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European Parliament member Antonios Trakatellis raises questions to the European Council regarding recent attacks and vandalizations of Orthodox communities in Turkey

Professor Antonios Trakatellis, member of the European Parliament.

European Parliament Member Professor Antonios Trakatellis recently inquired to the Council of the European Union on the concerns of vandalizations of Orthodox churches and monasteries of the Ecumenical Patriarchate by Turkish Government officials and questions the Council on the measures it intends to take on these perpetrators. The Council’s response mentions that it is fully aware of these incidents and admits that “tangible progress is urgently needed” for freedom of religion for the ongoing reform process in Turkey.

Trakatellis’ inquiry and the Council’s response can be read in its entirety below:

Professor Trakatellis:

Subject: Attacks on churches in Istanbul and human rights violations

Recent press reports have described the dramatic escalation of attacks on churches in Istanbul over the last few days. These attacks have caused damage to the church of Aghia Triadas of the Holy Metropolitan Chalkidon and have terrorised the sacristan; anti-minority slogans have also been daubed on the church of the Taxiarchs on the Bosphorus Straits. Bearing in mind these facts, in conjunction with the fact that the forestry service on the Island of Chalki has illegally attempted to demolish the Christ the Saviour Monastery, will the Council say:

1. Is it aware of the situation obtaining in Istanbul?

2. What actions does it intend to take to put an end to these activities and to restore respect for democratic principles, given that Turkey is a candidate country for EU accession?

3. Does it intend to take specific measures to ensure that the perpetrators are obliged to repair the serious damage they have caused as early as possible?

The European Council’s reply:

A long catalogue of unfulfilled obligations in the sector of religious freedoms is imputed to Turkey by the Council of the European Union, according to the reply it provided to the relevant written question of MEP Antonios TRAKATELLIS (EPP-ED, GR). The Council, though, still retains its settled policy by repeating that the issue is regularly examined in the context of accession negotiations.

MEP Trakatellis addressed the Council on the score of gradual attacks against sacred churches in Constantinople that took place some months ago. In the reply of the Council, it is stated that it is fully aware of the incidents the MEP denounces and of the difficulties that the religious minorities and communities continue to face: difficulties which are associated with legal status, property rights and registration, training, residence rights and work permits of Turkish and non-Turkish clergy, schools and internal management, as well as the election of the Heads of some religious minority churches.

Besides, the Council underlines: “Freedom of religion is a key area where real and tangible progress is urgently needed and concrete actions are required both in adopting as well as in implementing adequate legislation, in line with the ECHR and the case-law of the ECtHR, as integral parts of the EU acquis. Furthermore, social tolerance, conducive to full respect of freedom of religion in practice, also needs to be established. In this respect, the educational system plays a crucial role. In its recent conclusions of 10 December 2007 the Council stressed that the process underway to revise the Constitution should not delay long-awaited reforms, in particular in the key areas of freedom of expression and freedom of religion where Turkey needs to proceed without delay”.

As it has already been mentioned, however, the reply mentions nothing new on the crucial question of MEP Trakatellis concerning the action that the Council intends to take in the subject. Thus, the latter states: “The issue of freedom of religion will continue to be closely followed and raised on all levels as appropriate as part of the accession negotiations and of the ongoing reform process in Turkey. The issue is also regularly raised with Turkey in the context of the political dialogue and in full accordance with Turkey’s Negotiating Framework. This was the case at the latest meeting of the EU-Turkey Ministerial Troika held in Brussels on 20 November”.

In his declaration, MEP Trakatellis expressed his disappointment for the policy of Pontius Pilate that the Council continues to adopt, as well as the European Commission that replied to the written question, by allowing Turkey to carry on a policy that violates fundamental principles and values of the European family, member of which Turkey desires to become and by going on with the accession negotiations, without warning Turkey against their interruption, unless tangible results of progress in the field of religious freedoms are to take place soon, considering that we are already in the third year of negotiations.

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