What if the Patriarch were American?
Yiğit Bulut, the anchorman-turned-prime ministerial chief advisor and the inventor of the famous telekinesis theory (in which dark forces are plotting to murder Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by telekinesis), has a new and equally fascinating theory: A majority of Greeks, if put to a popular referendum, would vote to quit EU membership, turn back the clock 200 years, and rejoin Turkey. Mr. Bulut should refrain from mentioning this theory if he ever travels to Hellenic lands – unless he is in the comfort of friends and has consumed enough ouzo to disqualify him from being taken seriously.
People wonder, naturally, what kind of other advice the generous Mr. Bulut must be offering to the prime minister. An Austrian referendum, which would result in the popular desire to turn back the clock 330 years ago and surrender Vienna to the Turks? An Egyptian referendum, especially these days, for a return to glorious Turkish rule? A Cypriot vote to annex the island to Turkey? Or perhaps the subject of Greece rejoining Turkey should be put to a referendum in Turkey instead of Greece? But if Mr. Bulut genuinely believes in the merits of popular vote in redefining borders, he can always propose to his boss a plebiscite in his own country’s southeast.
While Mr. Bulut was busy formulating eccentric theories – real treasures in the realm of humor - his boss conditioned, once again, “Greek reciprocity” before his government granted legitimate rights to “Turkish” citizens. Mr. Erdogan insists that Greece should take steps to grant broader religious rights to its Turkish minority and build a mosque in Athens if it wants Turkey to reopen the Halki Orthodox theological school – and perhaps to recognize the spiritual leader of world Orthodoxy as ecumenical.
Mr. Erdogan is right that Greece should treat its Turkish minority in full compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights, and European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence. He is right to expect an EU member state to treat an ethnic minority in full compliance with European democratic culture and values, and free from any hint of political paranoia. But he is absolutely wrong to make it a matter of reciprocity when it comes to the legitimate rights of Turkish citizens of non-Turkish origin.
Mr. Erdogan should be able to understand that Turkey’s non-Turkish citizens are Turkish citizens and their rights should not be a matter of reciprocity over how a foreign country treated its own citizens of Turkish origin.
Take the case of the “Ecumenical-but-not-Ecumenical-in-Turkey” Patriarch Bartholomew II, a Turkish citizen residing in Istanbul who happens to be the spiritual leader of world Orthodoxy. As a reader reminded, there is nothing in Orthodoxy to say that the Ecumenical Patriarch must be Greek – there have been many non-Greek Ecumenical Patriarchs. The Patriarch is the ecumenical leader of the Orthodox world; he is not the Patriarch of Greece. The Orthodox leader in Greece is not Patriarch Bartholomew II, but Archbishop Ieronymos II.
Seeking Greek reciprocity is no less absurd than seeking reciprocity for Turkish minority rights in, say, Serbia – or any overwhelmingly Orthodox country - before recognizing the Ecumenical Patriarch as the Ecumenical Patriarch. What if the Patriarch were a Turkish citizen of American origin, or Lebanese?
Would Mr. Erdogan ask Washington to improve Turkish minority rights in the United States before recognizing him as what he is? Would he ask Lebanon to stop kidnapping of Turkish subjects as prerequisite to recognizing the Ecumenical Patriarch? What, really, would he do if the Patriarch were a Turkish citizen of an origin from lands where there is no Turkish minority?
Reciprocity is a nice word connoting justice. But it can be dangerous if used unjustly. As the same reader puts it: “If the Turkish prime minister is really seeking reciprocity maybe Greece should dwindle the Turkish minority to a few thousand through pogroms and deportations.”
It is a demographical fact that the Turkish minority in Greece has grown from 129,000 in 1923 to around 150,000 today; while an estimated 200,000-strong Greek population in Turkey after the 1923 exchange of populations has dramatically shrunk to less than 2,000.
Why, really, have Turkey’s Greeks have disappeared over the past half a century but Greece’s Turks have preferred to remain in their homeland?