Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: ‘Patriarchate is dying’

’We cannot breathe, the Patriarchate is dying,’ says patriarch
ISTANBUL – Milliyet
Thursday, December 24, 2009

Following criticism of his controversial statement to a U.S. television network describing his community’s problems, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew says his comments were emphasized, but the serious problem of opening Halki seminary needs to be addressed.

Criticized for telling U.S. network CBS that he felt “crucified in Turkey,” in an interview he told daily Milliyet, “We are without oxygen, the Patriarchate is dying.”

He said the interview with CBS was not planned and that the media had emphasized the crucifixion quote. He said this was a metaphor for detailing Greeks’ problems in Turkey, highlighted by the issue of the Halki seminary located on Heybeliada, one of Istanbul’s Princes’ Islands in Marmara Sea.

“What will we do, if we cannot raise men of the cloth? Our metropolitan bishops in Europe are over 70 years old. The ones here are 75 years old. Now, who will I nominate to this post,” said the patriarch, who will turn 70 this February. “Why should we nominate people to this post who were not raised in Turkey and educated on Heybeliada?” he asked.

“The seminary was open during Ottoman rule; [Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk [founder of Turkish Republic] did not close it down. But it was wrongly closed down in 1971, since it did not have university status but was a vocational school for higher education,” he said.

The patriarch said they were open to any formula to open Halki seminary again, saying, “Whether it will have the status of a school, university or anything else, we want to raise men of the cloth and the state should give this opportunity to us.”

Patriarch Bartholomew also said that Halki should be opened according to the Lausanne Treaty, which was signed July 24, 1923 between the Triple Entente from World War I and the newly established Turkish Republic.

“Minorities can open schools for giving religious education by covering the costs themselves, says the Lausanne Treaty. We had one and it is closed down, we don’t want [an additional] right, we want what Lausanne had given us,” he said.

The patriarch said although they had heard that there were ongoing discussions regarding Halki in Ankara, their opinions had not been asked. He said he talked to State Minister Egemen Bağış about the matter, and the latter told him to organize a commission and have discussions.

‘Deep State?’

Patriarch Bartholomew said the government was in favor of opening the Halki seminary but it still has not opened.

“I guess the deep state does not want it [open]. Hüseyin Çelik once said, ‘I would immediately open it if it was my decision only.’ Nimet Çubukçu also said ‘there is no legal barrier.’ Why is it not opened yet? It is stuck somewhere,” he said.

He said the issue has nothing to do with reciprocity, or giving rights to Turks living in western Thrace. “We are being held hostages for the Turks living in Cyprus and western Thrace, but we are Turkish citizens. And we want our rights as Turkish citizens,” he said.

The patriarch also complained that despite official freedom of worship in Turkey, his community has not remained in Turkey because of historical incidents in which Greeks were forced to leave the country, notably the incidents of Sept. 6-7, 1955 and other events in 1964. “We are now around 3,000 people living in Turkey,” he said.

Bartholomew crucified, Erdoğan suffers from Hellish torture!(1)
by Orhan Kemal Cengiz, Today’s Zaman (Dec. 25)

Turkey is such a complex country. Its problems are so complex, so sophisticated and they all have historic roots.

Turkey seems to have changed very quickly on the one hand, but if you focus on problematic areas you will see nothing is actually changing.

Look at this recent “crucifixion” discussion in Turkey. It tells us many things, if only we can decode the messages correctly. His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew stated on CBS television that sometimes he feels crucified in Turkey. He also added that the Orthodox in Turkey feel themselves to be second-class citizens. “[The Turkish government] would be happy to see the patriarchate extinguished or moving abroad, but our belief is that it will never happen,” he said.

I think it was the first time he stated his frustration with such harsh words. His remarks and criticism created a chain reaction in Turkey. He was also criticized by the members of the government with equally harsh words.

After His All Holiness’ words came onto political agenda in Turkey, his lawyer made a press release and tried to repair the “damage” done according to her understanding. She said when patriarchate was criticizing government he was indeed criticizing the state, not this government in particular. The lawyer was referring to the state-government distinction in Turkey which is made to explain that some policies in Turkey will not change with the change of government because they are state policies. We have such a distinction, it is true, but I believe that Bartholomew was not only criticizing state policies, but also this government in particular.

Let me try to explain this “quarrel” between Bartholomew and the government from my perspective. As I tried to explain in an earlier article of mine which was published in this column on July 10, 2009 (“Is the ecumenical patriarchate in Turkey waiting for Godot”), the patriarchate in Turkey is on the verge of extinction as a result of some policies and tactics which have been deliberately and systematically applied by the Turkish state since the establishment of Turkish Republic in 1923. Turkish state has applied “a fait accompli strategy” against patriarchate in which it has taken everything from this institution with sudden and unexpected attacks, each of which has been followed a period of silence and these silent periods have always been followed by waves of new attacks. This historic institution has lost everything during this secret war which has been waged against it by the Turkish Republic. With every passing day, the noose around its neck has been tightened more and more. This was a war which aims at to weaken this institution so much that it will finally be forced to leave Turkey. To avoid outside pressure, Turkey has conducted this war in such a way, the final purpose of which may have not been seen even by the patriarchate until very recently.

The patriarchate lost its congregation in Turkey first. Population exchanges, pogroms and attacks against the Greek minority in Turkey wiped out Greek-origin Turkish citizens from Turkey almost completely. After losing its people, the patriarchate started to lose its property. In addition to these material losses, it has been denied a legal capacity and personality, which has added its vulnerability. As you all know, Turkey also created quite unacceptable limitations on the method of choosing a new patriarch, which dictates that the patriarchate, and the members of the holy council which choose new patriarch can only be Turkish citizens. Turkey closed down the Halki Theological School which educates Orthodox clergyman, but also future patriarchs. While the patriarch is accepted as the leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians all over the world, he has been subjected to persecution in his homeland here in Turkey for using his title of “ecumenical.” Not to mention threats, physical attacks and other kind of intimidation. I will continue on this next Wednesday.


Is US complicit in non-Muslim sufferings in Turkey?
By Ali H. Aslan, Today’s Zaman (Dec. 25)

Last weekend’s “60 minutes” interview with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has caused quite a stir in Turkey. Many people focused on His All Holiness’ remarks suggesting the Greek Orthodox community feels crucified.

I personally have no objection to that depiction. It is mainly Turkey’s fault if the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians and his shrunken Turkish congregation feel that unhappy. As a world-renowned figure and a proud citizen of Turkey who has fought for religious freedoms for years now, Patriarch Bartholomew has all the right to speak out at any platform.

Having said that, let me get to my main topic. CBS television generally did a good job in portraying the situation of Christians in modern Turkey, with a historical background and a special focus on the problems of the Greek Orthodox minority. However, certain overlooked aspects might give the wrong impression to the American public about the root causes of these problems.

For example, there was no mention of Kemalism, the official ideology of the radically secularist and nationalist regime founded in Turkey in 1923. And that might lead an American audience think that some Christians have been persecuted mainly because the country is 99 percent Muslim and religious. As a matter of fact, many in the majority-Muslim community also suffered from religious cleansing efforts on the part of the Kemalist establishment, which by the way is dear to many people in Washington. And that brings us to one other missed point in the CBS feature: the possible role and responsibility of the US in the lack of sufficient improvement in the situation of non-Muslims in Turkey.

It’s good to see the benevolent hand of the US at work when consecutive administrations and Congresses express sympathy with the plight of non-Muslims in Turkey. However, those efforts are often compromised by overall American support for the Kemalist regime, which is the mother of most human rights problems in the country. The reasons for that include realpolitikal considerations, anti-Islam prejudices and various special interests.

For many in Washington, Turkey’s Kemalist establishment is key to many decisions especially pertaining to military cooperation within NATO, hence they should not be intimidated too much. Some paranoid parties fall for the idea that Kemalism is the main antidote to a prospective Islamic regime in Turkey. Not to mention juicy business ties and cultural connections with the Kemalist lords of the country.

I find the US military industrial complex especially instrumental in spoiling the Kemalist establishment and blocking their criticism in Washington.

Many US administrations so far have brought up the problems of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul. President Barack Obama has also commendably done so in his various meetings with Turkish leaders, including during the latest visit to the White House by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in early December. But the problem is, although Erdogan heads the executive branch in Turkey, he cannot exert full control over the many Kemalist-dominated governmental institutions. In fact, he and his family are direct victims of Kemalist practices of religious persecution as well. For example, Erdogan’s wife cannot enter a military building because she wears an Islamic headscarf, which is strictly prohibited in military areas. She is not invited to official Victory Day receptions hosted by generals.

So, there is a government within the government in Turkey. And we know it’s mainly that government, not the Erdogan administration who blocks most of the reforms, including improvements on the religious freedoms of non-Muslims and Muslims alike. I don’t argue that the Erdogan administration is fully innocent. Yes, they represent one of the most reformist administrations in modern Turkish history. But apparently, some in the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) think the Kemalist establishment is still too powerful, so they should not risk losing power by intimidating them too much with reforms. Acting with survivalist instincts can be partly understandable. But the more the Erdogan administration concedes to the Kemalist establishment, the more vulnerable they will eventually be. Instead, they must fight even harder to improve democracy, governance and human rights in Turkey. That’s the most effective way to deprive the Kemalist establishment of their repressive tools.

True, Washington presses for reform in Turkey; but in a much lower voice than Brussels, without directly criticizing Kemalism. Absent the pressure, especially on the military, the armed muscle of Kemalist status-quo in Turkey, no real reform is sustainable. I see the close ties between the US and Turkish militaries as a huge lost opportunity in this respect.

Turkey is at a critical juncture. Either repressive Kemalism will prevail, or more progressive interpretations of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s modernization ideals. It is high time for Turkey’s friends such as the US government to speak more forcefully on the need for reforms, especially regarding the obstructive role of the military in Turkish democracy. Military and civilian leaders at the Pentagon must also step in and convey to their counterparts in Ankara the same message in a powerful way. The US and Turkish militaries must work harder to improve interoperability not only in a technical sense but also in terms of democratic values.

No matter how prevalent anti-Washington sentiments and nationalist reactions are, one should never underestimate the leverage of the US in Turkey. Inaction would prove Washington is not serious about, if not complicit in, continued human rights problems including that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Care to Comment?