Tensions Tighten Between Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Turkish Government

The head of the Eastern Orthodox Church Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, in an interview with the U.S.-based program '60 Minutes' that was aired last week, complained of the poor treatment by Turkish authorities of Christians continues.



The head of the Eastern Orthodox Church Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said in an interview on a American television show last week that Turkey's leaders, including the prime minister, have been unresponsive to concrete concerns he raised about religious inequality in the country.  The interview has been condemned by the Turkish government. This latest row comes as international criticism is growing over Turkey's treatment of its small Christian minority which numbers less than one percent of its population.

One of the world's most important Christian leaders, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, lives in a country where 99 percent of the population is Muslim. As the patriarch of 300 million Orthodox Christians,  he lives in Istanbul, Turkey where his church has been headquartered for more than 1,000 years.

By citizenship his nationality is Turkish, but he belongs ethnically to the small remnants of the Greek community in Turkey.

At the turn of the last century there were nearly two million Orthodox Christians in Turkey; 1.5 million Greeks were expelled as part of a population exchange with Greece;  and 150,000 left after violent anti-Christian riots in Istanbul in 1955.

"Religious inequality"

The Greek Orthodox Patriarch, in an interview with the U.S.-based program 60 Minutes that was aired last week, complained of the poor treatment by Turkish authorities of Christians continues.

"We are treated as citizens of second class," he said.

When the Patriarch was asked why his church and the remaining followers did not leave Turkey for Greece, his answer drew even more controversy, making headlines all over the Turkey.

"This is the continuation of Jerusalem and for us it is equally holy and sacred land. We prefer to stay here, even crucified sometimes," he said. "In the gospel it is written that it is given to us not only to believe in Christ, but also suffer for Christ."

While the Greek foreign ministry issued a statement supporting the patriarch, his  comment shocked the Turkish government, who saw him as a supporter.

Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quick to condemn the Patriarch.

He said that he regards the use of the word crucifixion extremely unfortunate.  "I would like to see this as an undesired slip of the tongue,  he said. "We cannot accept comparisons that we do not deserve."


What  lies behind Patriarch Bartholomew's criticism is his growing frustration over the forced closure of the country's only local Orthodox Patriarchal Seminary, called Halki. Since Turkey only allows Turkish-born citizens to become the patriarch, shutting down of the seminary essentially cuts off the ability of the Orthodox Church to produce future generations of leaders.

Deacon Doratheos, who looks after the closed school, says  it is becoming increasingly difficult for the church to replace aging priests.

"Each church, each chapel must have its own priest.  We cannot imagine a baby unbaptized or one who is dead not to have a priest to conduct the last prayers for him," he said.  "All those graduates before hand from this school, they were very successful as priests, as archbishops and as patriarchs."

Calls for seminary re-opening

Even the U.S. president Barack Obama raised the issue when addressing the Turkish parliament earlier this year.

"Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state," he said. "Which is why steps like opening Halki Seminary will send such a an important signal inside Turkey and beyond."

Obama again raised the issue when the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited him this month in Washington.

The European Union is also pressing for the seminary's re-opening.

Wilfred Martens, president of the European People's Party, one of main blocs in the European parliament, says the fate of the school is being closely monitored in Europe.

"This is important on the content, but it is also extremely important as a sort of  symbol," said Martens. "If the school could be re-opened, that is a positive signal that something fundamental changed in Turkey. Religious freedom is a fundamental right."

Government's offer

The Turkish government says its willing to open the school if it can be incorporated into a state university. But the offer has been dismissed by the Patriarch who claims the school's specialized role of training priests makes it impossible to incorporate within the country's university structure.

Metropolitan Gennadios of Sasima is a senior member of the patriarchate in Istanbul. He says the dispute is about fundemental rights.

"We would like have our school as it was before," said he said. "It is not a medical school or school for engineer. It is school which is just to train priests  for  our community here in Istanbul but also other orthodox churches around the world. "

A recent study published by the Pew Foundation this month ranked Turkey 14th on a list of governmental restrictions on religion. The list was led by Saudi Arabia, Iran, Uzbekistan and China.  Religious freedom is one of the key demands of membership requirement of the European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join. Observers say the latest controversy over religious freedom will do little enhance that bid.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs