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Letter to Human Rights Watch about the status
of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greeks in Turkey

by Theodore G. Karakostas


I am writing to you to bring to your attention the status of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek minority in Turkey. I remain greatful to you for responding to previous letters that I have sent you.I would appreciate whatever attention you can give to the concerns outlined below.

To date, there has been no improvement in the status of Turkey's Ethnic Greek population nor has there been any attempt by the government in Ankara to stabilize this community's status by lifting its present blockade against the Patriarchate of Constantinople which represents the centuries long persecution and survival of the Hellenic population under Turkish rule. The blockade I am referring to is the Turkish government's forceful closure of the Patriarchate's Theological Seminary on the island of Halki in the Sea of Marmara.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate is a worldwide center of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It hold a primacy of honor over the Orthodox Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Finland, and the Czech Republic. It is an institution that claims as its founder one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ, Saint Andrew. The Patriarchate has moved from the Church of the Holy Wisdom (Aghia Sophia) following the Turkish conquest to different Churches over the centuries but it has remained in the same city during the era of the Byzantine Empire and predates the arrival of the Turks by well over a century.

The closure of the Halki Seminary is a violation of human rights and religious freedom. It is a move meant by the Turkish authorities to finish off the Greek Orthodox population that is supposed to be protected by the Treaty of Lausanne. Earlier in the century, the Ottomans engaged in a genocidal policy of extermination against its Greek population.

By 1923, only 100,000 Greeks remained in Turkey whereas well over one and a half million had existed in Turkey during the previous few years. Over the last several years, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been bombed four times, at least 2 Greek Orthodox cemetaries have been desecrated, and several individuals of Greek descent have been murdered.Human rights abuses against the Greek community continue.

The closure of the Patriarchal Seminary of Halki is state sponsored discrimination. In my view, the stature of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, holy to millions of Orthodox Christians, is worthy of attention as are its still suffering faithful in Turkey. In January 1998, a caretaker of a Greek Church was brutally murdered. In the fall of 1999, a six year old Greek boy on the Island of Imbros was burned to death following an arson attack.

Sir, I have been following the coverage of Human Rights Watch for several years. In all candor, I must state that there seems to be a total and complete indifference to the plight of Greeks under Turkish rule in both Turkey as well as Turkish occupied Cyprus. I am alarmed at the continued absence of any coverage of human rights violations by Turkey in Cyprus. Indeed, the failure of HRW to document the brutal and politically motivated murders of Greek Cypriots Tasos Isaac and Solomos Solomou in 1996 remains disturbing.

For research purposes, I would be interested in learning what criteria is used to determine what will be documented in both the annual HRW World Report as well as individual Country Reports. There has been a long and consistant pattern of neglecting the Greeks of Turkey and Cyprus, and it is troubling that ethnic cleansing by Turkey is greeted with such silence at a time when Ankara is also declaring war on history by denying the Armenian genocide and intimidating politicians in America thus exporting their Kemalist censorship abroad. At present, Turkey is continuing to declare war on its Kurds and Ankara continues to be responsible for the dissapearances and torture of its own people. The reason why Turkey is politically retarded and why it is an enormous cesspool of human rights violations is because the leadership of the Young Turks and Mustafa Kemal were allowed to slaughter millions of Christian Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians and were never punished nor forced to confront the truth.

Today, the last Greeks of Turkey are dismissed as insignificent. This is a shame and a tragedy. The Greeks of Turkey and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, who are the heirs of the survivors of Turkey's campaigns of mass murder and genocide link the past and present of Turkey. The burning of Smyrna and the extermination of the Greeks and the refusal of the world to punish the Turkish leadership for the genocide of Armenians and Greeks paved the way for all the present day atrocities ocurring in both the prisons of Turkey as well as in the mountains of Kurdistan.

Human Rights institutions should find the continued closing of Halki troubling. Halki is a theological Seminary and a place of learning. What better symbol is there to illustrate how an authoritarian and undemocratic state like Turkey turns its back on the concepts of learning and enlightenment. One can see the evolution of Turkish paranoia over three decades when Turkish state policy evolved fromclosing a Christian Seminary to prohibiting Islamic headdress for Muslim women.

Once again, I am writing to Human Rights Watch hoping to make a case for documenting the plight of Greeks in Turkey. I have attempted as best I could to place Turkey's Greeks and their history, along with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in the proper context where they belong. It is my belief that silence is censorship and there has been too much silence as far as Turkey is concerned.

Sir, in the past HRW has responded to my letters by claiming there are not enough resources to cover the Greeks of Turkey. In January 1999, HRW published a country report on the Muslims of Thrace. Furthermore, HRW gave a grant to a Muslim from Thrace, Abdulhalim Dede for alleged "past persecution" by Greek authorities. HRW admits that this individual was imprisoned "for installing an antenna without a permit" yet concludes that "Mr. Dede was singled out primarily because he is a Turk".

I seriously wonder if there will be any similar honors coming for Cypriots Tasos Isaac, (beaten to death by Turkish forces) or Solomos Solmou, who was shot to death by a Turkish sniper when he proceeded to engage in a form of political protest by removing a Turkish flag from a flag pole. I do not see any such recognition for Titina Loizidou, a Greek Cypriot women who's property has been stolen by the Turkish army. Or perhaps for the 1,600 or so Greek Cypriots missing ever since Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974.

Other candidates for recognition by HRW might be Patriarch Bartholomeos, victim of four assasination attempts, as well as Metropolitan Iakovos a member of the Holy Synod who was arrested by Turkish Police in 1997. I would like to know why HRW cannot document the Greeks of Turkey and Cyprus who's existence is threatened and who's political plight cannot possibly be compared with the tolerance shown by Greek authorities towards the Muslims of Thrace?

In concluding, I respectfully ask for information regarding what criteria HRW uses to document a particular community in general. How much time and resources are used to document the Muslims of Thrace and why can't some of those be used to document the Greeks of Turkey and Cyprus in the interests of historical and political fairness and accuracy. I look forward to a response.



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