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Maronites of Cyprus

06/07/2010 14:18
Maronite Cypriots, a community dying out, brightened by the papal visit
by Fady Noun 

(Retrieved from Asia News Web Site)

During his apostolic visit to Cyprus, Benedict XVI met the Maronite community whom he asked to bear the weight of the cross of Christ. The Pope said that priests, educators and the consecrated are crucially important as models of faith for the young. The faithful have a duty to bear the light of the Gospel against the darkness of superstition, following in the footsteps of Saint Maroun.

Nicosia (AsiaNews) – Sitting in the courtyard of a Maronite elementary school in Nicosia, filled with white chairs in an otherwise treeless and coverless space, some 15 elderly Maronite peasant women took part Friday morning in the meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic community of Cyprus. The women, who are used to the sun, are from villages whose names have a musical quality, village like Aiya Marina, Courmagiti, Assomatos or Carpasha from which they were torn away more than 35 years ago, in 1974, when the Turkish army invaded the island of Cyprus was.

The Pope asked that the women be seated in the front row. To a large extent, the ceremony was for them. Today, they are Catholic Cypriot community. Of course, a Catholic community that follows the Latin rite exists. It is linked to the Custody in the Holy Land exists and made up mostly of immigrants and foreign workers. However, of these two minorities in this predominantly Orthodox nation, the Maronite community is the most fragile and threatened, with just a few thousand members.

The concern shown by the Pope regarding Cyprus’ small Maronite community is similar to that John Paul II showed towards Lebanon. Through them, it seems the Universal Church wants to preserve a model that could wither away. Certainly, the Maronites of Cyprus could disappear.

Expelled from their villages, families have reacted in different ways to their tragedy. In the villages, times stands still. A few, shy elderly men and women have been left, ghosts from another age. Some families who fled are suffering for the loss of their land, homes, harvest and churches. The younger generation has instead adapted to the calamity and is turned towards the future.

According to Antonis Hagi Russos, a member of parliament representing the Maronite community of Cyprus, 80 per cent of young Maronites marry outside of their group. The situation is such that the next generation will be either assimilated into the Greek Cypriot population or contaminated by the pervasive secularism. Either way, the Maronite identity might be lost.

When he met the Pope, the lawmaker gave him a silver plate with the engraved names of Maronite villages on the Turkish side, expressing the community’s desire to “go back to their origins”.

The Pope, who addressed Maronite Cypriots when they cheered him last Saturday, reassured them. “I know your wishes and your suffering,” he said. “I hope that through the help of the interest parties, you can be guaranteed a better future.” Where this guarantee might come, no one knows.

Of course, the Maronite community shows signs of revival thanks to the energetic action of their bishop, Mgr Boutros Gemayel, but he has retired having reached the clergy’s age limit.

Intense diplomatic negotiations have led Turkish authorities to give villagers better access to their land. In the case of three villages, residents can now return to celebrate Sunday Mass.

A few elderly left in their native hamlets have been able to till the land again and can now collect the olive harvest. “Not in the village of Aiya Marina”, said those directly concerned. Their village is in fact considered within the military zone, and all the houses are occupied by the Turkish military.

However, as good as this revival may be, it must continue if it is to last. This is now in the hands of Mgr Gemayel’s successor, Mgr Youssef Soueif, always present in the welcome ceremonies involving the Pope.

“If young people are not brought back to the village, then the village must be brought to them,” said Maria Koikkonnou, a Maronite woman involved in preparing the papal visit.

This means that village values must be restored to the younger generation and that they must be evangelised from the start. This is why the Pope gave so much importance to priests, Christian educators and all those dedicated to the consecrated life.

In his homily during the Mass in Holy Cross Chapel, the Pontiff urged them to remain faithful to the cross of Christ, be models of steadfastness in the face of adversity, even if this means, in some cases, giving one’s life. The Pope gave a stern warning, saying, “Imagine what the world would be without the cross?” A question to make one shudder.

Following the speeches and exchange of gifts, the hot courtyard of the Maronite school saw village life re-emerge in songs and dances. Their creativity and sincerity distracted those present from the scorching weather.

Saint Maroun, a 4th century hermit who became the father of a community with some 7,000,000 members around the world, built his first church on the ruins of a pagan temple. This appears to be the fate of the Maronite community, progressively replacing with the light of the Gospel the darkness of superstition, even when that light is dimmed, coming to us in the more human disguise of the simplest of joys.


Pulse Returns to Maronite Village in Cyprus

The World

Freedom of movement improves lives, but the future still depends on a reunited island.

March 21, 2005|Amberin Zaman | Special to The Times
(Retrieved from LA Times web site)

KORMAKITI, Cyprus — With its lush green meadows and fragrant citrus groves, this sun-drenched village overlooking the Mediterranean seems like the perfect island getaway. But for its handful of inhabitants, Kormakiti was long an open-air prison that they were unable to leave without official permission.

"We were living in a golden cage," said Maria Skollou, a local restaurateur.

After three decades, that has changed for residents of Kormakiti and three nearby villages that are home to a dwindling community of Maronite Christians whose ancestors came to Cyprus from Lebanon during the Crusades hundreds of years ago.

Freedom for the Maronites in Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus returned two years ago when Turkish Cypriot authorities eased access across the U.N.-monitored "green line" that bisects the island. The move was aimed at reviving frozen peace talks with the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government in the south.

"It was one of the happiest moments of our lives," Skollou said.

Cyprus, whose total population is barely 1 million, has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the island in response to a brief Greek Cypriot coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

The majority of the 6,000-strong Maronite community moved south into the Greek zone. The 100 or so Maronites who stayed behind were viewed with suspicion by Turkish Cypriot authorities and were prohibited from leaving their enclaves without authorization, "even if it was to go shopping in town," Skollou recalled. To ensure that they returned, villagers were forced to leave behind their identity papers.

"They thought of us as Greeks because we are Christians," said Paul Kumi, the 67-year-old village priest. "Sadly, the Greeks have never fully trusted us either, because they are Orthodox and we are Catholics."

Under the open-door policy, the Maronites can leave their villages at will and move freely within the North. They can also join Greeks and Turkish Cypriots in day trips across the green line.

The impact of detente is palpable in Kormakiti, where the smell of fresh paint and cement competes with the scent of wildflowers. Maronites who resettled in the Greek zone have recently begun to restore their ancestral homes here, a right that is still denied to tens of thousands of Greeks who also own property in the North.

"The Turks are helping us fix our roads, they are being very helpful," said Petros Katsiolides, a Maronite employed by the Greek Cypriot government.

Like many, he comes on the weekend when Kormakiti springs to life. Peals of children's laughter echo across the village square. Skollou's restaurant overflows with Greeks, Turks and Maronites dining on strips of tender roast lamb. After a few rounds of the house red wine, all begin to sing the same tune, albeit in different languages. "Ah, just like the good old days," sighed Kumi the priest.

Maronites resettled in the Greek Cypriot region are still barred from residing permanently here. Many in Kormakiti agree that their survival is ultimately pinned on the island's reunification. Unable to speak Turkish, most Maronites in the North remain deprived of job opportunities and an education.

As a result, younger members of the community have left permanently for the more prosperous Greek zone.

"Only old people live here," Skollou said.

Kormakiti's elementary school, now overrun by weeds, closed in 2001 when its last and only student left to attend high school in the south. Kumi says his greatest fear is that the Maronites' ancient tongue, an exotic blend of Arabic, Greek, Turkish and Italian, will die.


The Maronite community of Cyprus

Antonis Haji Roussos, current parliamentary representative of the Maronite community in Cyprus

(Retrieved from the official website of the Republic of Cyprus, May 2004)

The Maronites got their name from Saint Maron (350-410 AD) who lived near Mount Taurus situated in the region of Apameus in "Syria Secunda", an administrative division of the Byzantine Empire. Great crowds were attracted by Saint Maron’s gift of healing and many of them joined him, seeking to lead a life of prayer and mortification under his spiritual guidance. St Maron’s sainthood became known throughout the Byzantine Empire. St John Chrysostom sent him a letter around 405 AD expressing his great love and respect, and asked St Maron to pray for him. After his death in 410 AD, a church was built and dedicated to his memory. His disciples formed the nucleus of the Maronite Church and they founded a monastery named after him. This monastery grew rapidly and became the head of a body of monasteries which spread over Syria and Lebanon. "Maronitism" meant the Christian movement inspired by St Maron, his disciples and his monasteries which were a source of edification for many of the faithful.

The history of the Maronite community in Cyprus goes back many centuries. Maronites moved to Cyprus from the ancient territories of Syria, the Holy Land and Lebanon in four principal migrations between the eighth and the thirteenth centuries. Tradition narrates that the first group of Maronites immigrated to Cyprus simultaneously with the Maronite migration to Lebanon in the eighth century (Cirilli 189: 5). This exodus was caused mainly by the Islamic conquest and the inter-Christian rivalries between the Jacobites (i.e. Syrian monophysites) and the Byzantines, which inflicted violence against the Maronites (Dib 1971: 51-52). The second major migration followed the destruction of Saint Maron's Monastery on the Orontes River in Apamea around the year 938 A.D., which led to the transfer of the Maronite patriarchal residence to Mount Lebanon (Dib 1971: 52-53; Assamarani 1979: 17). Little information is available to confirm or refute the chronicle of the two migrations.

The third Maronite migration occurred upon the purchase of Cyprus by Guy de Lusignan towards the end of the twelfth century (Cirilli 1898: 6). The fourth occurred at the end of the thirteenth century with the defeat of the Crusaders in Tripoli and the Holy Land (Dib 1971: 65, 77).

Available historical documents confirm that the Maronites were an active community in Cyprus prior to 1192 AD.

However with the Latin Rule of Cyprus (1191-1571), they must have sustained many natural and man-made disasters, as evidenced by the fact that between 1224 and the Ottoman conquest of 1571, the number of their villages was reduced from 60 to 33 (Palmieri 1905: 2462). The reasons behind the degeneration of the Maronite presence in

Cyprus could be many including the greed and oppression of other religious orders of the time, plus the recurring natural and epidemic disasters (Cirilli 1898:12-13, Assamarani 1979: 25-29, 47).

With the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus, the Maronites had 33 villages and their Bishop resided in the Monastery of Dali in the district of Carpasie (Palmieri 1905: col. 2462). By 1596, about 25 years after the Ottoman conquest, the total number of Maronite villages had been reduced to 19 (ibid. 1905: col. 2462, Dib 1971: 177).

The Ottomans, after annexing Cyprus, imposed increasingly high taxation on the population, including the Maronites whom they treated badly, accusing them of treason, ravaging their harvests, abducting their wives and forcing their children into slavery (Cirilli 1898: 20). Many Maronites had died during the defence of the island, many more had either been massacred or taken as slaves, many others had dispersed throughout the island to escape persecution, and those who remained in their villages found themselves in a pitiable condition (Cirilli 1898: 14-15). Consequently, a group fled to Lebanon and another group accompanied the Venetians to Malta (Dib 1971: 177). All this led to the reduction in the Cypriot Maronite population and subsequently in the number of their villages, as well as the transference of the seat of the Maronite Church from Cyprus to Lebanon.

By 1636, the situation for the Christians in Cyprus had become intolerable and the conversions to Islam began.

"Since not everyone could stand the pressures of the new situation, those unable to resist converted to Islam and became crypto-Christians. They were called Linobambaci - a composite Greek word that means men of linen and cotton, a metaphorical term referring to the dual nature of their religious beliefs. The Maronites who adopted Islam lived mainly in Louroujina in the district of Nicosia. (Palmieri 1905: col. 2468). However, these Maronites who had converted in despair did not fully denounce their Christian faith. They kept some beliefs and rituals, hoping to denounce their 'conversion' when the Ottomans left. For example, they baptized and confirmed their children according to Christian tradition, but administered circumcision in conformity with Islamic practices. They also gave their children two names, one Christian and one Muslim (Hackett 1901: 535; Palmieri 1905: cols. 2464, 2468).

Under Ottoman rule (1571-1878), and especially from 1750 onward, the Maronite Church in Cyprus was under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Church. In 1840, however, the Maronite Patriarchate in Lebanon was successful in obtaining a firman removing the Maronites from the rule of the Orthodox bishops and restoring them to the rule of the Maronite bishops. The French Consul serving in Cyprus at that time had greatly assisted in the efforts to obtain the change.

In a census carried out in 1891, the Maronites were estimated at only 1.131 out of 209.286 Cypriots and were mostly in four villages (Hill 1972: 383, Hackett 1901: 528). This constitutes a massive reduction in population when, according to the historian Palmieri, there was, in the thirteenth century, an estimated number of 50.000 Maronites living in sixty villages. The regression of the Maronite community had begun with the Latin Rule and received its final blow under the Ottoman Rule.

Under British Rule (1878-1960), the Maronite community saw a great economic and cultural development, together with an increase in population. They consolidated their religious and political rights, and built their own churches and schools. With the first census carried out by the newly established Republic of Cyprus in 1960, there were approximately 2.752 Maronites living in Cyprus, mainly in the four remaining Maronite villages of Kormakitis, Karpashia, Asomatos and Agia Marina, but also in other areas of Cyprus.

Following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and the partition of the island, the inhabitants of these villages, who were mainly an agricultural community owning considerable areas of land, were displaced. The four villages, which are now practically unpopulated but for a few elderly persons, are all located in the occupied northern part of Cyprus and are facing annihilation, as are other villages and towns in the north, because of the laws imposed by the Turks on the right of return and the right of land ownership.

The Maronite community of today

At present the Cyprus Maronite community is a very small community forming an integral part of the people of Cyprus but, at the same time, continuing to exist as a separate community. The Maronites who now live in Cyprus consider themselves of Lebanese origin and they are Christian Catholics. They have a Maronite Archbishop who is elected by the Holy Synod of the Maronite Church in Lebanon and confirmed by His Holiness the Pope. Although the Maronites are educated in Greek schools and speak fluent Greek, they have their own Arabic language, they practice their own Catholic Maronite religion, they use the Aramaic language in their liturgy and they have their own culture and customs.

Before the invasion, the Maronites had their own elementary schools in all their four villages, supervised by the Ministry of Education and Culture. Although the analytical programme of the schools was similar to that of the Greek Cypriot elementary schools, the pupils were given additional lessons in subjects such as scripture, church hymns, the Arabic language, traditional songs and dancing. These schools were open to all communities, but the pupils, who attended them, as well as the teachers, were all Maronites.

After the 1974 invasion and the displacement of the Maronite population of the north, the Maronite pupils attended Greek Cypriot elementary state schools as well as private elementary schools in the southern part of the island. The government contributed towards their fees. The government has now built an elementary school for the Maronites in Nicosia, which opened this September. For secondary education the government pays the school fees of the Maronites students who wish to attend Catholic schools instead of the state secondary schools.

The Maronite community today numbers around 6.000 scattered all over the island. Because of their dispersal the Maronites are rapidly being assimilated and absorbed into the wider Greek Cypriot community, mainly through inter -marriage. Their return therefore to their villages is essential if they are to preserve their identity.

Political rights

According to official government statistics, Cyprus has an estimated population of 765.500 of whom 85.3% are considered to be members of the Christian Greek Cypriot community, 11.5% belong to the Moslem Turkish Cypriot community, and 3.2% are foreigners. While the majority of the Greek Cypriot community are members of the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus, approximately 9,000 are, in actual fact members of the Maronite, Armenian and Latin churches, who under the provisions of the 1960 Constitution, had to chose which of the two larger communities they would like to join. The Maronites (along with the Armenians and Latins) opted to belong to the Greek Cypriot community to which, owing to similar religious, linguistic and cultural bonds, they were much closer.

The Maronites, according to article 109 of the Constitution of the Cyprus Republic, were represented in the Greek Communal Chamber by a member elected by their own community. As a result of the inter-communal clashes between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots in December 1963, the Greek Communal Chamber was abolished in 1965.

Since then the Maronite community has been represented in the House of Representatives by an elected representative.

The House of Representatives, through its appropriate parliamentary committee, before taking any legislative measure on any subject relating to the Maronite community, and any organ or authority of the Republic, before exercising any administrative authority on any subject relating to the community, has to consider the views of the Representative of the Maronite community.

After the Turkish occupation, the Turkish authorities issued certain regulations governing the living conditions of Maronites. These regulations, however, were gradually revoked and more stringent restrictions were imposed relating to freedom of movement and communication with the free areas of Cyprus, adequate medical care and job opportunities. Furthermore, there is no secondary education in the occupied areas, and in general living conditions are below standard. Continuous representations were made to the Turkish authorities on behalf of the enclaved Maronite population by the leaders of the community and UN officials but unfortunately without any success. On the contrary, instead of the restrictions being slackened, they became tighter and the majority of villagers, mainly the youth, have been obliged to leave their homes and come to the free areas as refugees. The number of persons left behind, has steadily decreased from 2.000 in December 1974 to 150 persons today, who are of an average age of 70 and over.

For several years after 1974, the Maronites from the occupied areas lived in refugee camps, in rented houses and in houses of relatives and friends living in the south, as did Greek Cypriot refugees from the north. They remained for a long time without churches and schools. With Government assistance they now have enough churches in Nicosia and Limassol and one elementary school in Nicosia.

In losing their villages the Maronites lost their social nucleus from which for centuries they drew their strength to maintain their religion and their identity. Now all their villages are under Turkish occupation and control and Maronites must pay the required crossing fees to visit their villages for limited periods. In spite of these difficulties, however, the Maronites are working hard to maintain their religion, language and culture.

Main Source: The Journal of Maronite Studies


Cyprus' Maronite community in crisis

Once-thriving presence began decline after turkish invasion

By Iason Athanasiadis

Special to The Daily Star

Saturday, May 15, 2004

KORMAKITIS, Northern Cyprus: Aside from the occasional front door propped open, there are few traces of life among the shuttered windows, sun-bleached buildings and silent footpaths of Kormakitis.

This spread-out village - most of whose residents are in their 70s - is buffeted by the sea on one side and enclosed by a verdant, yellow-green plain on the other. Once the bustling heart of the Maronite community, Kormakitis today has been stripped to a ghost town of less than 900 souls by a generation of emigrants to the more prosperous Greek Cypriot South.

"The policy, originally, was to get rid of (the Maronites)," said Marios Mavrides, a Maronite historian of the community who lives and works in Nicosia but who every week makes the 20-minute car journey to the land where he was born.

"Now that they (the Turkish Cypriot government) realize that eventually they will die off, they leave them in peace."

In 1974, thousands of Maronites streamed across the Green Line leaving their homeland for an uncertain future in the Greek Christian south after Turkish troops invaded northern Cyprus. The intervention followed a decade of ethnic strife between the Greek and Turkish communities and a coup aimed at bringing about unification with Greece.

"1974 turned the whole community into refugees," said Antonis Hajji Roussos, the Maronite parliamentary representative. "Gradually, everyone left and only the old people remained."

The Maronites left behind them ancestral villages such as Agia Marina, Asomatos, Carpasia and Kormakitis.

The latter is the only remaining place on Cyprus where Cypriot Maronite Arabic - a dialect infused with a melange of Turkish, Italian and Greek words - is still spoken.

The dialect's long isolation from the main currents of the Arab world has caused it to develop on a track of its own, to such an extent that it is practically unintelligible to native speakers of Arabic. Linguists are puzzled by the characteristics it shares with the medieval Arabic dialect spoken in Baghdad by the Muslims and Jews, even as they point to evidence that it has reached an advanced stage of language death.

Today, the drive to the Maronite heartland resembles a plunge into dereliction. Abandoned villages are fenced off by coils of rusty barbed wire and watchtowers - embedded at regular intervals - delineate out-of-boundsmilitary zones. Military vehicles parked in rows in village squares and derelict church spires peeping above buildings subjected to 30 years of neglect complete the surreal panorama of a militarized rural idyll. Of the remaining Maronite villages, two are closed military zones whose residents need a pass to enter and exit.

"Those who had land stayed behind while the others left," said Mavrides. "But as it became clear there would not be a quick solution and the Turkish sector held few jobs, everyone went."

The enclaved community of mostly elderly Maronites left behind depended for many years on supplies of food and medicine from the Red Cross and the United Nations. Although the biweekly deliveries continue to this day, they are increasingly seen as being a propaganda tool for the Greek Cypriot government.

At a time when supplies are no longer really needed, Maronites in the South say the aid has become a political tool used to point an accusatory finger at the internationally unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) for its neglect of the community.

Last year's surprise opening of the Green Line that divides Turkish and Greek Cypriots has punctuated a tiny revival in the trend toward decline. On the weekends, visitors come up from the prosperous Greek south, patronize the cafes and tavernas that remain shut during the week, and inject some cash into the wilting local economy.

"The biggest shock for us was when the border reopened after 30 years," said Mavrides. "We hadn't just left behind us a house but a whole way of life."

For Maronites trekking back to their childhood idylls for the first time in 30 years, facing the Turkish Cypriot families now inhabiting their houses was a potentially traumatic experience. But despite the language barrier and mutual distrust, most Maronites had positive experiences of meeting those who now inhabit their houses.

But opening the border, even as a settlement of the Cyprus imbroglio remains elusive, could just spell the end for the Maronite heartland of the North. Already, the Maronites' mountain settlements and monasteries are devoid of inhabitants, the last of which cluster in villages on the plain.

While the community of Kormakitis has somewhat revived and some middle-aged couples have moved back in the wake of the Green Line opening, it is a far cry from the 2,000 Maronites who lived there on the eve of the invasion. Meanwhile, the trend toward leaving the economically-strapped North is set to continue following the entry of Cyprus into the EU.

Once in the South, Maronites are in danger of losing their identity as many marry Greek Cypriots and assimilate, swapping their unique dialect and customs for the Greek Orthodox majority's.

"There was always a suspicion of us by the Greek Orthodox but now they've got over this because of mixed marriages and the growing assimilation," said Mavrides, who has written a paper on the Maronite community titled, "A Community in Crisis."

"Being Maronite can actually be negative. If you apply for a position, you might not get it. If you run for Parliament, there's no reason to be different from the people who might vote for you."

Today, the dusty lanes of Kormakitis are a steadily ossifying cultural repository of an ancient, perhaps doomed, community. A new generation of Maronites in the South prefer the hip cafes of Greek Nicosia over the church and see no need to hang on to a religious identity that sets them apart from the mainstream.

Ties with Lebanon are weak and mostly confined to cultural and religious activities. While Maronite communities thrive in Brazil and the United States, the last members of one of the most historical of diasporas appear to have entered the final straight.

"Unfortunately, Cyprus was a closed shop to the Lebanese," said Hajji Roussos in a reference to the exchange control restrictions imposed by the Greek Cypriot government in the 1970s that discouraged foreigners from buying land or doing business on the island.

Aside from a handful of mixed marriages, the Christian and Muslim Lebanese who moved to Cyprus during the civil war years had little interaction with the indigenous Maronites.

"Many of the Maronite exiles attended churches on Cyprus and met local Maronites," said Mavrides. "But political relations with Lebanon are low and there were only ever 15 to 20 cases of Maronites from Cyprus marrying Lebanese Maronites."


A short history of Cyprus' Maronites

Originally from Syria, today's Maronite community in Cyprus was shaped by four successive waves of emigration that started in the 8th century and lasted over six centuries.

With the Islamic conquests radiating outward from the Arab Peninsula, the Maronites abandoned Syria's lush coastal plains for the inaccessible mountains of contemporary Lebanon.Some went further afield settling on Cyprus.

In 938, the destruction of St Maron's Monastery on the Orontes River prompted a second wave of refugees.

Another three centuries passed and Crusader king Guy de Lusignan purchased Cyprus from Richard the Lionheart, leading the former to import hardy Maronite warriors to the island to protect its coastlines.

The last wave of emigration came 100 years later when Acre, last outpost of the Crusader edifice, collapsed and the traditionally pro-Crusader Maronites fled Muslim reprisals.

The martial Maronites - fierce mountaineers whose tradition recounts how they forced two Umayyad caliphs to pay them tribute in the first decades of Islam's expansion - have maintained an awkward coexistence with their Muslim neighbors. Often, they allied themselves with outside, non-Muslim powers like the Crusaders; France during the Mandate period; and Israel during the Lebanese civil war. On Cyprus, the Maronites were promoted by the British whose policy was to support minorities.

The influx of Maronites who arrived on the island in the 12th century were initially privileged as they based themselves in the mountains and guarded the coastal areas of the Crusader kingdom against invasion. Up to 32,000 Maronites were killed during the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus in 1570. At the battle of Famagusta alone, 8,000 died in a bid to stop the Turks from breaching the city walls. Only 812 remained on the island.

The Ottomans punished them for their insubordination by appointing the Greek Orthodox religious majority the main Christian representatives on the island and banning Catholicism. This fomented conflict, for the indigenous Orthodox community resented the Maronites, thinking them deviants.

Guita Hourani, chairwoman of the Maronite Research Institute, writes that in Cyprus "the Maronites faced 'Latinization,' Greek schismatic abuse, and 'Islamization.' ... Their life on the island was filled with sorrow and pain.

"However, they maintained a presence and persisted in their faith, although some succumbed due to persecution.

They had their own clergy and bishops, but effectively they were under the ecclesiastical domination of either the Greeks or the Latins."

Ottoman rule was harsh for the Maronites. They were victimized both by the Muslim Turks for their opposition to the Ottoman invasion and by their Orthodox coreligionists. Fourteen Maronite villages became extinct during the three centuries of Ottoman domination as waves of Maronites escaped back to the Sham region or moved westward to Malta.

Hourani writes that the Ottomans imposed increasingly high taxation on the Maronites, accused them of treason, ravaged their harvests and abducted their wives and children into slavery. As a consequence, the Maronite clergy relocated to present-day Lebanon, where they remain to this day.

After the British replaced the Ottomans on Cyprus, they promoted the Maronite community, as well as other minorities such as the Armenians and Turkish Cypriots. But independence for Cyprus in 1960 was followed by ethnic clashes between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots The Turkish invasion of 1974 effectively dealt a death blow to the Maronite community and dispersed it.

While persecution is no longer a threat, Maronites today face their greatest threat in the form of assimilation into the homogeneous, Greek Orthodox Christian majority in the south.