Report: Turkey to reopen Halki Seminary

Turkish newspapers say a deal is in the works. Will there be reciprocity from Greece? When President Obama was in Turkey, there were reports that “the recognition by Greek authorities of muftis in Thrace and financial support for Muslim schools might prompt a Turkish rethink on the Halki school.” Here is the story from Hurriyet, the Turkish newspaper:

ANKARA – 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.

Reciprocity principle

“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.


  1. George Michalopulos :

    I’m afraid that there is less here than meets the eye:

    1. if the Greek government doesn’t reciprocate, then this will come to naught. In fact, it’s a brilliant stunt on the Turks’ part in that it will make the Greeks look like bad-faith actors if they don’t open Muslim madrassahs in Greece. If nothing else, it’s putting considerable pressure on Greece, which would have little to gain by acceding but a lot to lose if it does.

    2. So the Greeks will try to derail this through some back-channels. The Phanar receives 90% of its funding from the Greek government, this gives the Greeks leverage over the Phanar.

    3. Leaving this angle to the side, if you read this carefully, Halki will be integrated into the Turkish university system. It will be a small cog in a large secular wheel. In doing so, it will validate its claim that the EP is not “ecumenical” but the bishop of a small diocese on Turkish soil. Even its seminary is part of the Turkish secondary educational system. Thus the Turkish government will extend its ultimate power over the Phanar which will by then become a completely Turkish institution. The EP would have no choice but to be grateful to the Turks and they will thus suck the Phanar further into the maw of Turkish society.

    4. By becoming more wedded to the Turkish state, it further solidifies the historical ties of the EP to Istanbul. Any fantasies of the GOA that the EP would relocate to the “fourth Rome” would be dispelled. And let’s not forget, that this is going to take time even if it does happen. This will further string the EP along on a wild goose chase, thereby diverting his energies in ways that could be more useful elsewhere.

    Of course, the Turkish government could pull a fast one and throw everybody for a loop if it gave up its repression of the EP completely. Which of course would really pull the rug out from the Greek government. But with the rise of Islamic consciousness in Turkey, I don’t see that happening. Indeed, any such talk could inflame the fanatics to increase their terrorist activities. If they get really desperate, watch out.

  2. What kind of Halki would exist if and when it opens? People think you just push a button and Halki turns into the finest institution of Orthodox learning on the planet. This is not realistic

    A Halki devoid of freedom which succumbs to a secular approach will do more harm to Orthodoxy then keeping the place closed. You know there is no way that faculty and students at a re-opened Halki will have the freedom to be the Orthodox Christians the world needs.

    I would rather have an underground Seminary that an open Halki that appeases the Turkish vision of secularism.

    If Greece and the EP play into this trap it will only further the cultural suicide of both institutions.

    It is ashame that some leaders will give up so much for political gain.

  3. George Michalopulos :

    Andrew, I forgot to mention (actually it just came to me) that the Greek government’s ultimate objection to any sign of good faith by the Turks would be that it would take away their entire rationale for them keeping Turkey out of the EU.

    Unfortunately, the bar that we Greeks set for Turkey’s inclusion was very low, so low in fact that all they had to do was basically just reopen Halki. Even as an “autonomous high school.” What a joke.

    There is more at stake here than the Greek government giving up their claims over the Muslim minority in Thrace: once Turkey is in the EU, then there will be no bar to Turks buying and selling property in Greece (or anywhere else in Europe for that matter). For many, like France, Germany, as well as Greece, this is a nightmare scenario.

    Therefore, I now have more reason to suspect that the Greek government will somehow pressure the EP to not accept the reopening of Halki. On the other hand, if the EP acts as his own man and he tries to wring more concessions out of the Turks –and if he succeeds–then the Greek government’s position will be dire indeed. They then won’t have any reason to prevent Turkey’s accession to the EU.


  4. George,

    Your thoughts on this subject have the makings of a very good article. What saddens me is that opening Halki has been a mantra for so long that the EP will basically sacrifice everything to open it.

    This has all the signs of a Neville Chamberlain moment for the EP. Appeasement gets you nowhere.

  5. George Michalopulos :

    It’s a shame. All that sturm und drang, and for what? Is Holy Cross that inferior of a school that they’ve had to do a full-court press to open it for almost 40 years now?

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