The Phanar meeting

The Phanar meeting

It was “just” a return visit for a visit by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew to the Religious Affairs Directorate a year ago to congratulate the new director, Mehmet Görmez. It was a get together of a top Muslim man of religion with a Greek Orthodox man of religion. Whatever, it was a historic occasion.

The Greek Orthodox patriarch was considered for decades by this state as a “local Phanar patriarch” which under Turkish law was not even a national institution, forget being an ecumenical one. The patriarch and the patriarchate were like a “dagger in the chest” of the nation, “working constantly against Turkish interests” as if it was “an agent of Greece.”

Indeed, even today many people in this country still share the paranoia that like the Vatican the patriarch is trying to carve out a holy “Ecumenical Greek Orthodox Patriarchate” city in Istanbul. For that reason the patriarchate and rich Greeks were constantly suspected of buying out properties in the historical heartland of the largest Turkish city. Restoration of rights of minority foundations and such developments were all condemned as the government was giving in to international pressure and surrendering to Greek utopias.

Such considerations were of course all products of the past traumas the Turkish nation suffered. Be they be classified as “Balkan defeat syndrome” or the “Sevres Syndrome” of course such conditions should have been healed long ago and should not have been allowed to survive to this day. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) might be undertaking the “Greek opening” or “patriarchate opening” with a neo-Ottomanist overconfidence – like Sultan Mehmet II, who conquered Constantinople, today’s Istanbul, and after the conquest provided the patriarchate with vast powers.

The visit of Religious Affairs Director Görmez to the patriarchate yesterday was important and heralded a mentality change in official Ankara. If after almost 90 years the republic could understand that the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate is an asset not a threat, perhaps tomorrow the same official Ankara will succeed in understanding that rather than a security threat an ecumenical patriarchate might be an efficient tool in better explaining Turkey’s positions to the global community of nations. Perhaps, as Görmez underlined while leaving the patriarchate, Ankara will manage to understand as well that the Halki Seminary must be reopened and the “Greeks of Turkey” and those following the “Greek Orthodox Church” all through the world can raise their men of religion at a “Turkish education institution.”

At a time when “grandiose obsessions” of the current political Islamist team reached the limits of building at Çamlıca a grand mosque with at least six minarets and visible all through the city, a “grandiose gesture” like the first-ever visit to the patriarchate by a religious affairs director might indeed demonstrate the sui generis character of this land and people.

A multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious society was the richness of the Ottomans. Is Turkey indeed not remembering that historical treasure as it is trying to leave behind that rigid, uniform, secular nation-building mentality?