By Mehmet Ali Birand in Hurriyet (Monday, December 21, 2009):
It might be true, we are crucifying the patriarch
I don’t agree with Foreign Minister Davutoğlu. The patriarch is right. The state, with its ignorance of a Turkish institution for 38 years, has not been able to keep its word and has crucified the patriarch.
No offense, but the culture and custom of crucifying exists in our state. It did not only apply it to the Patriarchate but also to its citizens and institutions, and it continues to do so.
For those who don’t know, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew is a leader who is followed by millions of Orthodox people from all over the world and one who holds the international status of a patriarch in the heart of a Muslim country. And we, who are supposed to be proud of this, underestimate it by calling him a patriarch based in Istanbul’s Fener neighborhood.
As if we are asked or allowed to make a decision. Even if we don’t accept his ecumenical presence, Bartholomew is one of the most important religious functionaries living in Istanbul. His international influence is enormous and he can immediately reach any person he wishes to reach. He is a leader for who millions of people get in line to kiss his hand.
This country has lived with conspiracy theories for many years. The Patriarchate has been viewed as an institution that sneaks plans about dividing Turkey so Greece can invade the country anew. (!) When his ecumenical presence is accepted, people thought the Christians would create a Vatican in Turkey. This absurd theory was supported by the state, military and some nationalists.
The AKP was the first to object. After Tayyip Erdoğan came to power, relations with the patriarch went back to normal. He often met with the patriarch and promised to work – and actually did work – on a solution for the Halki seminary, which persists since 1971.
Bartholomew’s problem with Turkey, and maybe the sole problem, is not being able to open up the Halki seminary. Because this seminary cannot be reopened, no religious functionary could be placed in Istanbul for 38 years now. The patriarch wastes away with each passing day. Turkey is forced to import external religious functionaries for the 15 to 20 churches in the country. The danger arises of leaving the Patriarchate in the hands of externally educated Orthodox religious functionaries.
Please be informed that the Sen Sinod, which is considered the parliament of the Patriarch, is in danger. It will not be able to gather after a while because the number of religious functionaries who are Turkish citizens is decreasing progressively. To bridge the gap, we import religious functionaries from Greece and engage in deception to naturalize them in Turkey.
Besides, the Halki seminary was closed in 1971 only to link other religious colleges to universities, even though it was not a private college. Other colleges that were closed at that time were linked to universities and continued on their path, but the Halki seminary never reopened. Despite the Treaty of Lausanne and despite it being a minority right, we ignored our own signature. It could have been reopened as a religious occupation school connected to the Ministry of National Education. We did not reopen it.
For years, we waited for a response from Greece. We kept the Halki seminary hostage, trying to force the acceptance of western Thrace muftis being elected by the people.
This is our shame in respect to the patriarch. A great injustice. A great despotism. This is the logic of interchange. And Erdoğan was the one to oppose this. I have witnessed it.
The AKP’s Education Minister Hüseyin Çelik in his innumerous statements said, “Leave it up to me and I’ll reopen it in 24 hours.” He repeated persistently that this is a great injustice done to the patriarch.
This logic won’t lead us anywhere
So why can’t it be reopened? All pious forces resist. And now we hear the same reasons: “There is no mosque in Athens… western Thrace muftis are appointed by the state… why should we in this case please the patriarch?”
The Patriarchate is our own institution. And the patriarch is a Turkish citizen. The Halki seminary will educate Turkish citizens and be wholly under the supervision of the Ministry of Education.
Those in western Thrace are all Greek citizens. And as citizens of Europe, they are in a position to pursue their rights. The patriarch asks, “Is it my fault that there are no mosques in Athens or that muftis are appointed by the Greek state?”
Now that’s where the interchange logic surfaces. The logic is, they pressure me and I’ll pressure them. Whereas the one pressured is one of us, our own citizen, and the Patriarchate belongs to us. Instead of taking good care, we push it around. Bartholomew is a well-respected and cautious person.
He always took great care to get along with the administration, always praising Turkey abroad and acting like a Turkish citizen. He never ever used the immense religious power on hand.
Can we expect them to understand us?
If today he says in daily Habertürk and on the American CBS television, “Enough now. I feel crucified… I have no choice but to take this matter to the European Court of Human Rights,” then we need to pay attention.
The patriarch calls out to Ankara and to the prime minister, who he perceives as his friend. “Please save me,” he says. He wants us to keep our word, which was given years ago. Turkey won’t gain from crucifying the patriarch. On the contrary, we’d be humiliated. But if it did the opposite and reopened the Halki seminary, it would provide Ankara with unbelievable prestige, which doesn’t cost much. And those who criticize Turkey before Europe would shut up. Turkey would claim its minorities, and understand its Christian citizens.
If we don’t understand other religions, how can we expect Europe to understand Islam? I am confused. How come the prime minister cannot keep his word? Cannot overcome pious circles? Cannot show the same amount of courage he showed in the Kurdish and Armenian initiatives? Let’s finally listen to Bartholomew. Otherwise, let’s not get angry if he goes before the European Court of Human Rights.