July 25, 2014

‘A Patriarch in Dire Straits’

At the Acton Institute, where I labor as communications director, I published a commentary pegged to Patriarch Bartholomew’s forthcoming book, “Encountering the Mystery.” The commentary was also picked up by the Assyrian News Agency. Read the full commentary here.

In 1971, the Turkish government shut down Halki, the partriarchal seminary on Heybeliada Island in the Sea of Marmara. And it has progressively confiscated Orthodox Church properties, including the expropriation of the Bûyûkada Orphanage for Boys on the Prince’s Islands (and properties belonging to an Armenian Orthodox hospital foundation). These expropriations happen as religious minorities report problems associated with opening, maintaining, and operating houses of worship. Many services are held in secret. Indeed, Turkey is a place where proselytizing for Christian and even Muslim minority sects can still get a person hauled into court on charges of “publicly insulting Turkishness.” This law has also been used against journalists and writers, including novelist Orhan Pamuk for mentioning the Armenian genocide and Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds.

In a 2005 report on the Halki Seminary controversy, the Turkish think tank TESEV examined what it called the “the illogical legal grounds” behind the closing and how it violates the terms of the 1923 peace treaty of Lausanne signed by Turkey and Europe’s great powers. TESEV concluded that “the contemporary level of civil society and global democratic principles established by the state, are in further contradiction with the goal to become an EU member.” And, because of its inability to train Turkish candidates for the priesthood, TESEV warned: “It is highly probable that the Patriarchate will not be able to find Patriarch candidates within 30-40 years and thus, will naturally fade away.”

The patriarch’s solution to Turkey’s problems — and that of religious minorities — is to move the country to a more Western model of tolerance and religious freedom by bringing it into the European Union. “It is my conviction that the accession of Turkey to the European Union would benefit all of its citizens, including the minority communities of the country,” Bartholomew writes in his new book. “For Turkey would be required to make significant, indeed substantial modifications to its legislation, adhering to the principles of other European nations.”

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