MURAT YETKİN > Turkey’s Greek Orthodox urges reopening of Halki seminary

A small police car is one of a handful of motor vehicles on Heybeliada (Halki) island off Istanbul.

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A small police car is one of a handful of motor vehicles on Heybeliada (Halki) island off Istanbul. It escorts a phaeton to the Hill of Hope, where we climb with the Greek Patriarch Bartholomew I, who is the 270th holder of the title, to the Greek Orthodox seminary here, which has been closed since 1971.

This was hours before a forest fire started on the other end of the island, triggered by strong north winds and extinguished only by immense effort from fire extinguisher planes and helicopters in the evening hours.

But in the morning, as we entered the 168-year-old institution, the patriarch points at a statue of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who founded the Turkish Republic from the remains of the Ottoman Empire through the War of Liberation fought mainly against the invading Greek army.

“Look at Atatürk’s words inscribed under the bust,” he says ironically. “’The only leader of life is science’ [the words read]. Reading that now we can enter our building which cannot serve as a school.”

Inside, the classrooms, the restrooms, the dispenser, the tennis table are all ready for use as soon as the Turkish government will authorize a local education director of Istanbul.

The legal and financial framework is ready too. Dr. Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, the Metropolitan of Bursa who is set to be the dean of the seminary, if and when it is opened, as well Bartholomew’s probable successor, explains the protocols made with the University of Thessaloniki and contacts possible sponsors for the seminary.

The Halki Seminary designed to train Orthodox priests had been closed when private universities were shut down due to a Constitutional Court ruling after a domestic political row. 

But the patriarch believes it’s all about politics. “We have paid the political bill of the Cyprus conflict,” he says, as the number of Turkey’s Greek Orthodox citizens has eroded down to some three thousand now. “We paid the bill of claimed wrongdoings against Muslims of Western Thrace in Greece. Now Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is mentioning a mosque in Athens. I have no objection to that, but neither have I any authority to do that,” he said.

Recalling promises made by Prime Minister Erdoğan and his ministers in the last ten years of Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) governments, Bartholomew says their patience has “exhausted already;” soon there will be no Turkish-born and trained Greek priests left to keep churches alive in the country.

“So far the government said that the public opinion and the opposition parties would not let it happen,” the 72-year-old patriarch said. “But now there is no visible public reaction to the reopening of the seminary. And in a dinner we had with Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), he not only admitted the former wrongdoings of his party during the one party regime (in place until the 1950s) against the government, but also promised to support the government’s initiative for it. Of course, we prefer the CHP to raise its voice as well, but that is a sign that they will not oppose.”

The Greek Orthodox community of Turkey is on one hand urging the government for an immediate reopening of the seminary and on the other hand considering legal options to force its reopening. This is likely to be an issue in Turkey’s relations with the European Union following the current six month EU presidency of Greek Cyprus, which Turkey refuses to recognize. The Greek Orthodox community relies on their good relations with Turkey’s EU Minister Egemen Bağış, as most of them are his constituency.


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Notice on comments

Ozgur Erhan

6/28/2012 5:07:54 PM

I have no problem with this either. But I just wonder a few things. First why do they need a seminary? Where will the students come from? This is a reasonable question given that in the past figures like Archbishop Makarios were trained here. Second, Turkey has said the seminary can be opened -- but it must be part of the university system and regulated by it. What is wrong with that? The Orthodox are asking to be allowed to step outside the law which applies to everyone else.

Eric Martin

6/19/2012 4:43:13 AM

I have no problem with this. Turks shouldn't fear it.


6/18/2012 10:40:58 PM

Technically, the school has chosen NOT to open its doors. They refuse to be subjected to Turkish laws that govern ALL such schools, especially religious ones and for obvious resons and with more to do with Islam, this is a sensitive topic. Now, is this a technicality that can not be overcome? No. Does this institution that predates Ottomans and Seljuks deserve a special status? Surely. By the way, none of this has anything to do with Turks in Greece. This is a matter for Turkey alone.

Suhail Shafi

6/18/2012 6:26:32 PM

I agree. The opening of the seminary would send a powerful signal improving the status of minorities in Turkey.

Stefanos Kalogirou

6/18/2012 2:10:57 PM

Zöhre and DutchTurk make some sense please! Although there's a thriving muslim minority in Greece (about 500 mosques) (Lausanne Treaty) in Turkey you have eliminated the Greeks (Lausanne treaty out of the window in the worst manner) and now you see no point in opening a theological school for Greeks (of course!)


6/18/2012 3:06:25 AM

Well, some problems should be solved, but Turkey wants Greece to solve it's problems with it's Turkish Muslim minority at the same time, since they can't even use the word Turk for their institutions and their ethnic identity is still being denied. Mr. Bartholomew, about legal actions, since the legal actions of the Turkish minority of Western Thrace at the European Court of Human Rights had no improvement, despite their won case, your case would also not be much different. Need 2 hand to shake.

ilker avni

6/18/2012 2:26:01 AM

Turkey should pratice what it preaches to others,All citizens of a nation should all be treated as one and that includes relgion.Now i understand why Ataturk said "Peace at home peace in the world".With so many ethnic Turks mistreated by the Turkish law, consitution used against its minorities..Turkies biggest shame is how it treats its ethinc Turks and it should change. Now.


6/18/2012 1:46:38 AM

What's the point of reopening Greek Patriarch after destruction of Ottomn Empire?Greeks r no longer nation ofTurkey,they have created Greece for orthodox greeks,n Turks have paid heavy price for it!It would be unwise to educate orthodox priests from a muslim nations than say if they do it from within Greece for themselves!I'd never expect an entirely christian nation educating muslim imams to export toTurkey,as that would be funny,strange n unreliable.so they should respect n giveup their claims

Hamasdegh Mardirossian

6/18/2012 1:36:25 AM

Turkey has become a master of procrastination ,delaying tactics and broken promises as far as the rights of the minorities are concerned.It does not understand as yet that people are watching and evaluating Turkey's claims to be part of Europe.If it persists in that attitude why would any one suppport its application to EU membership ? On what leg would Turkey be able to stand?
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