Foreign Minister steps in to facilitate the building of a church

Foreign Minister steps in to facilitate the building of a church

Istanbul’s historic district of Beyoğlu under Mayor Misbah Demircan has set a custom that suits Istanbul’s history well by starting the “Beyoğlu Conversations.”

The tradition of talking and discussing is central to Istanbul’s culture. It is the faith and human diversity of the city. It is the genuine and truthful conversations between people of all faiths, religions, cultures and races. 

It is an environment where ideas can be expressed freely.  The venue where the meeting took place was Pera Palas which makes it more meaningful. 

At an event the other day, the guest of the evening was Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who replied with all his sincerity to all the questions raised. 

At one point, the representative of the Syriac Church said something in Çavuşoğlu’s ear. Minister Çavuşoğlu responded to his question and said “How come? Why should that church not be built? One minute…” 

The representative later responded and said “Yes, permission from the Vatican is needed in terms of the venue…”

The minister later told his executive assistant to solve the problem immediately, starting from tomorrow right away, and if necessary, the Vatican will be contacted to solve the issue of finding a venue for the church.”

At first, I could not understand what exactly this was. I asked Yusuf Sağ from the Syriac Church sitting next to me. Sağ told me, “Syriacs do not have a church in Istanbul. For this reason we were in search for a venue.

There is a plot owned by a Vatican foundation in Yeşilköy in Istanbul, however we could not overcome bureaucratic procedures. Because there is a cemetery on the land, the approval of the Vatican is necessary.

For this reason, we asked Mr. Minister’s help… He has shown great courtesy. This the kind of understanding that humanity needs.” 

The way Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu handled the issue, as a matter of fact, is the best way coexistence and peace could be achieved. I wish the entire world could live this way. 

“We should do our absolute best to lift the obstacles preventing the construction of this church. We should talk to our Ambassador in the Vatican. We believe all kinds of faith can live together,” these words said by Çavuşoğlu are especially important. 

On the table I sat, I was surrounded with people from many faiths; Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu, Mayor of Beyoğlu Demircan, Deputy Patriarch of the Turkish Syriac Catholic Church Yusuf Sağ, Turkish Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva, acting head of the Armenian Patriarchate in Turkey Aram Ateşyan, Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Yusuf Çetin and Archbishop Bartholomew. 

Father Sağ spoke about the culture in Mardin, the southeasten province, from thousands of years back. His classmate is the businessman Zeynel Abidin Erdem. 

A little later, renowned arabesque musician Orhan Gencebay told us the story on how he wrote his beloved song “Batsın bu dünya.” This richness of faith and thoughts enlighten a typical Beyoğlu evening like a picture painted by all colors of humanity. It caught my attention how during that evening, all speakers emphasized their wish to coexist in peace.  

Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu later spoke on several issues. He criticized the EU and said it should reveal its good intentions toward Turkey now. But, he said he finds the EU hypocritical, “I see that the EU which says something about every matter in Turkey but does not question the HDP (Kurdish issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party). Why don’t you put a distance between your party and the PKK (the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ party)?” He also touched upon problems caused by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and asked why they target us often: “It is because our discourses prevent them from gaining grassroots.

They cannot be popular among Muslims because we are the ones who say ‘there is nothing Islamic in the things they do.’” 

He said he wants the Halki Seminary to be opened. He later spoke about the capital punishment, and how there is mounting pressure coming from the nation on this matter. However, the EU, instead of forming a dialogue with the government, they issue statements with an arrogant attitude. They speak in a demanding tone. This increases the people’s reaction; whereas we are in favor of a continuous dialogue with the EU, he stressed. He said the EU had double standards for having Switzerland deport a member of the PKK or DHKP-C; but later Germany accepts them. 

There are three aspects of this evening that I will remember. First, Çavuşoğlu’s respect for freedom of belief and his gesture; second is everybody’s demand to cohabit in peace. Then, there is the need to increase Turkey’s capacity to explain itself to the world.