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Are Turkey’s Orthodox Christians,Waitin g for Godot?

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/halki-seminary-turkey-orthodox-christians.html Are Turkey’s Orthodox Christians Waiting for Godot? By:
    Message 1 of 1 , May 8, 2013
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      Are Turkey�s Orthodox Christians Waiting for Godot?

      By: Orhan Kemal Cengiz for Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse Posted on May 7.

      The memorable play of Irish author and playwright Samuel Beckett,
      �Waiting for Godot,� has become a metaphor for situations in which
      people wait for someone unlikely to come, or do not even know what they
      are expecting. They just keep waiting and waiting.

      The handful of Orthodox Greeks left in Turkey appear to be waiting for
      Godot, too, caught in a very typical Turkish situation. The Theological
      School of Halki, which is attached to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, has
      been closed down since 1971. Almost every day for the past 42 years, the
      Orthodox community has been anticipating the news of the school�s
      re-opening, but to no avail.

      To understand why the anticipation has become so exhausting and
      frustrating, one has to look back through history and comprehend the
      significance of the seminary to the Orthodox community.

      Named after the island of Halki in the Marmara Sea, where it was founded
      in 1844, the school used to train clergy to meet the needs of not only
      Turkey�s Orthodox community but also hundreds of churches across the
      world affiliated with the Ecumenical Patriarchate
      <http://www.patriarchate.org/>. By the time it was shut down in 1971
      under a ruling by Turkey�s constitutional court, 930 clergymen had
      graduated from the seminary. Twelve of them eventually became
      patriarchs, meaning that almost all patriarchs have been graduates of
      that school. Hence, the seminary was not just a theological school, but
      also an important milestone on the way to the spiritual helm of the
      Ecumenical Patriarchate. The school�s closure cut a lifeline of the
      Patriarchate and forced it to struggle for its very survival.

      The collapse of the Ottoman Empire and its succession by the Republic of
      Turkey marked the beginning of the long road that eventually led the
      Ecumenical Patriarchate into its current predicament. Throughout the
      republic�s history, the Patriarchate has seen an array of its properties
      confiscated and endless red tape, all intended as pressure to force it
      out of Turkey.

      In the eyes of the republic�s founders, the Patriarchate was an �enemy
      within� that had collaborated with the foreign occupiers of Istanbul in
      the wake of World War I. The negotiations that led to the signing of the
      Lausanne Treaty, Turkey�s founding document, reveal that moving the
      Patriarchate out of the country was an essential Turkish objective. In
      the end, the Turks grudgingly accepted that the Patriarchate would stay,
      but object to any moves to regenerate the institution.

      The closure of the Theological School of Halki was a watershed in
      efforts to suffocate the Patriarchate. It was based on a 1971 ruling by
      the constitutional court, which annulled provisions in the Law on
      Private Educational Institutions (Law No. 625) that had made it possible
      to run private institutions of higher education. The reason the 1965 law
      was deemed unconstitutional six years after it took effect was
      undoubtedly political. Tensions ran high in those years between Turkey
      and Greece over the Cyprus conflict. By issuing the ruling that would
      lead to the closure of the Halki school, the constitutional court had
      laid the ground for Turkey to make a retaliatory move.

      Articles 40 and 42 of the Lausanne Treaty clearly oblige Turkey to grant
      equal treatment to non-Muslims
      <http://www.hri.org/docs/lausanne/part1.html> and facilitate their
      religious affairs and worship services. Thus, the closure of the
      seminary was yet another violation of the Lausanne Treaty in Turkey�s
      treatment of its non-Muslim minorities.

      Ever since then, the Orthodox community has eagerly awaited the
      re-opening of the school. Optimism has grown since the Justice and
      Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, pursuing perhaps the
      friendliest policies regarding minorities in the history of the
      republic. The AKP has never said it will not re-open the school. On
      various occasions � both public and behind closed doors � officials have
      asserted that the school could be re-opened. Those encouraging
      statements go back to 2003 when Huseyin Celik
      <http://webarsiv.hurriyet.com.tr/2003/10/31/364989.asp>, then-education
      minister and AKP heavyweight, said that the seminary should be re-opened.

      As Turkey�s ally, the United States has taken every opportunity to urge
      Ankara to re-open the school. In 1999, President Bill Clinton
      <http://www.milliyet.com.tr/1999/11/17/haber/hab03.html> visited the
      school and told his counterpart Suleyman Demirel that it ought to be
      re-opened. In various resolutions
      <https://bulk.resource.org/gpo.gov/bills/107/hc345ih.txt.pdf> since
      2002, the US Congress has issued similar calls on Turkey. When President
      Barack Obama addressed the Turkish parliament in 2009, he also
      emphasized the importance
      <http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-By-President-Obama-To-The-Turkish-Parliament> of
      re-opening the school. Not only the United States, but the European
      Union and an array of European countries, too, have urged Turkey to
      re-open the school.

      Regardless, the seminary remains closed, and remarks by Prime Minister
      Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reported in the media on March 29, reveal why.
      Erdogan wants two mosques to be opened in Athens
      <http://yenisafak.com.tr/politika-haber/ruhban-okulu-onunde-engel-var-29.03.2013-505857> in
      return for the re-opening of the seminary. This nonsensical demand shows
      that the prime minister is simply perpetuating the mindset of his
      nationalist predecessors, in which non-Muslims are regarded as
      �foreigners.� The seminary�s abbot, Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, has
      highlighted the incoherence of Erdogan�s demand: �Had we been Greek
      citizens, his demand could have made more sense. But we are Turkish
      citizens <http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/21160706.asp>.�

      Erdogan and his government may be critical of the Kemalist state
      mentality, but we know that when it comes to certain fundamental issues
      about non-Muslim minorities, they act with nationalist instincts.

      Another point hard to understand here is why the Patriarchate is
      standing by so passively. Why is it not taking legal action in the face
      of this flagrant injustice, while it has repeatedly taken Turkey to the
      European Court of Human Rights over confiscated properties � and
      succeeded? This question is perhaps one of the most difficult to answer.

      Instead of resorting to legal means, the Patriarchate is insisting on
      trying the same methods that have already proved to be utterly
      ineffective, believing that �foreign pressure� will induce Turkey to
      re-open the seminary. The fact that on April 30 the US issued yet
      another appeal <http://www.archons.org/news/detail.asp?id=629> to Turkey
      to re-open the school upon the initiative of Gus M. Bilirakis is an
      illustration of how the vicious cycle.

      The Ecumenical Patriarchate will continue to wait for Godot as long as
      it relies on futile foreign pressure and holds back from seeking its
      rights through legal means.

      /Orhan Kemal Cengiz
      <http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/contents/authors/orhan-kemal-cengiz.html> is
      a human rights lawyer, columnist and former president of the Human
      Rights Agenda Association, a Turkish NGO that works on
      human-rights issues ranging from the prevention of torture to the rights
      of the mentally disabled. Since 2002, Cengiz has been the lawyer for the
      Alliance of Turkish Protestant Churches./

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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