Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Archbishop Elpidophoros of America will meet today after the government’s stinging criticism of the archbishop over his presence at an event attended by Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, who is promoting a two-state Cyprus settlement with international recognition of the sovereignty of the Turkish occupation regime in the north of the island.
The PM’s decision came after the government spokesman publicly expressed the government’s dissatisfaction over the Archbishop’s move and straight on the heels of a public apology by Elpidophoros. Mitsotakis
The archbishop’s presence at the event initially led to a cancelation of the Mitsotakis-Elpidophoros meeting which, however, was reversed following the archbishop’s expression of regret regarding his action and his sorrow for the pain that he inadvertently caused to his Cypriot and Greek-American brethren.
Elpidophoros attendance at the event, which was presided over by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres caused a backlash in Cyprus, Greece, and the Greek-American community.
Elpidophoros issued a lengthy statement in which he said he stands by the Greek Cypriot people and their just cause and that just as the Cypriots after the 1974 invasion and occupation became refugees in their own land, he and his family too were uprooted from their home in Istanbul and moved to Greece in the early 1970’s, when events in Cyprus and Greek-Turkish tensions led the Turkish state to take it out on the Greek minority in Istanbul.
Archbishop Elpidophoros’ full statement is as follows:
“As a Greek of Constantinople [as Istanbul is still called in Greek], my family and I have experienced the repercussions of being uprooted from the home of our forefathers, as did a very large number of my compatriots, as well as the [Greek] population of Imvros and Tenedos, due to yet another flare up of the Cyprus problem in the 1970’s. I have grown up with this pain and that is why I understand the pain of our Cypriot brethren, as well as their emotions and reactions. I believe that they are expressions of the pain of people who lost everything: property, homelands, dreams, families, and relatives.”
Consequently, I want to state to everyone that my presence at the event on Monday could not possibly ever have constituted recognition of a calamity, of a refugee crisis, and of an occupation. My presence has always had the same steadfast orientation: an hοnest and courageous dialogue for a future of peace and the protection of religious freedom. We are all united in the defence of our national interests, each one in their own way and their own role, but united and dedicated to the same goal,” the statement read.
“I am truly sorry for the pain that I caused my Cypriot and Greek-American brethren, especially my beloved flock. I pray that a just and viable solution will be found in tormented Cyprus, in line with the expectations of the Cypriot people and based on international law and the protection of human rights, in accordance with the decisions of the UN, and I am working toward that end,” he added.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has for one century stood beside Greeks everywhere, defending their aspirations. Our unity is my ministry and duty,” the statement concluded.
Mitsotakis reverses his decision
The statement of the Elpidophoros led the PM to change his decision not to meet the archbishop. A private meeting is expected this afternoon New York time, though Mitsotakis will not visit the Greek Orthodox Shrine of Saint Nicholas where he was to be given a tour by Elpidophoros, presumably in order to avoid broad television and photo coverage in Greece after he adopted a more conciliatory stance.
Government spokesman announces the meeting
Government spokesman Yannis Economou announced today that, “I think there will be a meeting.”
He elaborated on the cause of the falling out between the prime minister and the archbishop, which he attributed to the latter’s handling of the affair.
“I think that whatever was to be said was said and we all understood. The messages were very clear. The archbishop himself issued a statement clarifying [his position] which I think was absolutely explanatory and everyone got the answers that they should have. Attending an event at which the head of a state that is not recognised could have been avoided,”
It should be noted that in the past Greek officials have not referred to the Turkish occupation regime in Cyprus as a state, even “not recognised”.