Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud, leader of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process, has received an International Religious Freedom Award from the US Department of State. 

Presented last week in Washington, DC, the awards honour "extraordinary advocates of religious freedom from around the world".

Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud

PICTURE: Kyriakos Arkatides/WCC

Weiderud, who was born in Cyprus and is a grandchild of Armenian refugees, has served as executive director of the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process since 2012 and has previously held role at the World Council of Churches.

Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, paid tribute to Weiderud, commenting that she has "used her special talents and energy for peacemaking in many settings, some of them in the service of the WCC".

“We are grateful for her many contributions, and this award for the work in Cyprus is well-deserved.”

In an interview published by the WCC, Weiderud said the award was "extremely overwhelming" and was a "huge honour".

"It’s important because it will help shine a light on the joint efforts of the religious leaders in Cyprus to advance religious freedom, and also inspire others working on issues of religious freedom around the world," she said.

Weiderud said growing up on Cyprus where conflict and its transformation were an "existential reality", there was no other option but to work for "a world that was a better place".

"A world that was free and safe for all, where everyone’s human rights were respected. So nothing else made sense to me."

Other winners this year included Sudanese human rights activist Mohamed Yosaif Abdalrahan, Nigerian Imam Abubakar Abdullahi of Nigeria who saved more than 260 Christians by hiding them in his home and mosque during an attack on a community by ethnic Fulani herdsmen, Afro Brazilian activist, academic, and faith leader Ivanir dos Santos of Brazil and William and Pascale Warda, founders of the Hammurabi Human Rights Organisation in Iraq.