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'We cannot breathe, the Patriarchate is dying,' says patriarch

ISTANBUL - Milliyet | 12/24/2009 12:00:00 AM | ASLI AYDINTAŞBAŞ

Following the patriarch’s controversial statement to CBS describing his community’s problems, he has given an additonal interview to Milliyet, reiterating his people's issues.

Following criticism of his controversial statement to a U.S. television network describing his community’s problems, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew says his comments were emphasized, but the serious problem of opening Halki seminary needs to be addressed.

Criticized for telling U.S. network CBS that he felt “crucified in Turkey,” in an interview he told daily Milliyet, “We are without oxygen, the Patriarchate is dying.”

He said the interview with CBS was not planned and that the media had emphasized the crucifixion quote. He said this was a metaphor for detailing Greeks’ problems in Turkey, highlighted by the issue of the Halki seminary located on Heybeliada, one of Istanbul’s Princes’ Islands in Marmara Sea.

“What will we do, if we cannot raise men of the cloth? Our metropolitan bishops in Europe are over 70 years old. The ones here are 75 years old. Now, who will I nominate to this post,” said the patriarch, who will turn 70 this February. “Why should we nominate people to this post who were not raised in Turkey and educated on Heybeliada?” he asked.

“The seminary was open during Ottoman rule; [Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk [founder of Turkish Republic] did not close it down. But it was wrongly closed down in 1971, since it did not have university status but was a vocational school for higher education,” he said.

The patriarch said they were open to any formula to open Halki seminary again, saying, “Whether it will have the status of a school, university or anything else, we want to raise men of the cloth and the state should give this opportunity to us.”

Patriarch Bartholomew also said that Halki should be opened according to the Lausanne Treaty, which was signed July 24, 1923 between the Triple Entente from World War I and the newly established Turkish Republic.

“Minorities can open schools for giving religious education by covering the costs themselves, says the Lausanne Treaty. We had one and it is closed down, we don’t want [an additional] right, we want what Lausanne had given us,” he said.

The patriarch said although they had heard that there were ongoing discussions regarding Halki in Ankara, their opinions had not been asked. He said he talked to State Minister Egemen Bağış about the matter, and the latter told him to organize a commission and have discussions.

[HH] ‘Deep State?’

Patriarch Bartholomew said the government was in favor of opening the Halki seminary but it still has not opened.

“I guess the deep state does not want it [open]. Hüseyin Çelik once said, ‘I would immediately open it if it was my decision only.’ Nimet Çubukçu also said ‘there is no legal barrier.’ Why is it not opened yet? It is stuck somewhere,” he said.

He said the issue has nothing to do with reciprocity, or giving rights to Turks living in western Thrace. “We are being held hostages for the Turks living in Cyprus and western Thrace, but we are Turkish citizens. And we want our rights as Turkish citizens,” he said.

The patriarch also complained that despite official freedom of worship in Turkey, his community has not remained in Turkey because of historical incidents in which Greeks were forced to leave the country, notably the incidents of Sept. 6-7, 1955 and other events in 1964. “We are now around 3,000 people living in Turkey,” he said.

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