The President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) Ersin Tatar on Thursday has invited Pope Francis, who is on a five-day trip to the Greek Cypriot administration and Greece, also to visit Turkish Cyprus.
In a written statement, Tatar voiced that the Greek Cypriot administration is using the Pope’s visit for political aims against Turkey and the TRNC.
"While this is new proof that the Greek Cypriot administration abuses religious beliefs, it is very regrettable,” he said and added that the fact Pope Francis is only visiting the Greek side is another point of regret.
“There are two different peoples in Cyprus and not only Christian Greeks but also Muslim Turks live in Cyprus. This is one of the fundamental realities of Cyprus,” he said.
"No matter what religious belief they have, all people and peoples should be treated equally and should not be excluded or discriminated against. The Turkish Cypriots should not be excluded or discriminated against because they believe in Islam and are Muslims,” he added, indicating that he hoped the Pope would answer his invitation.
Pope Francis landed at Larnaca Airport on the island of Cyprus on Thursday after a three-hour flight.
For the head of the Catholic Church, the focus of the trip to the eastern part of the Mediterranean is the refugee crisis. The division of Cyprus was also to be discussed.
While Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration support a federation on Cyprus, Turkey and the TRNC insist on a two-state solution reflecting the realities on the island.
The island of Cyprus has been mired in a decadeslong struggle between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, despite a series of diplomatic efforts by the United Nations to achieve a comprehensive settlement. Five decades of Cyprus talks have led nowhere.
The island has been divided since 1964 when ethnic attacks forced Turkish Cypriots to withdraw into enclaves for their safety. In 1974, a Greek Cypriot coup aiming at Greece's annexation led to Turkey's military intervention as a guarantor power. The TRNC was founded in 1983.
The Greek Cypriot administration, backed by Greece, became a member of the European Union in 2004, although in a referendum that year most Greek Cypriots rejected a U.N. settlement plan that envisaged a reunited Cyprus joining the EU.
On Friday evening, Francis will meet migrants in Lefkoşa (Nicosia). He is scheduled to take some of them to Rome later.
During the second part of the trip, the pontiff will travel to Lesbos. In 2016, he visited what was then the Moria refugee camp and brought some refugees with him on the plane to the Vatican.
The Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus has seen such a spike in migrant arrivals this year – a 38% increase in the first 10 months compared to all of last year – that it has formally asked the European Commission to let it stop processing asylum claims altogether.
In a message this week marking the International Organization of Migration’s 70th anniversary, Francis insisted that refugees are people deserving of dignity and denounced how their desperation is exploited, a message he has repeated in reference to the standoff at the EU’s border with Belarus.