Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Patriarchate and Ankara

PHOTO by Yigal Schleifer/Istanbul Calling

Just before Christmas, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew created an international furor when he gave an interview to American broadcasting network CBS's "60 Minutes" news program. In the interview, Bartholomew says he prefers to stay in Istanbul despite being sometimes crucified. When asked if he felt crucified, Bartholomew responded he sometimes did. (See Yigal Schleifer's Dec. 22 post). The AKP government quickly rushed to criticize the Patriarch for his remarks. Yet, plenty of Turks defended the Patriarch, citing continued government inaction to push for critical religious and minority rights reforms. (For example, see Mehmet Ali Birand's column in Hürriyet. For a defense of the AKP's criticism of Bartholemew and the slow rate of progress in terms of advancing rights for the Greek minority, see Orhan Kemal Cengiz's column in Today's Zaman.)

Minority rights reforms involving the Greek minority are critical to Turkey's EU accession process, especially if support from Greece and Cyprus is to be won. However, instead of pushing for reform, the government has instead made promises without providing timelines or showing serious intent of delivering, oftentimes simultaneously insisting that Greeks are equal citizens and/or pointing its fingers to Greece's abuse of its Turkish Muslim minority, as if two wrongs make a right. For an example of the former, see the remarks of the head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate, or Diyanet, Ali Bardakoglu; for the latter, see Prime Minister Erdogan's comments this week. Unlike Turkey, Greece did not have to satisfy the Copenhagen political criteria (developed in 1993) before its accession into the European Union in 1981. That said, minority rights reforms for the Greek community, a legally recognized minority vested with rights under the Treaty of Lausanne, are highly controversial. In March 2008, when the AKP passed modest reforms to Turkey's Law on Foundations, which governed many religious organizations, the reforms faced fierce nationalist opposition from both the CHP and the MHP. Little concrete work has been done since, and with the EU reform process stalled, the AKP government going as perhaps as far as it wants to go at the moment, it is unlikely much will change in the future. Continued problems with its Greek minority continue to get attention in the United states as well -- for example, see Senator Cardin's recent resolution on reopening Halki.

For more information on the Greek religious minority, including its legal standing under Lausanne, see the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom's 2009 annual report. From the report:
When Turkey was founded in 1923, there were approximately 200,000 Greek Orthodox Christians in the country. In 1955, by which time the number had fallen to 100,000, pogroms targeted the Greek Orthodox community, resulting in destruction of private and commercial properties, desecration of religious sites, and killings. As a result of these pogroms and other difficulties, the Greek Orthodox Christian community has fallen to its current low level, which the State Department reports to be no more than 3,000. Although the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey has been under Ottoman Turkish jurisdiction since 1453, the Turkish government today still does not recognize the Greek Ecumenical Patriarchate as a legal entity. Moreover, the Turkish government also refuses to acknowledge the Patriarch's Ecumenical status, recognizing only his role as head of the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey. Although Prime Minister Erdogan reportedly stated in parliament in January 2008 that the issue of Patriarch Bartholomew's title as "Ecumenical" is an "internal" one for the Patriarchate and that the state should not interfere, the Turkish government still does not officially recognize the Patriarch's Ecumenical status. The Turkish government also maintains that only Turkish citizens can be candidates for the position of Ecumenical Patriarch and for hierarchs in the Church's Holy Synod.

In 1971, the government's nationalization of institutions of higher education included the Orthodox Theological School of Halki on the island of Heybeli, thereby depriving the Greek Orthodox community of its only educational institution for its leadership in Turkey. Furthermore, in November 1998, the school's Board of Trustees was dismissed by the General Authority for Public Institutions. Due to the factors mentioned above and because of the continuing expropriation of income-generating properties from Greek Orthodox private citizens, the very survival of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey is at risk.

In the summer of 2008, the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously in a case brought by the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate that Turkey was in violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case concerned an orphanage on the Turkish island of Buyukada owned by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Turkish government has yet to implement the court's ruling.
See also the EU progress reports and human rights reports linked under the "Key Documents" section of this site.


Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

I've said this elsewhere too, but I will repeat: if the proposed/desired re-opening of a the seminary as an independent (of government interference) institution of higher learning comes to pass, this will mean that to attend a truly independent private university in Turkey one would need to be interested in Orthodox theology and possibly be a member of the Greek (or 'Rum') minority. At least to me, this looks odd.

It is clear under which circumstances the seminary was closed and what was closed along with it (private universities). It is revealing that the Turkish intellectuals opining on this issue consistently overlook what kind of authoritarian and centralized scheme universities exist here and opt to say things only about what'll be popular in the West.

I don't quite care one way or the other about Orthodox theology, and, as far as I am concerned folks ought to be able to open private universities/seminaries for regular or weird religions. I do know, though, if nobody is even recognizing that the state is interfering rather heavily in regular university education we don't have much hope of fixing anything. That the people who pay dearly for this deficiency cannot appear on Sixty Minutes and complain probably has something to do with the silence of our intellectuals about the obvious. If I am right, this means what CBS airs has more of a potential for affecting change in Turkey than the local needs. Lovely, isn't it?

I also don't understand why Turkish citizen Greeks cannot get their religious education in other seminaries abroad if the law here disallows independent institutions and the patriarchate doesn't wish to bring the Halki seminary into the state's higher education scheme.

Chris Papoutsy said...

(12 February 2010)Mr. Updegraff, I'm completing a book on the Orthodox theological school of Halki and am seeking permission to include your article
"The Patriarchate and Ankara" in my forthcoming book. Of course, full credit would go to you and your blog, should you agree. Your response on or before 28 February 2010 would be greatly appreciated.
--Chris Papoutsy (