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Patriarch's 'crucified' remarks echo in Turkey: Unjust or mistranslated?

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 12/20/2009 12:00:00 AM | DÖNDÜ SARIIŞIK

As the government plans to re-open the Halki seminary in early 2010, Ankara has been shaken by remarks from Patriarch Bartholomew, who says he feels 'crucified' and 'second class' living in Turkey. One Greek-Turk says it is 'a misunderstanding due to a lack of translation' while the foreign minister says 'the crucifixion simile is extremely unfortunate'

As the government plans to re-open the Halki seminary in early 2010, Ankara has been shaken by remarks from Patriarch Bartholomew, who said he feels "crucified" and "second class" in Turkey.

The patriarch, who is based in Istanbul’s Fener neighborhood, complained about "discrimination" in Turkey in an interview he gave to U.S. television network CBS in May.

The excerpts from the interview were enough to irritate the Turkish government before the full-version airs Sunday.

“I would like to see this as an undesired slip of the tongue. We cannot accept comparisons that we do not deserve," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said in a press conference Saturday.

State Minister Hayati Yazıcı also reacted, saying: “It is quite unjust to comment like that. I don’t deny the difficulties we’re trying to solve, but it is not a way out to aggravate what actually happens.”

According to an excerpt, Patriarch Bartholomew said, "We are treated as second-class citizens. We don't feel that we enjoy our full rights as Turkish citizens."

Manolis Kostidis, a Greek-Turkish citizen from Istanbul now living in Athens and working as a journalist for the daily Elefteros Tipos, agreed with Patriarch Bartholomew’s evaluation.

“The government is aware that the Greek community has suffered from a violation of their rights. The patriarch has devoted his life to gaining these rights, such as reopening the Halki seminary,” Kostidis told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in a phone interview Sunday.

“I doubt whether the seminary will really be opened in 2010. Many politicians earlier promised [Patriarch Bartholomew] to open the seminary, but no progress has been made since the 1990s. I assume he meant to say how he was frustrated by unkept promises,” Kostidis said.

The Education Ministry has recently wrapped up a report on Halki seminary, leading the government to focus on alternative ways of re-open it as part of the democratic initiative.

“My personal opinion is that it is an unfortunate remark, especially in terms of timing,” a source close to the patriarch said on condition of anonymity.

CBS quotes Patriarch Bartholomew as saying the government "would be happy to see the patriarchate extinguished or move abroad. We prefer to stay here, even [if] we are crucified sometimes."

The biggest handicap is translation and the reports have twisted what Patriarch Bartholomew actually meant, the same source close to the religious leader said.

“‘Me stavronis’ [you’re crucifying me] is a daily expression that even Greek mothers use when they suffer and are tired because of their children.”

Patriarch Bartholomew was exhausted at the time of the interview following a religious service, the source said. “When asked if he feels crucified, he only said, ‘Yes, I do,’ but meant his frustration due to deadlock.”

Davutoğlu criticized the remarks of Orthodox Christianity’s spiritual leader as unacceptable. "We regard the use of the crucifixion simile as extremely unfortunate,” he said.

Denying that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, discriminates among its citizens on religious grounds, Davutoğlu said, “If Patriarch Bartholomew I has complaints on this issue, he can convey them to the relevant authorities who will do whatever is necessary."

Kezban Hatemi, Patriarch Bartholomew’s lawyer, said there may have been ulterior motives to misreport what the spiritual head said. “It is interesting that an interview made by a U.S. network was reported to Turkish audiences before it was even aired in the United States. Pay attention to the timing.”

Motivated by the EU bid, the government has repeatedly promised to increase the rights of minorities in the country.

The Istanbul Patriarchate dates from the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire, which collapsed in 1453 when the city fell to the Ottoman Turks.

Ankara does not interfere with the patriarchate's religious functions but withholds recognition of Patriarch Bartholomew's ecumenical title by treating him only as the spiritual leader of the approximately 2,000 Orthodox Greeks still living in the country.

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