Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Halki Seminary Could Be Reopened Soon

(updated below)

From Hürriyet:
The Halki seminary on the island of Heybeliada is to be reopened, Culture Minister Ertuğrul Günay said, adding that they are searching for a formula to integrate the Orthodox theological school into Turkey’s university system. "Although we have not finalized a decision in the Cabinet, my personal impression is that we are going to open the seminary," said Günay, speaking on Kanal 24 television over the weekend.

Recalling that the functioning of the Halki seminary is not compatible with the Turkish university system, Günay maintained that work is underway to find a formula for its status. He explained that the question is whether the seminary would function like a university, which then has to be integrated into the Turkish university system, or if it would function like an autonomous private high school.

One of the latest proposals was for the seminary to become a private university under the auspices of a foundation, such as how Koç University was established under the auspices of the Vehbi Koç Foundation. The Heybeliada University would be set up under the Ayatriada Foundation with the patriarch chairing the latter and people with Turkish citizenship making up the rest of the board. However, the patriarch has rejected the idea.

The expectation of the reopening of Halki Seminary, which has been closed since 1971, has been long spelt out by the European Union in the course of entry talks and was lately expressed by U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit to Turkey in April.

State Minister and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bağış said that reopening Halki Seminary was a domestic issue for Turkey, in an interview with the Greek daily Kathimerini, reported the Anatolia News Agency on Sunday.

"Turkey needs to address the religious needs of the Orthodox community as well as Greece needs to address the needs of the Turkish community in Western Thrace. These are domestic matters for both countries," said Bağış. Although the reciprocity principle is not a must, both countries must tackle the problems simultaneously Bağış underlined.
Reciprocity on minority rights issues in relation to the Greek community has long been seen as an international issue dependent on Greece lessening restrictions it imposes on Turkish minorities. CHP and MHP opposed amendments to the Foundations Law last year on these grounds. For more on the history of the seminary, click here.

UPDATE 7/21 -- In a six-day visit to Turkey, Thomas Hammarberg, the human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe, met with Justice Minister Egemen Bağış and EU negotiator Egemen Bağış. Halki was brought up in the meetings. From TDZ:
In a six-day visit to Turkey, during which Hammarberg was received by President Abdullah Gül and met with Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin and chief EU negotiator Egemen Bağış, the human rights commissioner also raised the controversial issue of reopening the Halki Seminary. Asked whether he had the impression that the school would be opened soon, Hammarberg said: “Yes, clearly. There is no firm decision taken yet, but the way we discussed this matter clearly indicated that there is openness now. Hopefully the majority of the population will accept this to be the right way to go ahead. It will be decided before Istanbul assumes the title of Cultural Capital of Europe in 2010. My guess would be before the end of 2009 […].”

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