The Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP), which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, has played an essential role involving religious communities in the overall Cyprus peace process, US Ambassador Judith Garber said on Tuesday evening, addressing a ceremony she hosted in honour of 2019 International Religious Freedom Award Recipient Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud, who is the Executive Director of the RTCYPP Office.
Garber noted that for the first time, the religious leaders are actively advocating for the rights of other faith communities on the island, noting that through the religious leaders’ joint advocacy, religious communities enjoy increased access to holy sites on both sides of the buffer zone.
“Salpy has been at the heart of these efforts from the very beginning.  Secretary Pompeo was so impressed with her work – and the outstanding contributions of the Embassy of Sweden and all the participants of the Religious Track – that he awarded her with the Secretary of State’s first-ever Award for International Religious Freedom,” she noted.
She noted to Weiderud’s tireless efforts to foster cooperation within the framework of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the auspices of our good friends and partners the Embassy of Sweden and that she was recognized as the sole honoree from Europe, and Secretary Pompeo personally presented the award to her and five other distinguished advocates of religious freedom from around the world at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington.

On her part, Weiderud noted in her speech that she feels deeply grateful for this recognition, noting that the award does not belong to her alone. “It belongs to everyone who made it possible for me to reach here and for all of you who have taught me, accompanied me, believed in me, and worked with me,” she noted
She commended the leadership and courage of the religious leaders of Cyprus “who have worked together for ten long years and have not given up their commitment to one another.  I thank them for their courage to do what is right despite the challenges.    This award is also theirs,” she noted.
Weiderud stressed that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, which is also vital for peace, and said that the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process was created out of a realization that international diplomacy had failed to acknowledge the significance of religious freedom in pursuing a peace agreement in 2004.  
She said that the right to worship, the right to access and administer one’s religious monuments can’t be held hostage to the conflict or negotiations. “They should not wait until there is a peace agreement in Cyprus but should be considered now.  The religious leaders have made realistic proposals, and they should be heard,” she pointed out, noting that in Cyprus there is still a lack of full realization of the significance of religious freedom and what that can mean to a peace process.  
“Lack of religious literacy by those in power including the diplomatic community, a lack of understanding and appreciating the role and power of religious freedom and dialogue, lack of realizing the significance of the cooperation and the need for participation of religious leaders and faith communities drove us to design the RTCYPP and change the terrain,” Weiderud said, noting that “we need to work together for the rights of everyone, everywhere all the time including religious freedom.”
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37% of its territory.

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