Archbishop Elpidophoros says he is “sincerely sorry” for pain he may have caused to Cypriot and Greek Americans by attending the opening of a Turkish House in New York City, while pointing out he has always sought “honest and courageous” dialogue for peace and religious freedom.
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Elpidophoros, the Head of the Greek Orthodox Church in United States, took to Twitter on Thursday amid backlash following his attendance at an official event in New York officiated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and attended by Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar.
“I am sincerely sorry for the pain I unintentionally caused among my Cypriot and Greek American brothers,” he said, adding that unity within the Greek world was his and the church’s mission and duty.
'My presence has always remained on the solid path of honest and courageous dialogue for a future of peace and protection of religious freedom'
Greek and Greek Cypriot American groups accused Elpidophoros earlier this week of serving as a “tool for the Erdogan administration” while they also expressed anger over the timing of the Archbishop’s decision to attend the event, a period when “Ankara is adopting a negative stance with regards to the Cyprus issue.”
The criticism led to Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades canceling a scheduled meeting with Elpidophoros, with an official statement from the presidency citing a “busy schedule” for the island’s commander-in-chief who traveled to New York to attend the UN General Assembly.
Unconfirmed reports also suggested Greek Prime Minister Kyriacos Mitsotakis would also cancel a meeting with the Archbishop, which had been scheduled for a tour of Ground Zero on Friday including a visit to St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church that had been destroyed on 9/11.
But Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, who also attended the opening of the Turkish House, rushed to the Archbishop’s defence and condemned reactions against Elpidophoros.
“These politically motivated acts show the level of bigotry and intolerance of the Greek and Greek Cypriot sides,” Tatar said.
The Turkish Cypriot leader went on to call the reactions “an eye opener” concerning the Greek-Greek Cypriot duo, arguing that while UN Secretary General also attended the “applaudable act for world peace” the Greek and Greek Cypriot leaders “reacted to this event by cancelling a planned meeting with the Archbishop.”
No further comment from Nicosia was issued about the incident while Athens said it was displeased with Elpidophoros.
“We were irritated by the actions of the Archbishop. The Greek government expresses its displeasure,” Greek government spokesperson Υiannis Oikonomou said during a press conference on Thursday.
But a Greek former deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs, Evangelos Venizelos, took to Facebook to say the government’s criticism of Elpidophoros was “profoundly ahistorical” and “myopic.”
Yet other critics argue that Elpidophoros not only failed to refuse to stand alongside Erdogan, he also appeared in the same photograph during the ribbon-cutting ceremony with Tatar, the leader of a de-facto state recognized only by Ankara.
But Elpidophoros, a Turkish citizen born in Istanbul and whose name in Greek means Hopeful, wrote on Twitter that his “presence at Monday’s event could never amount to recognition of a disaster, displacement, or occupation.”
“My presence has always remained on the solid path of honest and courageous dialogue for a future of peace and protection of religious freedom,” the Archbishop said.