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Hurriyet Daily News reports on ‘Seminary torture’

The Hurriyet Daily News recently reported in its ‘Opinion’ section on ‘Seminary torture’

The Hurriyet Daily News is the oldest current English-language daily in Turkey.

The published article can be read in its entirety below.


Seminary torture

By Cengiz Aktar


Read this article on the website of the Hurriyet Daily News

Halki seminary on Heybeliada, one of Istanbul’s Prince’s Islands in the Marmara Sea, has been closed for about 40 years. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew describes its reopening as the dearest aim of his earthly mission. In an interview to American CBS television in May, the patriarch rebelled and expressed disappointment for the seminary not being opened yet. What’s wrong with that? Official as well as popular reactions stretching from self defense to an open threat are clear indications that the ecumenical patriarch’s statement made the point. Moreover the crucifixion metaphor dramatically pictures the condition of all minorities, non-Muslim or not, in Turkey.

Here is the reaction of a minister: “We consider the crucifixion an extremely unfortunate metaphor. In our history, there have never been crucifixions, and there never will be. We do not deserve it. Crucifixion has never been a part of our history. I cannot see such a comparison coming from such a levelheaded person. I hope they were pronounced by mistake. History of the Turkish nation is built on religious tolerance. I hope this was just a slip of the tongue. The Republic of Turkey is a secular, democratic, rule of law state, and does not evaluate its citizens through their religious identities. All our citizens are equal. If Mr. Bartholomew has complaints he can submit them to relevant offices and us. What is necessary can be done. We cannot accept comparisons that we do not deserve.”

Despite above boring remarks this time people reacted with some dose of empathy towards the remarks of the patriarch. Like Mazlum-Der’s Batman branch which released the following statement: “Some state officials and media are involved in hectic discussions due to Patriarch Bartholomew’s interview with an American television station. The Turkish foreign minister and several politicians, especially Onur Oymen, issued statements reading that they hoped it was a slip of the tongue. By exerting such pressure they misled the public opinion and impeded the patriarch’s freedom of speech. Criticizing breaches to human rights and public freedoms should be taken normally in today’s democracies and be respected. While critics on human rights’ issues are allowed when they come from Sunni/Muslim/Turks, the same understanding should happen when critics are non-Muslim communities and individuals … A ‘democratic opening’ that does not guarantee the rights and freedoms of non-Muslim communities and threatens their freedom of expression will be questionable.”

The core of the problem

The mistake made in 1971 by closing the seminary can still not be corrected. Until today every attempt to re-open the school has been prevented for thousands of reasons through the interference of some obscure forces. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken initiatives since May, and met with the religious community leaders. Previously the government said that ecumenism was none of its business. On the very polemic, Erdogan soothed things, and on his way to Damascus at the beginning of the week he indirectly disavowed his foreign minister and three other ministers who uttered nonsense on the seminary issue (Arinc, Tuzmen, Yazici). Let’s hope that he will succeed this time to break the deadlock.

However, the “minorities” look, especially with the interference of Greece, like an external issue, it is in the first place a matter of equal citizenship. Yet the external dimension is exacerbated as long as followers of other religions than Sunni Islam are regarded as alien, non-national and somehow “mysterious.”

Sunni Islam is the cement of the Turkish nation, thus non-Muslims are “others” who do not fit in the description. Such alienation is expressed through vulgar blasphemy by the man in the street. As for the politician and the legislator, they simply despise these second-class citizens. Disdain brings along ignorance and fear. Insomuch as this national paranoia has made people forget that Jesus is also a prophet of Allah, Satanizing the missionary work and belittling other faiths. Have you ever seen a Turkish Muslim expert on Christianity or Judaism, in the republican era? However faiths that we have no knowledge of are not overseas but just before our nose.

It will take time to alter this “national state of mind.” One could start by granting full citizenship rights, prosecuting the hate speech against other religions, and including all other faiths in the school curricula on religion. Moreover, Turkey has been trying to make the Lausanne minorities issue run by a deputy governor of Istanbul since December 1923. This cannot be, and nonsense remarks by irrelevant ministers should be avoided. A knowledgeable high-level administration under the Prime Ministry is needed for minorities and followers of other faiths. And of course the seminary could and should be re-opened. These works need strong will by the ruling party, a will that would make them overtake their own cliches.

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