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International Conference calls on Turkey to address Religious Freedom and Human Rights Issues

The 2nd Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom Deemed Historic

The Order of St. Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in cooperation with the Patriarchal Liaison Office to the European Union and the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Germany, hosted its 2nd Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom December 4-5, 2013 at the historic Adlon Hotel in Berlin, Germany. Taking place in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate, the theme of the Conference was,  “Tearing Down Walls: Achieving Religious Equality in Turkey.” 

The Conference focused on religious freedom issues affecting minorities in Turkey stressing the concepts of equality, state neutrality and pluralism as they relate to religious freedom and the status of religious freedom under Turkey’s current and proposed new constitutions.

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, as well as Hillary Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State, United States Senator and First Lady, both addressed the participants by video.

His All Holiness stated in his message to the Conference:

“Ultimately, our struggle for religious freedom and our respect for the conscience of every human being are proof of the triumph of love over hatred, of unity over division, and of compassion over the numbing sensation of indifference that is rooted in contemporary materialism. True freedom of conscience is based on the conviction that our relationship with “the other” is not separate from but integrally related to our relationship with ourselves. After all, again in the words of St. Paul, “we are all members of one body.”(Romans 12.5)”

In her remarks, Secretary Clinton stressed:

“Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. It is also bound up with other important human rights: the right of people to think what they want, say what they think, associate with others, assemble peacefully without the state looking over their shoulders, or prohibiting them from doing so. … In particular, I want to salute His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Through my years of friendship with His All Holiness, I have admired his commitment to build bridges across religious and cultural divides in Turkey and around the world. We’ve worked together to encourage positive steps, like continuing to push for the re-opening of the Halki Seminary and to encourage constructive dialogue.”

In addition, the conference featured over 35 world-renowned speakers and panelists from the interfaith, diplomatic, journalistic, legal, and academic communities. From the civil sphere, there were politicians, diplomats, human rights lawyers and activists, scholars, journalists, and political commentators. From the religious sphere, there were members of religious minorities, including Alevi Muslims, Armenians, Catholics, Jews, Orthodox Christians, Protestants and Syriacs. All of these diverse participants came together to discuss freedom of faith issues in Turkey and to discuss the day-to-day challenges religious minorities encounter in order to survive and how to overcome those challenges.

In his remarks, Archbishop Demetrios of America observed:

What is true in the realm of politics and economics holds with even more validity in matters of religion, in matters of conscience and heart.  Man is not made for oppression; man is not made to exist without the freedom of his own religious conscience; that truth is perhaps even better proved by the oppressor than by the oppressed.

Anthony J. Limberakis, MD, National Commander of the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle stated,

“This Conference was held in Berlin because this is where hope triumphed over hatred and where peace overwhelmed enmity. We came to Berlin to manifest our determination to bring down every wall of religious intolerance and obstruction. We came to Berlin to advocate for the full liberty of conscience that every human being deserves. And in particular, we came to bear witness to and address the issues that are facing Turkey, as it seeks a wider role in the region and inclusion, not only in the European Union, but also in the wider family of leading Nations of the world”

One of the most critical discussions at the conference was on the forcible closure of the Halki Theological Seminary.  The shuttered seminary has become the Berlin Wall of religious freedom, exemplifying the repression of religious minorities. This repression was exposed to the world by the CBS News program, 60 Minutes in their December 2009 segment titled The Patriarch in which His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew boldly stated that he felt “crucified in his own country.”

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