17 March 2010
An advisory body to the Council of Europe has stated that it sees no reason, either factual or legal, including the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, for Turkish authorities not to address the Fener Greek patriarch by his historical and generally recognized title, which is “ecumenical.”
“As regards the right of the Orthodox Patriarchate to use the title ‘ecumenical,’ the Commission holds that any interference with this right would constitute a violation of the autonomy of the Orthodox Church under Article 9 ECHR [European Convention on Human Rights],” an opinion paper penned by the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters composed of independent legal experts, said. Article 9 of the ECHR covers freedom of thought, conscience and religion. “The Commission notes that there is no indication that Turkish authorities prevent the Patriarchate from using this title and that Turkish authorities are under no positive obligation to themselves use this title. The Commission nevertheless fails to see any reason, factual or legal, for the authorities not to address the Ecumenical Patriarchate by its historical and generally recognised title,” the paper said.
The Opinion on the Legal Status of Religious Communities in Turkey and the Right of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Istanbul to use the Adjective “Ecumenical,” was penned upon a request from the president of the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in April 2009. It was adopted during a plenary session held in Venice on March 12-13.
Ankara rejects Patriarch Bartholomew’s use of the title “ecumenical,” or universal, arguing instead that the patriarch is merely the spiritual leader of İstanbul’s dwindling Greek Orthodox community. The Fener Greek Patriarchate in İstanbul dates back to the 1,100-year-old Byzantine Empire, which collapsed when the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453.
Turkish officials argue that Turkey doesn’t consider the patriarchate to be ecumenical in line with the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which governs the status of the Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey. The Venice Commission noted that the basis for the Turkish authorities and the Supreme Court of Appeals’ denial of the ecumenical nature of the Patriarchate seems at least in part the Treaty of Lausanne, which was concluded in 1923 between the Republic of Turkey on the one hand and the British Empire, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania and the Serb-Croat-Slovene state.
“The argument appears to be that the Patriarchate was only allowed to remain in Istanbul on the condition that it would shed its ecumenical status. This argument cannot be supported for several reasons,” it said, listing those reasons: “First, even assuming that there was a conflict between the ECHR and the provisions of the Lausanne Treaty the latter does not prevail over the first … Second, there is nothing on the ‘ecumenical’ nature of the Patriarchate in the provisions of the treaty itself, which do not mention the Patriarchate at all … Third, recourse to the preparatory work of the Lausanne Treaty or the circumstances of its conclusion as supplementary means of interpretation (Article 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties) do not lead to a different conclusion.” The commission concluded, “The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne therefore in no way limits the right of the Patriarchate to use the title ‘ecumenical’.”