Cyprus Mail
May 7 2006

Minority rights put to vote
By By Jean Christou

Cyprus' religious groups will are also contesting elections in two
weeks

WHILE representatives of the three main religious minorities in
Cyprus are allowed a seat in the House of Representatives, the seats
only have observer status and no voting rights, something all three
incumbents would like to see changed. In this year's election on May
21, a total of eight candidates - two Armenians, four Maronites and
two members of the Latin community - will battle it out at the polls.
The candidates for the three minority seats all say that their
communities are divided.

ARMENIANS: Melkonian remains an issue IT'S NOT all that long since
the Armenian community held a short but lively by-election with
three participating candidates for the community's parliamentary
seat, left vacant by the passing of long-time representative Bedros
Kalaydjian. The nearly 2,000-strong community in Cyprus went to the
polls last October with all three candidates pledging to unite the
community.

The biggest issue in the election was the closure last year of the
Melkonian Educational Institute, the only Armenian secondary school in
Cyprus and the only one for a large number of other Armenian students
in the region.

The school remains closed and now there are just two men standing in
the polls.

Incumbent Dr Vahakn Atamyan is going up against new candidate,
businessman Vartkes Mahdessian, although the Sunday Mail spotted one
of the previous three candidates amongst Mahdessian's entourage when
he went to register his candidacy on Wednesday.

On why he decided to stand for election for the first time, Mahdessian
said: "I felt that with the experience I have in Cyprus and overseas
over the last 30 years I could offer to my community, which has
I believe a number of problems that have stayed stagnant over the
years. We would like to motivate everybody to go forward."

Mahdessian also said the Melkoninan was still a big issue. "There's
a lot of uncertainty about it. It's the wish of every Armenian for
it to reopen," he added.

Atamyan freely admits he is not too happy about having to go through
another election so soon. "I think it's a bit unfair to tell you the
truth because it's only been eight months," he said. "I'm required
to fight another election now and the thing is that I had only eight
months to show some progress. I think I have done a lot of things
and I have started doing a lot of other things and I will try, if I
am re-elected, to fulfill the promises I have given."

He said that other than the hassle involved, he was not concerned
about his opponent. "Whoever the opponents are I am ready to fight
them," he said.

THE LATIN COMMUNITY: A need for change?

THERE are also two candidates competing for the 'Latin' (Roman
Catholic) seat in parliament. Benito Mantovani seems to have been the
Latin representative forever. In the last two elections, going back
to 1996, he had no opponent. This time however he is being challenged
by a woman, Maria Markou, the only female candidate standing in the
religious groups.

Mantovani is the main proponent of religious minorities being given
a vote at the House instead of being just observers.

"Currently we have no vote and we have no right to speak except in
parliamentary committees," he said. "I think the law can be modified
to allow us to present ourselves a bill of law, discuss it and vote
on it as long as it is related to our community."

There are only 650 Latins registered to vote in Cyprus but Mantovani
said there are actually 2,000 Cypriot citizens of the Roman Catholic
faith. "For various family or other reasons they have not registered,"
he said.

"Then there are about 3,000 European citizens who are permanent
residents of Cyprus. If you were to add to them the 2,000 it makes
about 5,000 Latin Catholics in Cyprus plus the foreign workers. We
have some 5,000 Filipinos and around 1,000-1,500 Sri Lankans. That
makes a total number above 11,000 Latin Catholics but of course not
all of them are Cypriot citizens but whenever they have a problem and
want to discuss something, I always sit and talk with them. I don't
care if they're Cypriot citizens or not."

But Mantovani's opponent, Markou, who presents the Latin programme
on CyBC radio, believes all is not well within the community and she
has decided to do something about it.

"I see that there are some problems that are unsolved and have existed
for many years in our community," she said, adding that for starters
the Latin community still doesn't have its own cemetery.

However, Mantovani's manifesto states that land has been expropriated
for Nicosia and that he would keep working on the Limassol end.

"For 32 years we have not had a cemetery in Nicosia and this is just
an example," Markou said.

"I believe that my candidacy is going to give a new spirit and a new
climate to the Latin community. There are many problems and I have
a pre-election plan which is very realistic and possible," she added.

Markou, who is a psychologist, said she would also focus her campaign
on families in need, something the Latin community has always been
involved in "not only through the church".

"I'm going to give half of the (deputy's) salary to a fund that I'm
going to create according to the law to give help to people who are
really in need," said Markou.

She believes that her opponent has not done enough and those things
he has done were only related to the basic benefits they were entitled
to from the government as a minority group in Cyprus.

She also admits that she is coming up against someone who has been
the established representative of the community for many years.

"It's a big challenge and you know in the past two elections we
didn't have another candidate. It needs courage to come against the
establishment but the people have welcomed my candidacy. They're very
interested and I'm very optimistic about the results. People realise
the need for change."

MARONITES: Rights for refugees

THE Maronite community, which numbers around 6,000 in Cyprus has
four candidates.

Antonis Hadjiroussos, the incumbent said the main concern for Maronites
is the political issue and the occupation of the villages in the
north. Maronites had four villages where their community lived,
now only Kormakitis remains as a home for them.

"The Maronite villages are enclaved, they are all under Turkish
occupation and in a forthcoming discussion of the Cyprus problem we
have to give a lot of emphasis and try to make these villages free
for our people to return," said Hadjiroussos who is going for his
third term.

"I'm confident," he said, adding that another major issue for the
community was education and government grants to students.

"All our people are refugees, they don't have sources of income so we
want the government to increase the grants to students. In ten years,
it has not been increased," he said.

Ioannis Poyiadjis was the Maronite representative from 1991 to 1996
and is also concerned primarily with the political issue and what is
to become of the community and its property in the north. But he has
other concerns as well.

"The community is really in a very bad state at the moment," he said.
"The problems are many. We are divided as a community. We have no
unity and no organisation and we don't know how to ask for our rights
from the government. These are the main things."

Poyiadjis said that compared to other majority and minority groups
in Cyprus unemployment within the Maronite community was running at
30 per cent, which is more than five times the national average.

"Something like 30 per cent is out of work or they are occupied in
very humble positions," he said. "We don't know how to ask for our
rights. That's why. We are in the poorest community of Cyprus in
relation to the others and have no power to fight. We want this to
change. We want education and more scholarships for our people. This
is what we want to do. We want these people to understand that they
cannot just say we look after the minorities. They have to show in
practice that they are looking after us."

Edouardos Hadjihannas said he was standing in order to offer an
alternative choice to the divided community. It is his fourth time
and he has not yet won but he is unfazed.

Asked if he was optimistic this time around, Hadjihannas said: "No
but I am optimistic of achieving my target, which is to make my point,
to present the problems, to listen and to be heard."

Hadjihannas, who is not from Kormkitis, said he was worried that
the overall political instability was leading to uncertainty for the
Maronite community that could hurt them as a minority. "I am worried
about emigration," he said. "Our community is in danger."

He dismissed the other candidates. "They are always from Kormakitis
and when they talk about Maronites they always mean the people of
Kormakitis. My candidacy is for all Maronites," said Hadjihannas.

The last religious minority candidate to register, and the fourth
from the Maronite community was the fresh-faced Yiannakis Moussas,
Surprisingly for someone who barely looks 30, this is not his first
time standing for parliament.

"I stood in last elections in 2001," he said. "I feel there is a need
for a real change in the leadership of the community and I feel very
confident that the people of the community will vote for change."

Again the political issue was deemed the most important. "Ninety five
per cent of the Maronite community are refugees and I promised them
I would stand with them in confronting their problems," Moussas said.

On the fact that there are another three candidates for the community,
he said: "It seems at least that democracy in the community is alive
and well."