Re-opening of Halki will be a ‘positive example’

Re-opening of Halki will be a ‘positive example’

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Re-opening of Halki will be a ‘positive example’

US Ambassador Ricciardone says he has been following developments relevant to the Halki Seminary closely, and is waiting for statements from Turkish officials. AA photo

The U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Francis J. Ricciardone, has said the re-opening of the Halki Greek Orthodox Seminary on Istanbul’s Heybeliada Island will be an important step for religious freedom in Turkey.

Ricciardone said the government could set a positive example with Halki’s re-opening. “Halki Seminary was open from the time of Abdülmecid I, through the time of Atatürk, up until the dark year of 1971,” Ricciardone told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday in Istanbul. “Today, religious minorities in Syria and elsewhere in the region are frightened about the future. I know that the government of Turkey wishes to reassure them by showing a positive example of protection of religious freedom in Turkey.”
The ambassador said he has been following developments relevant to the seminary closely, and is waiting for statements from Turkish officials.

The Greek minority in Turkey has long awaited the opening of the seminary, which was a main center of theological education for more than a century before Turkish authorities closed it in 1971 under a law designed to bring universities under state control. The issue was also on the agenda when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met U.S. President Barack Obama in Seoul on March 25. Obama congratulated Erdoğan for “the efforts that he has made within Turkey to protect religious minorities.”
“I am pleased to hear of his decision to reopen the Halki Seminary,” Obama told reporters.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate’s Dositheos Anagnostopoulos told Reuters yesterday that they were thrilled by the good news about Halki, but he said there had been no official notification yet. “We are looking forward to the news of the re-opening. The mission of this patriarchate is to reach not only Anatolian Greeks but also Orthodox Christians worldwide. Therefore we need youngsters to educate in our religion,” Anagnostopoulos was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the White House’s National Council, issued a written statement underlining that the US believes that a decision by Turkey to re-open this “vital institution of learning… would serve as a significant demonstration of its commitment to strengthening religious freedom in Turkey.”

Turkey’s EU Minister Egemen Bağış said on March 27 that the re-opening of Halki would not pose a threat to Turkey, adding that he hoped Greece would also take positive steps, keeping their responsibilities in mind with regard to the rights of the Turkish minority in northeastern Greece. k HDN