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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs