Turkish, Greek premiers in surprise Qatar summit
DOHA - Anatolia News Agency
Turkish PM Erdoğan (R) meets with Greece’s Samaras (L) in Qatar’s Doha. AA photo
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with Greek counterpart Antonis Samaras for an unexpected, 40-minute meeting in Doha yesterday to discuss the issue of Western Thrace.
Erdoğan also offered Ankara’s help in building a mosque in Athens. “We said it would be important for Muslims coming to Athens for tourism and other purposes to have a place to worship. Mr. Samaras was warm to the idea – they said the move has already passed Parliament,” he said, adding that such mutual steps made in good faith would aid in reconciliation.
The meeting comes amid renewed talk of reopening Istanbul’s Halki Greek Orthodox seminary. The Education Ministry and Turkey’s Higher Education Board (YÖK) have accelerated work for its reopening upon instructions from Erdoğan, according to media reports.
During his talk with Samaras, Erdoğan discussed the issues of restrictions on Turks and Muslims living in Western Thrace, including the freedom of worship, the establishment of associations, the right to own property and the appointment of 240 religious teachers for the community, according to Anatolia news agency.
Samaras was in Qatar to attract foreign investment to his debt-ridden country. Erdoğan also told reporters that he had invited the Greek prime minister to Ankara.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who declared Jan. 28 that the Turkish government was in favor of reopening Halki, also expressed his disappointment about Greece’s attitude concerning the needs of muftis in the region.
“Greece has taken the right to appoint muftis and teachers from the hands of the Turkish community. Our Foreign Minister [Ahmet Davutoğlu] told them [at the time], ‘Would you like us to appoint the [Greek] patriarch?’ stating that this attitude was unfriendly,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate cautiously welcomed the reports. “A mixed commission or a discussion group has to be established and the patriarchate’s opinion should be taken. The patriarchate has to know what the state can do in the existing judicial frame, so it can figure out their demands. They should go further than give a message. We trust Prime Minister Erdoğan in this matter,” an ecclesiastical source said.
The Supreme Court decided in 1971 that all higher education facilities had to be connected to a state university. The Halki Seminary, located on Heybeliada island in the Marmara Sea off Istanbul, was considered a “private higher education facility” at the time, and so had to be tied to a state university or a state seminary in order to stay open after the ruling. As the patriarchate was unwilling to affiliate the school with a Turkish university, the seminary was closed down.