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ARIANA FERENTINOU > Religious Affairs head's visit to patriarchate

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“What are you doing here?” I asked a former student of mine whom I had spotted among a crowd of Turkish journalists at the steps of the entrance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, in the ancient neighborhood of Fener on the Golden Horn. 

Holding her mike, her mobile and her notebook, this eager young journalist reporting for one of the main Turkish channels looked excited: “It is the first visit by the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate to the Greek Patriarch. It is Mehmet Görmez who is coming!” She got a bit confused when I told her that this is not the first but the second visit by a head of Diyanet – the first being by Mehmet Nuri Yılmaz in 2001 – but she insisted that this was the first “official” visit as her sources at Diyanet assured her. 

Apparently she was right about the importance given to the visit by the Turkish side as a hundred or more Turkish reporters rushed last week to the see of Orthodox Christianity accompanied by their channels’ OB vans to send live pictures of that “historic” visit, as it was described by almost everybody. This unanimous editorial decision to give such importance to the visit of the head of Turkish Islam to Fener, though, apparently was not shared by the Greek media as only two of their representatives were there to cover the event. 

Strictly speaking, Dr. Görmez’s visit was a return courtesy for the ecumenical patriarch’s visit last year to Dr. Görmez in his office in Ankara to congratulate him for his appointment as the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate. So what was the reason for such excitement on the Turkish part?

Dr. Görmez’s long statement during his joint press conference with Patriarch Bartholomew was very supportive toward the right of religious minorities in Turkey to be able to provide their own religious education and to educate their own religious representatives; even more than that he stressed that it does not become such a great county like Turkey to allow the discussion of “reciprocity” between Turkey and Greece to go on. That was all very positive and was actually seconded by the statement on the same day by government spokesman Hüseyin Çelik, who said the reopening of the Halki Seminary is a right granted to the Greek Orthodox community of Istanbul by the Lausanne Treaty. So on one level one has no other option but to share the excitement of the Turkish media and look forward to the imminent reopening of the Halki Seminary.

However, the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Greek media but more than that, the indirect and carefully phrased conditionalities that were included in the address of Dr. Görmez toward the ecumenical patriarch, toned down my expectations. Before his visit to Fener, he had received many messages from Muslims in Western Thrace who were asking him to communicate their issues to the patriarch and he shared these issues with his All Holiness, said Dr. Görmez adding that among those issues is the building of a mosque in Athens. 

Some say that the meaning of the visit by Dr. Görmez under such publicity was to prepare Turkish public opinion for the opening of the Halki Seminary. Others, though, may point out that if there was a real wish to take such a step, the visit would not need to be publicized. The question at this stage is if the “reciprocity” issue is to be discarded, why are we still speaking about the “Athens mosque” and the problems of the Muslim community in Western Thrace?

At any rate, as the ecumenical patriarch said “the infrastructure is ready, as soon as we receive the signal from Ankara, we can open the seminary tomorrow.”

July/09/2012

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