Ecumenical bridge-builder honored with US International Religious Freedom Award for work in Cyprus

(State Department photo by Michael Gross/ Public Domain)U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo poses for a photo with Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud of Cyprus at the 2019 International Religious Freedom Awards ceremony at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on July 17, 2019.

The U.S. Department of State has bestowed an International Religious Freedom Award on Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud, leader of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process and a former World Council of Churches staff member working on peace programs.

The awards "honor extraordinary advocates of religious freedom from around the world" and were presented on July 17 in Washington, D.C.

"Throughout her life, Salpy has fully committed herself to working with religious leaders, faith-based organizations and religious communities on issues related to freedom of religion and human rights, disarmament, conflict transformation, and peacebuilding locally, regionally, and globally," said the State Department in its citation.

On July 17, the U.S. Department of State in Washington, awarded its 2019 International Religious Freedom Awards at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., to five recipients from Africa, Brazil, Cyprus and the Middle East.

Weiderud was born in Cyprus, a grandchild of Armenian refugees.

She is an originator and facilitator of the unprecedented peacebuilding initiative in Cyprus known as the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process, which operates under the auspices of the Embassy of Sweden.

During her time at the WCC between 1995 and 2005, Weiderud served as executive secretary for International Affairs, programme executive for the Middle East, and special consultant on Palestine and Israel.


She founded the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, known as EAPPI and was a founding member of the International Action Network on Small Arms and Light Weapons.

She also initiated and led the Ecumenical Action Network Against Small Arms.

And as the executive coordinator of the Programme to Overcome Violence of the WCC, she led its Peace to the City Campaign (1997-1998) and initiated the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace (2000-2010).

In an interview with the WCC's Susan Kim she said, "I myself grew up with stories of my ancestors being persecuted, deported and massacred.

"My family came as refugees from Turkey to Cyprus. My grandmother was five at the time, and my great-grandparents brought her and her siblings to Cyprus. I grew up hearing their stories of pain, fear and violence. Yet at the same time my family did not choose hatred."

She said that the religious track has helped religious leaders make new alliances with women's organizations in both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.

"We are working to ensure safe spaces for sharing of information and developing joint action. It's very important to ensure that everyone feels feel connected and that they are working together — victims and religious leaders.

"Our work takes time, it requires patience, sensitivity and service but it's worth it because we ensure that there is unity and ownership to move statements into action," she said.

The other 2019 awardees of the State Department Award were: 2019 Awardees

Mohamed Yosaif Abdalrahan of Sudan has worked tirelessly to defend the rights of Sudan's religious minorities, both in his legal casework and through public advocacy.

Imam Abubakar Abdullahi of Nigeria selflessly risked his own life to save members of another religious community, who would have likely been killed without his intervention.

Ivanir dos Santos of Brazil worked exhaustively to support interfaith dialogue, combat discrimination, and create mechanisms for the protection of vulnerable groups.

William and Pascale Warda of Iraq have devoted their lives to advancing religious freedom and other human rights causes in Iraq.

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud (l) who works across faiths and nationalities for peace and reconciliation in divided Cyprus at an inter-faith event at the United Nations Office in Geneva on March 11, 2016.
Copyright © 2019 Ecumenical News