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Bartholomew, Muslims in Greece, defending human rights

Today’s Zaman recently reported on ‘Bartholomew, Muslims in Greece, defending human rights’ written by lawyer, human rights defender and newspaper columnist, Orhan Kemal Cengiz.  Mr. Cengiz was a speaker and panelist in the International Archon Religious Freedom Conference which took place mid-November in Brussels, Belgium.  The conference theme was focused on “Religious Freedom: Turkey’s Bridge to the European Union.”

Today’s Zaman is one of two English-language dailies based in Turkey and reports on domestic and international coverage. Mr. Cengiz’s published article can be read in its entirety below.

Bartholomew, Muslims in Greece, defending human rights

By Orhan Kemal Cengiz


Read this article on Today’s Zaman

There is a small photo accompanying a news story on His All Holiness Bartholomew as he stands between two Muslim clerics who appear in their religious clothes. According to this news piece, this photo, in which Bartholomew posed with two muftis chosen by the Muslims of Western Thrace, sparked a chain reaction in Greece.


Apparently some Greek newspapers and politicians were very angry with Bartholomew, who, in their opinion, lent legitimacy to these Muslim clerics whose power and authority are not recognized by Greece.

After reading this news story I started to read Yavuz Baydar’s interesting piece in Today’s Zaman (“The orphanage back where it belongs”) that criticizes Turkey for its treatment of religious minorities and welcomes the decision to give back the orphanage to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Towards the end of his article, briefly discussing the negative impact of the understanding of “reciprocity” by both the governments of Turkey and Greece, he also called on Greece to treat its own Muslim minority better. Just below his column, a reader commenting bashed Baydar for his mention of the Turkish/Muslim minority in an article in which he was criticizing Turkey. This reader says Turks always include two minorities in the same discussion and, according to this reader, this is a big mistake because the situations of the two minorities are not comparable.

In a conference in Brussels

A couple of weeks ago I was in Brussels attending a conference on freedom of religion. Egemen Bağış, state minister for negotiations with the EU, delivered a speech in the morning session. It was an important conference; his attendance was meaningful and important because it was the first time in history a Turkish minister was attending an event organized by religious minorities in Turkey. Mr. Bağış referred to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate as the Greek Fener Patriarchate. In the afternoon session, I was one of the speakers and opened my speech with criticism of Bagış’s way of addressing the patriarchate. I said the pope is the pope, Muhammad is the Prophet (s.a.w.), Hocaefendi is Hocaefendi and so on, and we all should refer to religious leaders by their proper names. So Bağış should have said Ecumenical Patriarchate. After this, I engaged in rather harsh criticism of Turkey’s official policies on minorities. Regular readers of my column know my opinion on this topic very well.

The second day I was also a speaker on the panel and this time I wanted to discuss the topic from a different angle. I said, “As a human rights defender I really would like to see good examples in Greece in the treatment of Muslim minorities so that I could use it to force my government to do the same thing for non-Muslims in Turkey.” I did not say that the Muslims’ situation in Greece is as bad as that of non-Muslims in Turkey, but that Greece has a lot of problems and that these problems are used by Turkish nationalists to prevent reforms for the improvement of the situation of the Greek minority in Turkey. At the end of the panel discussion, the participants started to ask questions and make comments about our presentations. Then I heard the emotionally charged, hysterical voice of a Greek diplomat criticizing me. She said she never thought that she had to defend Greece, but after hearing me… For two days, we kept criticizing Turkey for every kind of wrongdoing, but just a couple of sentences about Greece caused that lady to lose her temper.

I am really sick and tired of confronting this kind of nationalistic rubbish. As I said in the second day of the conference, being a human rights defender requires confronting the status quo in your home first. No one can be a human rights defender without confronting, questioning his/her own country, their nation, their people and so on. I would be defending the rights of indigenous people if I were a citizen of the US. I would be fighting for the rights of Muslims if I were Greek. I would stand against atrocities in Darfur if I was Sudanese and against China for its terrible treatment of Uyghurs if I was Chinese. This is exactly why I am fighting for the rights of non-Muslims in Turkey.

On this occasion I would like to congratulate His All Holiness Bartholomew for appearing in this photo I mentioned. Bartholomew is a man of wisdom and passion. He suffered a lot in Turkey. His stance in support of the rights of other religious minorities is extremely important and meaningful. I hope his love and passion reaches some Greeks whose hearts have been sealed and vision narrowed by nationalistic fervor.

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