Greek Orthodox Patriarchate wants seized churches back
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate wants seized churches back
Based in what is now I.stanbul since A.D. 356,
the Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate has long
been asking the Turkish government to return four
churches confiscated by the self-declared
"Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate" run by the Erenerol family.
The recent investigations into the Ergenekon gang
have suggested that there may be links between
the deep state gang and this fake "patriarchate."
"They came to I.stanbul from Kayseri and declared
a so-called 'Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate.' They
always tried to undermine the status of the
Ecumenical Patriarchate. In 1924, they occupied
our church -- the Panayia Kafatiani Church-- in
Galata and beat-up our clergymen. Later, in 1926,
they occupied another church, the Hristos Church.
We have documents proving that these churches
belong to us," said Bishop Meliton from the Greek
Orthodox Patriarchate on Monday in a special interview with Today's Zaman.
As it turns out, the "Turkish Orthodox
Patriarchate" hasn't had a congregation for years
but was created by the Turkish state together
with a small number of Greek Orthodox members in
the 1920s when parts of Anatolia were under Greek control.
In an operation named "Ergenekon" a couple of
weeks ago, several people with links to Turkey's
"deep state" were arrested. Among them was Sevgi
Erenerol, the "media and public relations officer
of the independent patriarchate." She is the
granddaughter of Father Eftim, founder of the so-called patriarchate.
Father Eftim was a village priest from the
Turkish-speaking Karamanl? Greek community of
Cappadocia in Anatolia who supported the Turks during the War of Independence.
"Eftim became the leader of the 'patriarchate' in
Kayseri in 1922 under the name of the
'Independent Patriarchate of the Turkish
Orthodox,'" said Elçin Macar, the author of
"I.stanbul Rum Patrikhanesi" (I.stanbul Greek
Patriarchate, 2003) and a professor at the Y?ld?z
Technical University's department of political
science and international relations.
Eftim and his family were exempted from the
population exchange between Greece and Turkey,
but his small congregation moved out of the
country. Without any congregation, Eftim moved to
I.stanbul in 1924, together with the
"patriarchate," Macar explained. Eftim had some
followers in Galata, an area with a large Greek population.
"Eftim and his sons call themselves 'patriarchs.'
Who elected them? When? Eftim's son Turgut
succeeded his father and called himself Patriarch
Eftim II. Then came Turgut's brother, and then
they brought Pas,a [Sevgi Erenerol's brother]
from the United States to assume the role of the
'Patriarch.' They have all been excommunicated by
the Orthodox Church," Bishop Meliton said.
Bishop Meliton also said Selçuk Erenerol, the
father of Sevgi Erenerol, occupied the Aya Nikola
and Aya Yani churches, which originally belonged
to the Greek minority, on Sept. 1, 1965. Then the
property that belonged to these four churches was
given to the foundation of this fake patriarchate.
"It was a plan that had been organized back in
1936. The so-called 'Turkish Orthodox
Patriarchate' claimed in its 1936 declaration
that the two churches, which were to be seized
almost thirty years later, belong to it. I don't
know how, but on Nov. 11, 1964, the deeds of the
Aya Nikola and Aya Yani churches were registered
to the church foundation that belongs to the
so-called patriarchate," Bishop Meliton added.
He said he visited these churches to see what has
been going on and found laundry left out to dry
in the courtyard of the Aya Nikola Church, where
religious activities are no longer held: "Aya
Yani was rented to the Syrian community and
Panayia Kafatiani, the so-called center of the
'Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate,' was linked to
the Ergenekon gang, as we have learned from the
press. Of course, our legitimate demand to
guarantee the return of our Galata churches that
we have inherited from our forefathers has been
constant. The fact that this request coincided
with the Ergenekon affair is coincidental, even
though the involvement of Sevgi Erenerol
demonstrates that our usurped churches have not
been used for spiritual or religious matters."
When Bishop Meliton visited the Panayia Kafatiani
Church a few years ago, he noticed that the
"patriarchate" didn't know how to conduct a
religious ceremony. "They didn't even wear their
gowns properly. Some people were lighting candles. That was it," he said.
In response to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate's
pleas for the return of these churches, the
Turkish government finally gave back the Hristos
Church in Galata in 1947 to the Orthodox
Patriarchate, but because of a road enlargement
in the area, the church was torn down and the
compensation paid for its expropriation was given
to the foundation of the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate.
"We don't interfere with anyone establishing
whatever church. But it should be done with their
own resources. They confiscated our property," Bishop Meliton said.
'Selçuk Erenerol demanded recognition'
Bishop Meliton said after Turgut Erenerol died
his brother, Selçuk Erenerol, requested a meeting
with members of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.
On Sept. 10, 1992 at the Greek Orthodox
Patriarchate, three bishops received Erenerol,
who said they would give back the three churches
in Galata to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate if
the Patriarchate recognized the name of the
"Turkish Orthodox Church" and Erenerol's right to
administer it; rescinded the excommunication of
his father, Eftim; and Erenerol's rights to spend
income from the 72 properties held by these three church foundations.
"Our Patriarchate representatives made clear to
him that these demands were not acceptable. It
was unacceptable for the Patriarchate to
recognize an institution that was established
against the Orthodox Church's principles. Since
each church needs income for its continuity and
believers made donations for the future of these
churches, we couldn't think of separating the income flows from the churches."
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate had 90 properties
In addition to property lost to the bogus
patriarchate, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate has
also had many churches taken away by the Turkish
Foundations General Directorate. The Patriarchate
once had 90 churches in I.stanbul and on the
islands of Gökçeada (Imbros) and Bozcaada
(Tenedos), the deeds of which belong to the
foundation of each church. The Turkish
Foundations General Directorate arbitrarily
assumed the management of 24 of these
foundations, together with their property,
calling them "mazbut." "The Foundations General
Directorate claims to have the right to rent or
transfer these properties -- churches, schools,
etc. -- to third parties," Bishop Meliton said,
explaining the implications of the "mazbut" status.
"Look what happened to the Greek church and
school in Edirnekap?. They are in shambles. In
addition, the Foundations General Directorate
rented the school in the courtyard of the church
to somebody who established a billiard saloon
there," he said, showing pictures of the inside
of the decaying church and the school building.
He added that the Patriarchate had to go to the
European Court of Human Rights for the first time
to stand up for its ownership rights over the
orphanage building on the island of Büyükada.
"We don't want to go to the court again. We want
to solve all our problems in a spirit of good
faith and cooperation with the Turkish
government. We are tax-paying voters. We serve in
the Turkish army. We are loyal Turkish citizens.
We don't have political ambitions at all. We have
no ties with any sort of gangs. We don't want to
be like the Vatican either. We just want to
preserve our churches and our faith."
The Turkish Parliament has been debating a bill
on minority foundations that was previously
vetoed by former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer on
the grounds that "it may serve to strengthen
minority foundations." State Minister Hayati
Yaz?c? said last month that these concerns were
not shared by Parliament's Justice Commission.
YONCA POYRAZ DOG(AN I.STANBUL