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If Turkey Wishes to Celebrate Its Religious Heritage, It Should Stop Persecuting the Ecumenical Patriarchate

On July 9, 2019, the Turkish Twitter site Turkey.Home, which invites people to “Discover Turkey,” tweeted: “2019 is the ‘Year of Göbeklitepe,’ the spot of the world’s first religious complex that changed history of humanity forever.” The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, deplores this hypocrisy: Turkey has been responsible for the destruction of thousands of Orthodox Christian religious complexes, and is therefore the last country that should be celebrating archaeological sites of ancient religious installations.

If Turkey wishes to draw international attention to its religious heritage, it could make a genuine good-faith beginning by relaxing its ongoing oppression of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. If the Turkish government’s persecution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not challenged and ended, the Orthodox Christian presence in Anatolia, which goes back to the time of the apostles, could be extinguished. If Turkey is so proud of Göbeklitepe, let it demonstrate that pride by changing the policies that have made so many archaeological sites out of what once were thriving Orthodox Christian religious complexes.

The persecution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate takes five principal forms.

1. The Turkish government imposes restrictions on the election of the Ecumenical Patriarch and Hierarchs who vote for him by requiring that they must be Turkish citizens. With the dwindling population of Hierarchs and Orthodox Christians in Turkey, we may not be able to elect an Ecumenical Patriarch in the not too distant future. 

2. The Turkish government does not recognize the “Ecumenical” status of the Ecumenical Patriarch and Ecumenical Patriarchate. Turkish authorities do not allow the use of the term or title “Ecumenical” for any religious activity whatsoever despite the fact that it has been used since the 6th century A.D. and recognized throughout the world.

3. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has no legal identity or bona fide legal personality in Turkey. The Turkish authorities do not allow the Ecumenical Patriarchate to own any property – not even its churches! 

4. The Ecumenical Patriarchate cannot train new clergy in Turkey and its theological school was forcibly closed down by the Turkish Government. The Theological School of Halki was forcibly closed down by Turkish authorities in 1971. Despite promises by the Turkish government to re-open our theological school, there has been no progress. Left unresolved, the administrative functioning and future of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is imperiled.

5. The Turkish Government has confiscated thousands of properties from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Through various methods, the Turkish authorities have confiscated thousands of properties from the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox community over the years including our monasteries, church buildings, an orphanage, private homes, apartment buildings, schools and land. Left unchecked, the remaining Greek Orthodox community of Constantinople (present day Istanbul) – the cultural heirs of the Byzantine Empire – will be threatened and ultimately be no more.

Nor has Turkey’s persecution of Christians been restricted to harassment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In the new book The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of its Christian Minorities, 1894–1924, historians Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi document how policies pursued by the government of the Ottoman Empire and its successor, the Republic of Turkey, devastated the Christian population of Turkey, reducing it from 20% of the population at the end of the nineteenth century to 2% in 1924 and obliterating numerous ancient Christian churches and other religious landmarks. 

Morris and Ze’evi state: “The Turks and their helpers murdered, straightforwardly or indirectly, through privation and disease, between 1.5 and 2.5 million Christians between 1894 and 1924.”

Adding insult to injury, the Turkish government has steadfastly refused to admit its role in this genocide, much less to make any attempt to address the grievances of the families of its victims.

The Order calls upon the Turkish government to be consistent and show its pride in its religious heritage not just at Göbeklitepe, but by recognizing its rich Orthodox Christian history, easing its restrictions on the Ecumenical Patriarchate, reopening the Halki Seminary, and providing redress to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to the Christians whose roots are in Asia Minor for the tens of thousands of Christian sites through Turkey that successive Turkish governments destroyed and obliterated.

In the service of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,

Anthony J. Limberakis, MD 

Archon Aktouarios

National Commander 

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