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December 21, 2009

Greece Lashes Out at Turkey's Criticism

Greece Lashes Out at Turkey's Criticism of Orthodox Leader

Monday, December 21, 2009
ATHENS – Agence France-Presse

Greece hit back Sunday at Turkey's criticism of the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians for saying that minority Greeks in Turkey are treated like second-class citizens and feel "crucified sometimes."

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, also leader of some 2,000 Orthodox Greeks in largely Muslim Turkey, made the remarks in an interview with U.S. television station CBS to be aired Sunday.

Greece's foreign ministry responded that among Turkey's obligations for joining the European Union is "that respect for the freedom of religion and the rights of minorities takes first place."

Bartholomew "is known for his wisdom and moderation, and for his unwavering support for Turkey's membership of the EU," foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras said in a statement.

"It is the duty of all, and mainly those who carry responsibility for the situation of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Greek minority, to pay attention," the spokesman added.

In excerpts of the interview released ahead of its full broadcast, Bartholomew said: "We are treated … like second-class citizens. We do not feel like we can enjoy our full rights as Turkish citizens."

But he ruled out the option of leaving Turkey, saying, "We prefer to stay here, even crucified sometimes."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto─člu rejected accusations of religious discrimination by his government.

"We regard the use of the crucifixion simile as extremely unfortunate. … I would like to see this as an undesired slip of the tongue," Davuto─člu told reporters Saturday.

"We cannot accept comparisons that we do not deserve," the minister said.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul dates from the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire, which collapsed in 1453 when the city fell to the Ottoman Turks, and Bartholomew represents the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians.

Ankara does not interfere with the patriarchate's religious functions, though it withholds recognition of his ecumenical title, treating him only as the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Greeks still living in the country.