Thursday, December 31, 2009

Greeks in Turkey Suffer Discrimination

Tension continues between Turkey's Greek minority and the Turkish government. Although there are only about 10,000 Greeks in Turkey today, at the turn of the century there were 2 million Greeks living in Turkey. Discrimination against the tiny Greek minority continues even now that they are less than 10,000 people out of over 70 million people.

Istanbul remains the center of the Greek Orthodox Church, as it has been for 1000 years. Despite its historical importance to Greeks around the world and its important role in the history of Istanbul, the Greek Orthodox Church must run a gauntlet of bureaucratic impediments to do even the simplest things such as maintaining church property or ordaining priests. AINA News reports as follows about Greek-Turkish tensions.

"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".

One of the major sticking points in relations between the Greek Orthodox church and the Turkish government has been the situation of the Halki Seminary, a historical site of the Greek Church which was closed in 1971. It was built on the ruins of a monastery that was built in the 9th century. In 1844, a seminary was founded on the site that trained candidates for the priesthood from around the world. It was closed because of a Turkish law that was passed banning private schools within the Turkish republic.

The laws which have encumbered the Greek church in Turkey have also been used against private madrassas with questionable aims. Those who are sticklers for legal fine points use "equality under law" as a reason to keep the Halki seminary closed despite the disproportionate effect to this measure upon the Greek Church and the Greek minority in Turkey. There is no chance whatsoever of a tiny minority of Greek Turks taking over the Turkish Republic.

Additionally, Turkey has a law requiring that the Patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul) be a Turkish citizen. In looking at the history of the Catholic church in Italy, the last two Popes have been German and Polish. There have been clear understandings between the Vatican and Italy that limited the church's power. This was a needed response to the excesses of the Papal States, in which the Catholic Church ran a theocracy in central Italy. The Italian model might well be a prototype for mutual respect between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Turkish Republic.

If Turkey wishes to have closer relations with Europe, including EU membership, bringing its standards of religious freedom up to those in the rest of Europe should be a prerequisite to such closeness.

Turkey's Greek population has a long history in Turkey. It should be respected and preserved. The virtual absence of Greeks in Turkey did not come about through a natural process. The pogrom of 1955 was a violent and planned action in which churches and businesses were destroyed, women were raped and people murdered with open police assistance. However belated it may be, the restoration of the rights of the Greek minority and the Greek church should not be too much to ask of the Turkish government.

Turkey has a long way to go before its standards of civic and religious freedom reach those of the rest of Europe. Until such standards are reached, the EU should take their time in welcoming the Turkish Republic into their ranks.
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