January 5, 2010

More ‘Comfortable’ After Ergenekon Probe, Patriarchate Calls for Dialogue

Dositheos Anagnostopulos, a spokesperson for the İstanbul-based Greek Orthodox Patriarchate

Todays Zaman
01 January 2010, Friday

A spokesperson for the İstanbul-based Greek Orthodox Patriarchate has said they are now much more comfortable following the ongoing probe into the illegal Ergenekon group but that they need more dialogue with the government in order to discuss issues related to the Halki (Heybeliada) Seminary, closed since 1971.

“Before the arrests related to Ergenekon, Kemal Kerinçsiz was holding demonstrations right here to discredit the patriarchate,” Dositheos Anagnostopulos said pointing at the narrow street in front of his office window going up to the patriarchate's door. “We have been much more comfortable since the Ergenekon investigation started.” He was referring to the ongoing probe into the Ergenekon criminal network accused of plotting to overthrow the government, and Kerinçsiz, arrested as part of the investigation.

Kerinçsiz, who filed frequent complaints against authors speaking outside the official line, is most remembered for having filed a criminal complaint against Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who he accused of “insulting Turkishness.” Shortly after this complaint was filed, Dink was assassinated by an ultranationalist teenager in January 2007.

The spokesperson told Today’s Zaman that the recently exposed Cage plan, a military plot that planned to assassinate non-Muslim figures and detonate explosives in a museum in order to scare the public, making them turn against the ruling party, showed that they had been right to be scared in the past.

Another exposure within the Ergenekon probe was the gang-linked bogus Turkish Patriarchate. Based in İstanbul, this self-declared “Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate” has neither a congregation nor a spiritual base but turned out to be a creation of the Turkish state together with some members of the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey in the 1920s when parts of Anatolia were invaded by the Greeks.

Sevgi Erenerol, who bears the title “media and public relations officer” of the fake patriarchate, was arrested in early 2008 for alleged links to Ergenekon. The Turkish Patriarchate served as a headquarters for the Ergenekon network, according to allegations. Many observers liken the Ergenekon investigation issue to the fight in Italy against Gladio, a NATO paramilitary force left over from the Cold War.

Deadlock continues on Halki Seminary

Despite positive developments after the Ergenekon investigation, some problems persist for the patriarchate; the most burning issue is the closure of the Halki Seminary, the only school where Greek minorities in Turkey used to educate their clergymen. Turkey closed the school in 1971 during a period of tension with Greece over Cyprus and a crackdown on religious education that also included Muslim religious schools.

“The revelations of the last 14-15 months under the Ergenekon probe have shown a lot. Now the patriarch [Bartholomew, spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world] has a question in mind even though he is sure the current government is working for a solution to our problem. So the government is well intentioned, but the problem has not been solved. So there is a grey area,” Anagnostopulos said regarding the mystery behind the school’s closure. He added that this “grey area” might well be related to Ergenekon. In other words, Ergenekon’s extensions within the state structure might be preventing the opening of the Halki Seminary as some government officials have said that there is no reason to keep it closed.

Anagnostopulos referred back to the Aug. 15 visit of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the patriarchate where Erdoğan said that it was possible that there would be a solution to the problem in January 2010, even though he did not specify the problem.

Erdoğan’s statement came following a presentation by the patriarchate’s lawyer Kezban Hatemi about various problems from seized buildings and churches to the Halki Seminary.

Accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu and Turkey’s chief European Union negotiator Egemen Bağış, Erdoğan also paid a visit to the patriarchate’s monastery on Aug. 15.

“The patriarch and Prime Minister Erdoğan were on a balcony which has a view of Heybeliada Island. The patriarch pointed at it and said there is the closed school and invited the delegation to the island for a visit one day. The prime minister did not respond. Bağış said, ‘Gladly,’” Anagnostopulos said. He added that the education minister noted that there is no reason to keep the Halki Seminary closed. Anagnostopulos also said that the school has been under the Ministry of Education until its closure in 1971.

“There is a misperception about how the seminary school worked. It has always been under the Ministry of Education. There has always been a Turkish deputy director. This has never been a problem,” Anagnostopulos said and corrected another misperception that then Greek Cypriot leader Archbishop Makarios was not a graduate of Halki Seminary.

The total number of graduates from the school is 990, and some of them have become clergymen in various places in Turkey and even in Athens. The school has been well kept since there is a functioning monastery on its premises.

Anagnostopulos said the school could be opened with seven or eight students, and the instructors would most likely to be Turkish citizens from the Greek minority community.

He said that the patriarchate is “grateful” if the government has plans to reopen the school but requests dialogue to work on the curriculum.

“The last regulations regarding the school were approved in 1951. The school has been closed for 38 years so there is nobody in the Ministry of Education to deal with a new curriculum. We would be glad if there could be dialogue between Ankara and the patriarchate regarding this issue,” he said. Asked whether or not the patriarchate plans to take the issue to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Anagnostopulos said they do not wish to use that course of action but that Patriarch Bartholomew said that they will have to do that “if deadlock persists.”

No dialogue since CBS program

Some newspaper stories said that Ankara and the patriarchate had had dialogue following a CBS television show where Patriarch Bartholomew made a remark about feeling “crucified” living in Turkey.

However, Anagnostopulos said Ankara in general never talks to the patriarchate directly and that communication goes through the İstanbul Governor’s Office but that there has not been any type of dialogue with Ankara recently.

The patriarch’s words on US television saying Turkey’s Greek Orthodox community feels they are treated as “second-class citizens” and he feels “crucified” living in Turkey angered some but the spokesperson said that the patriarch’s words also demonstrate that people can talk freely about their hardships and this shows Turkey’s democratic standards.

The demand for the reopening of the seminary has been increasingly discussed in regard to the improvement of human rights and democracy in Turkey. Although it is not a direct condition for EU membership, the EU progress reports regarding Turkey mentioned the issue.

During his official visit to İstanbul in April, US President Barack Obama highlighted the importance of freedom of religion and the rights of non-Muslim minorities. Obama held a separate meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew, whose international role as the spiritual leader of hundreds of millions of Orthodox Christians worldwide is not recognized by Ankara.