News

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.

Multimedia

Audio

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."

Frustation

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.
Comments
     
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.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs