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EU gives thumbs up to Turkey amid Orthodox mass controversy

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  • Al Green
    http://tinyurl.com/3yowvq9   EU gives thumbs up to Turkey amid Orthodox mass controversy   The European Union threw its support behind Turkey in a
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 18, 2010
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      EU gives thumbs up to Turkey amid Orthodox mass controversy
      The European Union threw its support behind Turkey in a controversy over attempts to hold a Greek Orthodox mass at the former basilica of Hagia Sophia despite Turkish laws that bar any religious services there. 
      At the last minute, a group of about 250 Greek Orthodox Christians canceled its plans to hold a Divine Liturgy at Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish) yesterday (Friday) after statements by Turkish officials that the planned service would not be allowed because any religious service in Hagia Sophia is banned under Turkish law and that such a mass could spark provocations that could in turn harm the government's efforts to improve religious freedoms. A Turkish Foreign Ministry official earlier said Ankara could stop the group from entering Turkey if they pose a security threat.
      Chris Spirou, the president of the US-based International Congregation of Hagia Sophia that is behind the attempt, told the Anatolia news agency late on Thursday that they had called off the trip after receiving a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, which he said amounted to a ban on entering Turkey. Speaking to a Greek news agency on Friday, he said the International Congregation of Hagia Sophia would take the Turkish ban to the European Court of Human Rights.
      But a spokesperson for Stefan Füle, the EU commissioner for enlargement, appeared to agree with Turkish officials, saying on Friday that religious freedom could be restricted for the sake of public safety. "The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms grants the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion to all, and adds that such freedom can be subject to limitations necessary in a democratic society, such as public safety or protection of public order," Angela Filote said in a statement.
      The Hagia Sophia served as the cathedral of Constantinople until its conquest by the Ottoman Empire in 1453. It was then turned into a mosque and then into a museum in 1935. Worshipping in the historic building has been forbidden since then.
      Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an's government has lifted curbs on Christian worship at other sites under an EU-inspired drive to improve human rights, namely at an Orthodox monastery in Sümela and at an Armenian church in Van. "The Commission considers that freedom of worship in Turkey is generally observed. The conduct of a Holy Mass in the Sümela Greek Orthodox Monastery on August 15 this year, together with the planned conduct of the Holy Mass in the Armenian church of Akhdamar this coming Sunday are further testimonies of this," Filote said.
      "Turkey is working in cooperation with non-Muslim minorities to improve the atmosphere and address the difficulties faced by these minorities. The Commission considers that there are still many issues that need to be addressed to improve freedom of religion in practice; however, these need to be addressed in a spirit of dialogue. In this respect, such matters need to be discussed between these communities and the Turkish authorities. The Commission supports this dialogue, which should be carried out in a spirit of responsibility," Filot went on.
      The International Congregation of Hagia Sophia said it was on a mission to "re-establish Hagia Sophia as the holy house of prayer for all Christians of the world and the seat of Orthodoxy before the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453."

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