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