MUSTAFA AKYOL > Why do they hate the Ecumenical Patriarchate?

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The other night, I hosted Emre Öktem, an associate professor of international law, on my weekly TV program called “Political Reason.” Our main focus was the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its still-closed Halki Seminary, which has once again become a matter of public debate after a visit to the patriarchate by Turkey’s top Islamic authority.

Dr. Öktem, an expert on non-Muslim minorities in Turkey, not only explained how the Ecumenical Patriarchate suffered official oppression in modern-day Turkey, but he also argued how things should change. We both agreed that the Halki Seminary, which has been closed since 1971, should be reopened, and that no Turkish authority should ever make an issue out of the name of the patriarchate. (The word “Ecumenical” has been rejected vehemently by Turkish officials.)

We also agreed that this is simply a matter of religious freedom, a principle which should be advanced on both side of the Aegean. (Greece, for example, should change its shameful policy of not allowing even a single mosque in Athens and insisting that its Turkish citizens are not really Turks.)

It all sounded very logical, and I actually wondered why anyone would disagree with all this. Very soon, though, I found out. On the way back home from the studio, I turned on the radio and came across another political discussion show focusing on the same issue.

One of the participants was an academic from Marmara University: Nurşen Mazıcı, a female professor of history and a committed Kemalist. Dr. Mazıcı had all the looks that a Western observer could take as evidence of “liberalism.” (When they come to this part of this world, some Westerners readily assume that a woman who wears a modern outfit with chic makeup rather than a headscarf is, by definition, a “liberal.”) But she was in fact defending the most illiberal stance on the patriarchate: Yes, Greeks in Turkey should have the “right to worship,” she said, but the Halki Seminary should be kept closed and the word “Ecumenical” should never be allowed.

But why? According to Ms. Mazıcı, all answers were rooted in history. She argued that, during the fall of the Ottoman Empire, some of the Armenian or Greek institutions were used as secret weapons and ammunition caches that were later used against Turkish forces. This, she, said, was enough of a reason for modern-day Turks to look at these Christian institutions “with suspicion.”

At that moment, I desperately wanted to be in the same studio to ask her:
“So, do you really think that if the Halki Seminary was reopened, bombs and rifles would soon be stockpiled there to be used by the 3,000 Greeks that have remained in Istanbul against 70 million Turks?”

A minute later, Dr. Mazıcı insisted that the patriarchate should never be allowed to use the word “Ecumenical.” Her reasoning was mind-boggling: The world, particularly the United States, was pressuring Turkey to set the patriarchate fully free, and heeding that advice would be “subservience to America.”

With the same line of reasoning, one could have argued that Turkey had to torture its citizens systematically as it did until a decade ago, because otherwise it would be “subservient” to the European Union, which has pressured Ankara to respect human rights.

This is the intellectual level and the moral quality of the enemies of religious freedom in Turkey. It is a sad fact that they cannot be convinced for the better. But it is a refreshing fact that they are more marginal than they used to be.


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ahmet babagan

8/17/2012 11:23:22 AM

Turkish minority is around 55.000-60.000 souls in Northern Thrace. The rest is a mixture who barely understand or want to know Turkish. We leave there and work with these ppl every day. Stop the propaganda. No other country has given a shelter to muslim minorities like Greece. Ask Bulgarian Turks what suffering they went through in the last 30 years. Greece was a safeheaven for all religions, but if Turkey continues to move illegal anatolian immigrants to its soil things will change rapidly

Deniz Can

7/25/2012 2:26:42 PM

Mr. Akyol It seems that you enjoy reading the comments of readers who you have consciously been provoking.I several times criticised you because of not being objective and brave enough, as you are against Kemalist-nationalism, to see the NEO-ORTODOX-SUNNISM policy of the AKP.What you had written in the past about the AKP and this article made clear that you are a defender of AKP’s policy even better than the real team-players of the AKP. Your biased intellectuality is not interesting any more!

The Lion

7/14/2012 2:30:13 AM

Thessalonian, the fact that you're acting as if this is some sort of victory on your part (you must live a sad lonely life) instead of a nice gesture on the part of the Turkish government demonstrates how correct it was to close it in the first place. You go on to write "Islamist" votes when it's the Islamists who are doing the nice gesture in the first place. I'm not one of them but I find this observation amusing. I hope they see that there's no point reasoning with the christian Taliban.

The Lion

7/13/2012 9:10:29 AM

peter boulas, they have everything to do with each other. "Muslim" minority? Why so hard to say TURKISH minority. Wow, 50,000 compared to 30,000 when we're talking about countries with populations larger than 10 million.

The Lion

7/13/2012 9:07:28 AM

john the turk, I'd hardly qualify it as "invaluable".

The Lion

7/13/2012 9:02:58 AM

Tevfik Alp, please elaborate?

kerem atan

7/12/2012 1:08:28 PM

@peter boulas do you think turks should also call greek minority 'orthodox Turks' as well now that greek society denies the ethnicity of its minorities and labels them as their religions rather than the ethnicities. turkish minority in greece has been isolated for years as their turkish ethnicity is seen as a threat by the greek state. so u act like theres no turkish in greece and try to assimilate them whilst u can talk about re-opening your symbolic Halki Seminary for 3 000 greeks in Turkey.


7/12/2012 12:12:42 AM

Turkey has ran out of excuses and at the same time the international pressure has reached new highs. The Ecumenical Patriarchate's Halki Seminary will be allowed to resume its divinely intended function despite all the opposition of ultranationalist Turks which one comes face to face with on this forum. Erdogan's admin is stalling as they must figure a way to save face with their Islamist voters...Regards

Nikos T.

7/11/2012 8:17:18 PM

@Alil, the Patriarchate of Constantinople is there till before 400 a.C. and the scool of Chalki was established in 858 a.C. Nobody, NOBODY did what modern Turkey has done to them in 1971 by closing the school of Chalki. Even your ancestors did not ban it from this city. You should not feel very proud a bout your proposals.


7/11/2012 7:15:46 PM

on the way back home, radia can be listened.. i have got it wrong :S. a last comment, the words of Mazıcı are poor pieces of conspiracy-driven worries. and really illiberal but in Turkey, still it somehow sounds logical to some people..
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