Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since the creation, in 1923, of the Turkish Republic, Turkey has always declared its intention to become part of the Western world. Turkey declares that she considers all her citizens equal, regardless of their ethnic origin or creed.

 It is just because of our great desire to see the Turkish Republic change into a modern European country, that we can’t but express our bitterness and our grief for the events of the past:  The pogrom against ethnic Greeks in 1955, the selective taxation of non-muslims in 1942, the exclusive military mobilization and confinement in forced labour camps of Christians aged between 20-40 years in 1941, the outrageous secret decree of 1964, whereby Greek minority members of non-Turkish citizenship were deprived of even the right to inherit their families’ property, after having been massively expelled from the country.  What is left today of the once 270,000-strong and prosperous Greek minority in Istanbul, former Constantinople, is just 2000 elderly people.

 The Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate is another survivor, whose spiritual and cultural importance to the World vastly exceeds that of the remnants of the Greek minority. Today’s Turkey should be judged, in matters of religious freedom, according to its conduct towards holy institutions like this one.

 The  « Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople or New Rome » is  one of the two most prominent institutions of Christendom, the other one being the Holy See in Rome. Having served for almost two millenia as the spiritual beacon for all Orthodox Christians, its seniority is acknowledged and respected by all other Orthodox Patriarchates and Autocephalus (autonomous) Churches. The Ecumenical Patriarch’s rank in the Orthodox Church as « primus inter pares » among all Orthodox Patriarchs  is the equivalent of that of the Pope as « primus solus » in the Catholic Church .

 Indeed, the leaders of other Christian denominations and even the ones of other creeds, as well as international organisations, including the European Union, acknowledge the international spiritual importance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and recognize the Patriarch as an official interlocutor of theirs.

 Modern Turkey however,  the host  country to the Patriarchate, has always treated it with mistrust and sometimes  with open hostility.  Turkey does not recognize the Patriarchate’s ecumenical character and claims it exists only to serve the religious needs of the -hardly surviving-  remnants of the Greek minority of Constantinople, thus degrading the Patriarchate to the level of a simple parish. His All Holliness the Ecumenical Patriarch is dealt with by the Turkish state at the level of the Deputy Prefect of Istanbul, a middle-rank bureaucrat of the Ministry of the Interior.

 Besides, a 1923  Decree  (teshkere), which provides that  only  prelates living in Turkey and are of Turkish nationality are eligible for the dignity of  Ecumenical Patriarch, unfairly  limits the pool from which candidates can be drawn, since Turkey’s Greek Orthodox minority has been reduced to 2000 elderly people, as I stated before.

 What is more, Turkish authorities and courts have been denying the Patriarchate its legal personality, depriving it, thus, from the right to own property. Even the Patriarchate’s building in Fener is registered in the local land registry as the property of St Dimitrius! The Ecumenical Patriarchate  receives no subsidies from the State ; on the contrary, the administration of a number of its assets has arbitrarily been taken over by the Government.

The fact that the Turkish state does not recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s legal personality also causes many difficulties to the  Patriarch’s freedom to travel abroad or to receive official visitors such as the Presidents of Germany and Poland.

     Another issue of major importance is that of the Theological Seminary of Heybeliada ( Halki), a higher education Divinity School which was closed by the Turkish Government in 1971.

It should be noted that the Holy Theological Seminary of Halki  was the  single most important institution to prepare highly educated clerics  intended for appointment to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Even foreigners used to come from abroad  to follow the courses of the Seminary and get the appropriate education. 12 Ecumenical Patriarchs, 2 Patriarchs of Antiocheia, 5 Archbishops and 920 other high-ranking clerics have graduated from the Seminary.

Therefore, since the Seminary’s closure, the Patriarchate has been deprived of the means to train new clergy, among whom the next Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch   will have to be selected.

        The reopening of the Seminary of Halki is  essential not only for  the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but also for  the  Orthodox Christian  world in general and, naturally, for Turkey itself, in its supposed course towards  joining the  European family.

Looking at the justifications being given by the Turkish Republic for not reopening the School, we will explain why these justifications are unfounded.

 They accuse us of attempting to discredit Turkey by seeking the re-opening of the Theological School of Halki. This is untrue. We ardently stand up for a democratic Turkey within the bosom of the West, a Turkey that would respect its obligations stemming from the international legal instruments it is a party to. If we sound unpleasant by telling the truth, it is not our fault.

 Turkey maintains that she has not acknowledged any special rights to any of its minorities. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne however, cornerstone of the creation of the modern Turkish state, in its articles 37-44 entitled “Protection of the Minorities”, clearly provides for full freedom of minority religious and other institutions.

 The Turkish side also maintains that the Turkish Constitution and various Turkish Laws prohibit the function of the Theological School of Halki, but ignores, that the School functioned continuously for 127 years, according to Ottoman Laws and the Constitutions and Laws of the Turkish State.  It should be stressed that no state can invoke its internal legislation in order to evade its international obligations.

They maintain that the Turkish Republic is a secular country and conveniently “forget” that a secular country is one that provides religious freedom. They intentionally ignore the way secular countries function, for example France, where all major religions are free to establish educational institutions.

 They maintain that the Ecumenical Patriarchate refuses to operate the School under the supervision of the Turkish state. However, the Turkish Republic is in full knowledge that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has never rejected the re-opening of the Theological School of Halki under the same conditions within which it had functioned for 127 years. When the School was open, the “Regulations of the School’s Function” were always approved in regular intervals by the appropriate Turkish authorities.

 Ladies and Gentlemen,

 An international campaign has begun as of this January. This campaign is addressed to the President of the Turkish Republic and to 5.000 personalities of international political and religious life and constitutes an appeal for the reopening of the Holy Seminary of Halki.

 We kindly request all those who have the same appreciation for human and religious rights to add their voice to the campaign of THEMIS, a project of a US non-governmental organization named HEC . This campaign is supported by 64 international associations and has collected thousands of signatures from 65 different countries the world over for the reopening of the Theological School of Halki. You, also, may do so, at the electronic address

 We ask from the Turkish Republic to honor its obligations towards its own citizens and the international community, by allowing the reopening of the Theological School of Halki.

 Finally, we ask from all of you to add your voice to the just request for the reopening of the Theological School of Halki, under the same conditions within which it had functioned for 127 years.

 Thank you for your attention.


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