Russian Orthodox Church decided in October 2019 to (cut all relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople), in protest of its approval of Ukraine’s request to establish  independent church. The Russian Orthodox Church described it as “the biggest schism in Christianity in a thousand years”.

  The Greek Orthodox Church in Egypt became (the second church to recognize the independent Ukrainian Church after the Church of Greece), which recognized it in November 2019, which also led the Russian Orthodox Church to announce the (severance of partnership relations with the head of the Greek Orthodox Church).

  Noting that the conflict over Ukraine’s spiritual future stems from the deterioration of relations between Kyiv and Moscow after (Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014), as well as the outbreak of separatist fighting in eastern Ukraine that led to the deaths of more than ten thousand people.

 Here, the Egyptian Orthodox Church entered the line of crisis between the two Russian Orthodox Churches and their Ukrainian counterpart, due to the similarity in name between (the Greek Orthodox and the Orthodox Rome), and the decision of the Russian Church aroused an uproar in some major media, because of (the similarity of the name of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria “Theodors II”,  with the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope “Tawadros II”), which prompted the Egyptian Orthodox Church to issue a statement denying any relationship with him.

  Therefore, an official statement came out from the spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt (Rev. Paul Halim), ensuring that:

  “The relations with the Russian Orthodox Church are very good fraternal, and all that was circulated in the Western media regarding the Russian Church’s severing of its relations with the Orthodox Church in Egypt was denied”

  The Egyptian Orthodox Church stressed in its statement that (the decision of the Russian Church to cut ties with the Coptic Orthodox Church and Pope “Tawadros II”, Pope of Alexandria, Patriarch of the See of “St. Mark” is unfounded), and that the decision issued by the Holy Synod of the Russian Church is specific to the Greek Orthodox Church.

  In that previous ecclesiastical crisis referred to, a great confusion occurred between the two churches due to (the same name of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and its patriarch bear in the name of the Pope of Alexandria, and his name is similar to the name of Pope “Tawadros II”, who is Pope “Theodore II”, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa).

  We find that the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church (did not get involved in the issue raised between the Orthodox Churches about the separation of the Church of Ukraine from Russia), stressing that it has good relations with the Russian Church, and visits are exchanged between them.

 Here, it must be clarified that the Coptic Orthodox Church is the main Christian church in Egypt along with other Christian sects, noting that (the number of Copts in Egypt is about 15 million people, who make up about 15% of the Egyptian people), according to the previous statements by Pope “Tawadros II”, the head of the Egyptian church.

  I consider the priests and monks of the Egyptian Orthodox Church that what is happening is a (political issue, not a religious issue), and we will find that the confusion here resulted from two things, namely:

  1. The first matter: is that the seat of the Greek Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox churches is located in Alexandria, and the name of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch “Theodoros II”, which means in Greek “Tawadros”, is similar to the name of the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church “Tawadros II”, which caused major media outlets in the trap.
  • The second matter: We find here that the Egyptian Orthodox Church has nothing to do with the Russian Orthodox Church and is not a party to the conflict between the Greek Orthodox.

  We can consider that the political crisis that has erupted since 2014 between Russia and Ukraine is behind the religious strife and the separation of the Ukrainian Church from its subordination to the Russian Church.

  Many Ukrainian Christians are of the opinion that (the Russian Church prefers the Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine). The Russian Church in Moscow denied that it had fallen into the hands of the Russian government as a political tool, and said it was trying to bring peace to eastern Ukraine.

  Regarding the repercussions of the decision to separate the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches from the decision to sever relations with the Greek Orthodox Pope in Egypt, we can conclude that the (Greek Orthodox in Egypt are a foreign community that historically settled in Egypt like other sects, and that the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Alexandria is not a foreign national, nor it is appointed by the Egyptian authorities). Therefore, we can consider that: “the dispute between the churches and each other will, of course, not affect the relations between Moscow and Cairo”.

As for (my future vision) for the most prominent roles of the (Egyptian Orthodox Church) in resolving the crisis of the future religious conflict between Russia, Ukraine and Turkey, perhaps this can be done, as follows:

The strong rapprochement between the Egyptian and Russian Orthodox Churches allows Cairo to play a role in the future Ukrainian-Russian religious ecclesiastical crisis, with the relations between the two Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Churches headed by “Pope Tawadros II” and their Russian counterpart headed by “Pope Kirill” in Moscow are (witnessing closeness  Intense). The Egyptian and Russian Orthodox Churches, until the moment of the Russian declaration of war against Ukraine, were in a state of exchange of visits and continuous meetings, and cooperation and rapprochement between them in an unprecedented manner. The cooperation between the Egyptian and Russian Orthodox Churches included several areas, including:

  (Exchange of delegations and visits, monastic visits and meetings, academic and media cooperation, social service and development, as well as theological dialogues)

The Egyptian researcher here was able to monitor some important recent visits, which had a positive impact on the relationship between the Russian and Egyptian Orthodox churches, the most important of which, in my view, was the visit of a delegation from the Russian Orthodox Church to Egypt, with a large delegation that included prominent priests and priests belonging to the (Russian Theological Academy), from (6-13 May 2019), in addition to the important church meeting that took place between “Pope Tawadros II” and his Russian counterpart “Pope Kirill” in Moscow and the meeting of the Bilateral Dialogue Committee between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Coptic Church in Cairo (18-29 May 2019).

The importance and symbolism of the Egyptian Orthodox Church’s invitation to a prominent delegation from the (Russian Theological Academy), as an important Egyptian ecclesiastical step during the reign of his Holiness Pope “Tawadros II” for rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox churches, in the field of exchanging visits and academic cooperation between them, by extending an invitation to the (Theologian Academy in Moscow) to visit the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church during the period from (6-13 May 2019).

The symbolism of the Egyptian Orthodox Church’s invitation to the (Theological Academy in Moscow), as it is one of the oldest and most prestigious theological academies in the Russian Orthodox Church and around the world, and it supervises the rest of the four academies and theological colleges in the Russian Church, which are located in the cities of (Moscow – St. Petersburg – Kyiv – Minsk), and 33 theological colleges throughout the Russian Church. The (Theological Academy in Moscow) was founded in 1687 by the monks Sophronius and Yoaniki. It is currently chaired by the Archbishop.

The noteworthy note here is the continuity of relations between the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church for more than two centuries. There are (multiple visits by the Russian Orthodox priests to Egypt, Sinai, and the churches of the East), and there are many Russian books about the Egyptian Copts and the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt.

During the reign of His Holiness, Pope “Tawadros II”, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the St. Mark, the two historic visits of His Holiness to the Russian Orthodox Church came on (October 28 – November 4, 2014), and his second visit was from (23-25 ​​May 2017).  In recent years, there has been a significant rapprochement and growth in relations between the Egyptian and Russian Orthodox Churches.

The Egyptian researcher also focused a lot on the symbolism of the Egyptian Orthodox religious church calls to their Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian Orthodox counterparts, before the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, coinciding with (the Egyptian Orthodox Church’s invitation to visit all Christians and priests of Coptic Orthodox churches around the world), with constant concern for receiving visitors in the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox churches with an (official and honorable reception by the priests of the Orthodox Churches in Egypt and the Christians Orthodox religious people).

The religious ecclesiastical and theological relations between the Egyptian and Russian Orthodox Churches also flourished during the reign of His Holiness “Pope Shenouda III”, in the context of exchanging visits on various religious occasions, as well as through the (theological dialogues that bring together all of the Coptic, Syriac and Armenian Orthodox Churches on the one hand and the Russian Orthodox Church on the other hand).

We note here, (the extent to which each of the men of the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches is connected to the sacred Christian religious monuments in Egypt). In addition to their constant keenness for many years to visit the most important landmarks of religious and archaeological tourism in Egypt, especially (tracing all stages and effects of documenting the Holy Family’s journey in Egypt). You will find many photos documenting their visits to the holy religious areas in Cairo, such as:

   (Visiting the sacred Christian heritage and religious monuments in the Old Cairo region of Cairo, paying attention to the antiquities of the Coptic Museum and making a detailed tour of it, always being careful to organize special trips to visit the Egyptian Hanging Church, and visiting several churches, such as: Abu Serga Church, due to the presence of the ancient cave in which the family stayed  Holy, St. Barbara Church, St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church, and others)

What remains striking to me is the intense interest and passion that the Egyptian researcher analyzed for several previous visits, by the men of the Orthodox Church in Russia, Ukraine and Turkey, and even their religious Orthodox Christian peoples in those countries, and their passion for learning about the (Egyptian Coptic melodies and even the Egyptian ancient Coptic language), and to identify the most prominent religious Christian monuments in Egypt, on top of which is the “The Path of the Holy Family’s Journey, the Coptic Museum, and the ancient churches and monasteries”. Therefore, I believe that (the future role of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church to mediate conflicts, crises, and the different viewpoints of other Orthodox churches around the world), and to contribute to resolving and dissolving differences between them, requires many tireless efforts to strengthen acquaintance between the two sides within the framework of what he called personally (the soft power of the Egyptian Orthodox Church).

Understanding the mentality of others is an important ecclesiastical gain, which, according to my understanding of the role of the Egyptian Orthodox Church in resolving conflicts, is to (exchange experiences, professors, and scholars with representatives of other churches, especially in our analysis in Russia, Ukraine, Turkey), and even to prepare for their conducted joint studies discussions of theses, research and scientific theses between (the Russian Theological Academy and the Seminary College in Abbasiya in Cairo). Provided that it is agreed to exchange visits and delegations between the Christian clergy in Egypt and their counterparts in the churches of Russia, Ukraine and Turkey, and to host them constantly in Egypt, to deepen the roots of cooperation with them.

In my personal opinion, setting up a dialogue table, bringing together the (representatives of the seminary in Egypt and the Institute of Coptic Studies with the delegation of the Russian Academy and in the presence of some members of the Committee on Relations between the two Churches, to determine aspects of cooperation between the educational institutions of the two churches) will be in the interest of the Egyptian role in the future.  Here, the most prominent areas of cooperation between the Egyptian Orthodox Church and others, through:

    (Exchange of professors and students visits, translation of publications, exchange of publications, teaching languages, educational missions, organizing conferences, arts fields, training in the art of ancient Egyptian iconography), provided that this is expressly formulated in a (body of recommendations to be submitted to the Committee on Relations between the Egyptian and Russian Orthodox Churches) to rely on the future Egyptian role through our Egyptian Church in solving and passing this test successfully)

We can consider that the (interest in the churches of Egypt with the Orthodox Christian clergy in the churches of Russia, Ukraine and Turkey are all factors that support the efforts of the Egyptian Orthodox Church in “unifying the Eastern Orthodox Christian peoples”), by inviting them in Egypt to give lectures at the “Seminary College”, and perhaps seeking for the exchange of specialists, professors and visiting researchers in (the Institute of Coptic Studies and the Department of Tunes at the Institute for specialists). This coincides with introducing them to the (departments of the Institute of Coptic Studies in Egypt, and then inviting them to inspect the huge library of the Institute), which contains a complete heritage and a comprehensive history of the Christian heritage in Egypt, and holding joint Egyptian exhibitions with them on Coptic art under the supervision of the “Art Department at the Institute of Egyptian Coptic Studies”, which including: (icons, mosaic works, textiles, stained glass works, pottery works), and others.

  Based on my comprehensive observation and analysis of the features of rapprochement between the Egyptian and Russian Orthodox Churches, I personally believe that the work and coordination of “an initiative of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church and its priests to bring rapprochement again and bring the views closer between the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches primarily after the end of the current war, and even for the opening of branches of the Egyptian Orthodox churches in Russia, Ukraine and then Turkey for rapprochement with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in Istanbul”, to be preceded by several other initiatives, as I have aforementioned in my analysis, and to highlight several areas of joint cooperation between the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church and Pope “Tawadros II” with their counterparts in other churches, through  Inviting priests, priests, and monks of the Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish Orthodox churches to give lectures and conduct various religious-theological activities and studies at the (Theological Seminary in Abbasiya region) at Cairo and the Egyptian Coptic and (Theological Studies Institutes).

  And I believe that (giving the opportunity for a large number of Egyptian professors and scholars to rapprochement with their Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish counterparts, which will eventually facilitate a better understanding of the best approaches to playing a real future role in which the Egyptian Orthodox Church contributes to its historical role in uniting the Eastern Orthodox Christian peoples in the world), especially in light of the long-running disputes between the churches of Russia, Ukraine, and later Turkey, after recognizing the separation of the Ukrainian Church from the Russian Church in September 2018, which I encourage priests, priests and fathers of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church and Pope “Tawadros II”, because of his paramount historical and cultural importance for Egypt in the world, within the framework of what called it, that it constitutes one of (the soft power features of the Egyptian Church in front of the world).

Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit

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Walk of Truth calls for action after the Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief

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Tasoula Hadjitofi, a refugee from Famagusta, cultural activist and president of Walk of Truth NGO, spoke in front of 800 participants from 100 countries and 60 ministers as an embodiment of agony and disappointment, her own and the Cypriot people’s, over the systematic and as yet unpunished violation of their religious freedom’s rights by Turkey’s occupying forces in Cyprus.

Ms Hadjitofi, one of the keynote speakers at the International Ministerial Conference to promote Freedom of Religion or Belief that took place in London on 5 and 6 July 2022, used her talk to send important messages to foreign representatives. She was also present at the event in her capacity as “The Icon Hunter”, the title of her book on Cyprus’ cultural treasures, looted by Turkey, and her ongoing struggle to repatriate stolen and illegally sold cultural goods.

The Conference was organized by the British government with the aim to “bring together governments, parliamentarians, faith and belief representatives and civil society in order to urge increased global action on freedom of religion or belief for all”.

Addressing Conference participants and thousands of online attendees, Ms Hadjitofi said she felt she spoke on behalf of everyone in the world who had been affected by war, who had suffered discriminations because of their faith or national identity, who has been denied their collective memories and rights of religious freedom. And she asked:

“Can you envisage being a 14-year-old girl in 1974, in the Republic of Cyprus, the Island of love and beauty?  Can you imagine going to sleep full of dreams and then waking up after being threatened by the invading forces of Turkey which are using Napalm incendiary bombs and raping women and children around you? Can you begin to understand the impact this experience has on a child that sees as well as smells death, feels alone, abandoned and unprotected?  Can you sense why that child felt exposed when nobody came to the rescue as that child was subjected to a forcible population transfer and, thus, ethnic cleansing? Can you understand why this child grew up to be critical of international policy makers and acquired a tendency to walk alone in life?”

“This child”, she added, “is me”. And she continued: “Due to my war-torn childhood experiences, I lost faith in the strong and powerful to provide justice. Yet, this prompted me to take justice into my own hands and I became an Icon Hunter, also the title of my book. I travelled the world, worked under cover with police forces to expose crooks and antiquities smugglers. My mission was to take away from those crooks and smugglers what they had stolen from me: pieces of my happy youth; the frescoes, mosaics and icons which were looted from the Churches and monasteries where I – and so many others – prayed in what became, in 1974, the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus”.

The President of Walk of Truth spoke in a dramatic tone as she addressed participants with these words: “I have a dream. I want to make one last pilgrimage before I die. I want to be able to go to my home, to pray to the Apostle Barnabas Monastery where I was baptized. I can’t because it was pillaged and converted to a museum. I want to go to St Mamas church in the village of Mandres, where my parents had gotten married. I can’t because it was looted and converted to a mosque. I want to go to Famagusta, the ghost-city, my city and my church. But I can’t go because everywhere I turn there’s barbwire and my church has been looted, ruined, robbed of its icons and mosaics that make part of my prayer”.

“In July 2021, Turkish President R.T. Erdogan announced he would go to Famagusta, my city, and pray at an illegal mosque. There was nobody there. I went to the site accompanied by two German reporters of Spiegel magazine. Erdogan prayed “from a distance” even as I could not pray in front of my looted church. There was not a single UN soldier there. There was no one to protect me. And I felt the same as I did when I was 14 years old. Today I am 63 and I still feel the same way”. 

Ms Hadjitofi also referred to the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, describing with dramatic clarity how she had erased from her memory the horror of the war, keeping only one image that stays with her to this day:

“My mother, a pious Christian Orthodox, is kneeling in front of the icon of Apostle Andreas praying, whilst holding the candle that she saved from our last Easter in Famagusta.  So, I have dedicated my life to chasing around the world to track down looted icons and frescoes to bring them back to all Christian Orthodox mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers so they can pray for our freedom, as well as for our resurrection as a free and democratic nation”.

In the last part of her address – which caused a stir and stroke an emotional chord among most of the participants, prompting them to ask for more details about Turkey’s violations of religious freedoms in Cyprus – Ms Hadjitofi raised three crucial questions:

  • Firstly, what is the point of having, on paper, that which Foreign Secretary Truss described yesterday as ‘the freedom to believe, to pray and commit acts of worship’ if that freedom and related human rights are systematically violated by ‘authoritarians and oppressors’, as she called the perpetrators of such violations?
  • Secondly, what is the point of having, on paper, international humanitarian law, the law of occupation and international criminal law if these critically important areas of law are effectively rendered useless because of the selective delivery of international criminal justice?
  • Thirdly, what is the point of having, on paper, the worthy statements published yesterday, including that on ‘Freedom of religion or belief in conflict or insecure contexts’, if such statements are not accompanied with concrete actions which actively change the situation on the ground?  In this context, I must also ask a follow-up question. Why is Turkey not on the list of co-signatories? 

“Impunity must end.  We need universal respect for the rule of law and a uniform delivery of justice” were Ms Hadjitofi’s closing remarks.

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Some wounds never heal: 38 Years till Date

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The treatment meted out with Minorities in India has stripped off the so-called secular mask from the face of Narendra Modi’s fascist regime. India, on one side, claims itself to be a secular state, while on the other side, it persecutes minorities, especially Muslims and Sikhs. This recently planned activity of hate speech against Muslims, has given a clear message to the Indian Muslims that their sentiments make no difference in the Modi led regime. Because if they did, people like Nupur Sharma would have been sacked as and when they made a hateful remark and not after the International pressure and ridicule India faced immensely. 

Minorities including Muslims and Sikhs have repeatedly expressed outrage at the blatant flouting of their core human rights especially on food, clothing, marriage and worship places. Yet, Modi led fascist regime has always turned a blind eye towards their concern. 

In June 1984, the Indian Army attacked the familiar Golden Temple along with 41 other gurdwaaras of Sikh community all across the Indian Punjab. This assault was codenamed as “Operation Blue Star” and this marked a beginning of gross violations of Human Rights. Sikh community even on the 38th anniversary of Operation Blue Star are protesting carrying the flags of “Khalistan” demanding a separate state for Sikhs. One of the Protester says that “We are holding this march to reiterate our commitment to the struggle for independence, and to pay homage to the people who tasted martyrdom during the Indian army’s heinous attack.” 

This operation was marked by Sikh leaders as the genocide of the Sikh community. They are still wounded with the thought that their leader was killed in this operation. Indian government had imposed draconian media censorship to hide the gruesome war crimes against Sikhs during the ‘Operation Blue Star’ by their Army. 

Post this gruesome incident, 20,000 Sikh families fearing for their life migrated out from India. Many of them resigned from their jobs and returned medals they had received from the Indian authorities as a protest against the attack on Golden Temple. 

These historical moves were always deliberate in nature whether it was Golden temple or Babri Masjid, whether it was Sikhs or Muslims. It was always about promoting Hindutva with a mask of secularism. Modi’s Hegemonic designs were always with an aim of targeting minorities of the country. The Butcher of Gujrat has now become a butcher of so many of the Minorities including Sikhs and Muslims. The recent event of Nupur Sharma hateful remark is just a chain of the previous events because it represents Narendra Modi’s anarchist mindset. 

Analysts believe that the genocide against minorities in India is already on the cards. The world must wake up! Before it’s too late! 

Be fearful of the genocide by Modi!! Be very fearful!

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Assault on Mughal icons and Indian mosques

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The monk chief minister of India’s most populated north-eastern State Uttar Pradesh abhors Mughal icons. He says that Mughals cannot be heroes to the Hindu. He renamed Mughal Museum as Chatrapatti Shivajee. During the election campaign he supported RSS’s demand for renaming Hyderabad as ‘Bhagyanagar’. The fanatic Hindu says that about 60,000 temples were converted into mosques during the Mughal rule. The Supreme Court pronounced that the Babri Masjid was in fact Ram Janam Bhoomi temple. Petitions have been filed to “restore “Tajo mahilya temple’ (Taj Mahal), Kashi Vishwanath Temple (Gyanvapi mosque).

A court ordered survey of the Gyanvapi mosque to trace remnants of the imaginary temple. The survey team appears to have inferred that an ablution fountain is a Shiva Lingum. The fanatic Hindu claims that Qutub Minar is actually the Vishnu pillar. It should be renamed Vishnu Stambha They chanted  the Hanuman Chalisa near the historic building Qutub Minar in Delhi on May 10, 2022It is alleged that the  minaret was constructed by demolishing 27 Jain and Hindu temples.

What is a Shiva Lingum?

After the disputed structure of the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi, there is also a demand for a survey of the Taj Mahal. Several organisations are of the view that the 20 closed rooms of the Taj Mahal should be opened, claiming that they contain idols of Hindu gods and goddesses. A petition has also been filed in the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court in this regard.

According to Rohit Dasgupta, the lingam symbolizes Shiva in Hinduism, and it is also a phallic symbol. Since the 19th-century, the popular literature has represented the lingam as the male sex organ.

In Shiva-ite temples the lingam is often at the centre, surrounded by murtis (sacred images of deities). It is a smooth cylindrical mass. Often it rests in the centre of a lipped, disk-shaped object, the yoni, which is an emblem of the goddess Shakti. Ancient Sanskrit texts such as the Mahabharata and the Puranas relate narratives that identify the lingam as the phallus of Shiva. Yoni (Sanskrit: “abode,” “source,” “womb,” or “vagina”)

Yoni is the symbol of the goddess Shakti (a goddess, the consort of Shiva), the feminine generative power.

In sculpture and paintings, the lingam is depicted as resting in the yoni as a cylinder in a spouted dish. The two symbols together represent the eternal process of creation and regeneration, the union of the male and female principles, and the totality of all existence.

Practicing Hindus consider the lingam and yoni together .Short cylindrical pillars with rounded tops have been found in remains from Harappa, one of the cities of the ancient Indus civilization (c. 2700–2500 BCE), but there is no evidence that those were worshipped as lingams. One verse in the Rigveda (c. 1500 BCE) refers with scorn to people who worship the phallus, but there is no evidence in that verse that phallus worship was associated with the lingam or with Shiva. The earliest known Shiva lingam is the Gudimallam lingam from the third century BCE.

A local court to hear plea for survey of Mathura mosque ‘on the lines of Gyanvapi’

A Muslim body says the survey violates a law enacted by Parliament in 1991. What is this law, and what has the Supreme Court said about it earlier?

Converted temples in focus

Aside from the “60000 demolished temples”, the following nine converted mosques have been in popular focus.  

1. Ram Janmabhoomi Temple (Babri Masjid)

Many Hindus believe that the land on which the Babri Masjid was built in 1528 is the ‘Ram Janmabhoomi’ (birthplace of the Shri Rama). It was Mir Baqi, one of Mughal king Babur’s generals, who is said to have destroyed the pre-existing temple of Rama and built a mosque called Babri Masjid at the site. On December 6, 1992, the mosque was demolished by angry ‘kar sevaks’.In 2019, a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the 2.77-acre land claimed by both Hindus and Muslims would be handed over to a trust for the building of a temple.

2. The Kashi Vishwanath (Gyanvapi Mosque)

Kashi Vishwanath temple is one of the holiest Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. The principal deity is known as Vishwanatha or Vishweshwara, which is another name for Shiva. ‘The temple town is claimed to be the oldest living city in the world, with 3500 years of documented history.

However, the original Jyotirlinga of Kashi Vishwanath was nowhere to be found. It is said that the old temple was demolished as a result of the Mughal attack. It is alleged that Akbar and Aurangzeb destroyed it many times. In 1669, they then built Gyanvapi Mosque in its place. Later in the 1780s, the present temple was erected a few feet from the mosque by Maratha queen Ahilya Bai Holkar.

3. The Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple (Shahi Idgah Mosque)

The Krishna Janmabhoomi temple is located in the holy city of Mathura, Uttar Pradesh. The temple is said to have been built by Lord Krishna’s grandson, Vajra. Ancient Hindu texts say that Mathura is the birthplace of the god, and locals believe that the temple was made 5,000 years ago.

Again during the Mugal era, the temple was allegedly demolished several times during 1017 AD. After being repaired by Hindu Kings the temple was again destroyed by emperor Aurangzeb and the Shahi Idgah mosque was built above the Krishna Temple.

4. Rudra Mahalaya (Jamia Masjid)

This ruined temple of Rudra Mahalaya is located in the Patan district of Gujarat. Located in the town named Siddhpur, the place derives its name from the ruler of Gujarat, named Siddhraj Jaisinh, who built a magnificent Rudra Mahalaya temple in the 12th century AD.

The temple was allegedly destroyed by Allauddin Khilji and later Ahmed Shah I ruined this temple and restored some part of it into the conjoint mosque. Years later, the locals found a shrine and Shiva Linga. This led to the erection or completion of the temple. Then Siddharaj put up the images of many great kings in the temple, along with a representation of himself with an inscription saying that, even if the land was ruined, this temple will never be destroyed.

Again, Mughal king Alauddin Khilji sent a strong army and destroyed the temple complex. The temple was further demolished and the western part was converted into a Jami Masjid by Ahmed Shah I of the Muzaffarid dynasty.

5. Bhojshala ( Kamal Maula Mosque)

Bhojshala is an ancient temple of Mata Saraswati. The temple was built in 1034 AD by Raja Bhoj, the powerful Hindu King whose empire extended from Rajasthan to Odisha and from Madhya Pradesh to Maharashtra. This temple is situated in the Dhar district in Madhya Pradesh, which was the capital of Raja Bhoj.

The process of the Islamic invasion started 36 years before the attack when a Muslim fakir named Kamal Moulana entered Malwa in 1269 AD. He collected information about the Malwa region for 36 years and handed it over to Alauddin Khilj.

Bhojshala was first attacked by Alauddin Khilji in 1305 AD. After the sacrifices of Hindu king Raja Mahakaldev and his soldiers in the battle, Khilji killed 1200 Hindus in Bhojshala as they refused to convert to Islam.

The Islam emperors tried to convert part of Saraswati Temple Bhojshala into a dargah. Today Muslims offer Namaz in this same Vijay Mandir. Later, Mehmudshah intruded on land outside Saraswati Temple and built ‘Kamal Moulana Makbara’ after 204 years of the death of Kamal Moulana.

6. Adinath Temple (Adina Mosque)

Adinath Temple is located in Pandua, West Bengal. Now known as Adina mosque, it was allegedly built by Sikandar Shah in 1358- 90 AD over a lavish ancient Hindu temple which is now said to be one of India’s biggest mosques. The Hindu claim the mosque was originally a Hindu temple of Lord Shiva which was demolished and rebuilt into a mosque.

The name “Adina” of the Adina mosque is also believed to come from the word “Adinath” depicting Lord Shiva.

7. Bhadrakali Temple (Jama Masjid)

Jama Masjid, which was constructed in 1424 CE by Ahmed Shah I, is allegedly a Hindu temple of Goddess Kali. Ahmad Shah I of the Muzaffarid dynasty captured Karnavati in 1411. Located in Ahmedabad, the city’s original names were Bhadra, Karnavati, Rajnagar, and Asaval of different ages. The name Bhadra was named after the Goddess, whose temple was built by the Rajput Parmar kings of Malwa (Rajasthan), who ruled this area between the 9th and 14th centuries.

The temple which is now a mosque is built with a large hall for mass prayers.

8. Vijay Temple (Bijamandal Mosque)

Bijamandal Mosque is located in Vidisha, a city in the state of Madhya Pradesh, around 60km from the capital city of Bhopal. Vidisha is famous for its Masjid.

Aurangzeb allegedly demolished the temple in 1658-1707 AD and converted it into a mosque.

9. Several Hindu & Jain Temples near Qutub Minar (Qawwat al-Islam Mosque)

It is believed that Qutub Minar in Delhi was actually Dhruv Sthambh that existed even before the times of King Vikramaditya and had Arabic scripts installed by Qutb-ud-din Aibak between 1191 – 1210 AD, followed by his successors Iltutmish, Alauddin, etc until 1315 AD.

The first mosque near the tower is Qubbat al-Islam or Quwwat al_Islam, Qutubud-Din Aibak, which was allegedly constructed after demolishing the Hindu temple built by Prithvi Raj Chauhan.

The Places Of Worship Act, 1991

The Places of Worship Act, 1991, seeks to prohibit the conversion of a place of worship and maintain its religious character as was at the time of India’s Independence on August 15, 1947. Section 4 (1) of the Act states: “The religious character of a place of worship existing on the 15th day of August, 1947 shall continue to be the same as it existed on that day.” The Act has been in force since July 11, 1991.

The Act in Section 4 (2) goes on to state that if any suit, appeal, or other proceedings concerning the conversion of the religious traits of any place of worship, existing on August 15, 1947, is pending before any court, tribunal or other authority, the same shall abate. It further stipulates that no fresh proceedings on such matters shall be initiated.

Section 3 of the Act prohibits conversion of a religious place in any manner, even to cater to a particular section of the religion. “No person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination or any section thereof into a place of worship of a different section of the same religious denomination or of a different religious denomination or any section thereof,” it reads.

The Act, however, exempts any place of worship, which is “an ancient and historical monument or an archaeological site or remains covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 (24 of 1958) or any other law for the time being in force”.

Section 5 of the Act states that its provisions shall not apply to the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case. “Nothing contained in this Act shall apply to the place or place of worship commonly known as Ram Janma Bhumi-Babri Masjid situated in Ayodhya in the State of Uttar Pradesh and to any suit, appeal or other proceeding relating to the said place or place of worship”.

The statement that “praying in a mosque is not an essential part of Islam and namaz by Muslims can be offered even in the open” by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in a 1994 judgment played a role in the Allahabad High Court decision to partition the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site.

Concluding reflections

The “secular” courts in India often dabble into religious matters. Emboldened by the Supreme Court verdict handing over a disputed site in Ayodhya to Hindu claimants, encourage the fanatic Hindu to capture sites in Varanasi and Mathura where the Gyanvapi mosque and Shahi Idgah Masjid are located. Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 sought to freeze the status of places of worship as on August 15, 1947, so that existing suits and proceedings abate and new claims are not entertained. Yet, in flagrant violation of the law, courts are repeatedly allowing proceedings to be initiated.

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