US House subcommittee calls Turkish gov’t to reopen Halki

US House subcommittee calls Turkish gov’t to reopen Halki

WASHINGTON - Anadolu Agency
US House subcommittee calls Turkish gov’t to reopen Halki

DAILY NEWS photo / Emrah GÜREL

A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee has unanimously approved an advisory resolution to call on the Turkish government to re-open the Heybeliada Halki Seminary without conditions or further delay.

The bill approved by sub-committee on Nov. 19 still has to pass the House Committee on Foreign Affairs before it can be put to the House floor for a full vote. However, even if it would be passed by the House, it does not have binding enforcement power and only has significance as an advisory decision.

“The Justice and Development Party [AKP] raised the hopes of Orthodox Christians all around the world when they announced they would re-open the seminary and a proposed democratization package seemed to be an appropriate channel for this change,” said Bill Keating, a ranking member on the subcommittee, after approval of the resolution on Nov. 19.

The escalated expectations for the inclusion of the Greek Orthodox school on Istanbul’s Heybeliada Island into a package of reforms, so-called democracy package, announced by the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had come to naught, as no steps have been announced.

In addition to this, Erdoğan said the re-opening decision was subject to Greece’s response to Ankara’s demands regarding the election of muftis in Western Thrace, highlighting the opening was not difficult for the government.

Noting his surprise with the exclusion of the opening, Keating also expressed his concern over the prime minister’s recent remarks that requested conditions for the re-opening.

“Since then, Prime Minister Erdoğan’s rhetoric on Halki has taken a turn, and conditions and reciprocity demands are now attached to the re-opening of the school. I fear that this type of rhetoric threatens to undo much of the progress that’s been made in Turkey. Further, it may have a negative impact of dividing Turks, as well as stalling long-awaited progress on the Halki issue and other issues concerning Turkish minority groups,” he said.

The re-opening of the school has been postponed due to a lack of clarity over its status, as well as the principle of reciprocity with Greece, which has refused to allow Turkish minorities to elect their own religious officials.

For some congressmen, the approval was a clear call for the Turkish government to reaffirm its commitment to the U.S. and the West.

“There is no better message they could send to us, to reaffirm their ties with the West, than the seminary in Halki, and making sure that was open and shown as an example of the positive intentions of the Turkish government, of the Turkish people,” said hearing Chairman Dana Rohrabacher.

Congressman Gus Bilirakis also emphasized the importance of Halki for Orthodox Christians, likening it to what the Vatican is for Catholics.

“While Orthodox Christians, and friends of religious freedom has appreciated, over the past decade, encouraging signs from the Turkish government related to the impending opening of the seminary, the deal has not been completed yet. The deal has not been closed. This resolution simply encourages Turkey to take that last affirmative step,” he said.