LEGAL ACTION

MARCH 5 2009 20:10h

Cyprus Church Says Taking Turkey To Rights Court

Archbishop Chrysostomos, cyprus,

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According to the Church, many chapels have been converted to `morgues, stables, night clubs and chicken coops.`

The Orthodox Church of Cyprus is launching legal action against Turkey for destroying hundreds of churches in the north of the divided island, it said on Thursday.

The Church said it was preparing its case to take Turkey to the European Court of Human Rights for 522 places of worship destroyed in northern Cyprus.

"This is necessary since Turkey consciously continues to destroy the Churches of our island," it said in a statement. Cyprus was divided in a 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup, prompting huge population shifts from one side of the island to the other. The north of Cyprus is a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state to which the Orthodox Church has no access.

Greek and Turkish Cypriot community leaders are now engaged in reunification talks. In January they agreed to set up an advisory body for the preservation and restoration of the island's cultural heritage.

According to the Church, many chapels have been converted to "morgues, stables, night clubs and chicken coops."

The island has priceless relics in many churches. Post 1974, many items were recovered by the Church in collections overseas, smuggled out amidst the upheaval.

The Church of Cyprus is an independent branch of the Orthodox communion and one of the oldest worldwide, tracing its lineage back to Barnabas, one of the earliest followers of Jesus. Lazarus, who according to biblical scriptures was raised from the dead by Jesus, also spread Christianity on the island and died there.