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Prinkipo Greek Orthodox Orphanage: Symbol of Greek Persecution in Turkey

Dr. Anthony Limberakis, National Commander of the Order of St. Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, said: “The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the victim of religious persecution by the Government of Turkey. This persecution is systemic, involving multiple levels of government, including local and national, judicial and legislative. It is insidious, occurring over many decades, and devastating, designed to ultimately obliterate the very existence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Government of Turkey imposes severe restrictions on the ownership of property by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of the Greek Orthodox community… It has confiscated thousands of properties of the Greek Orthodox community. Stated another way, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its institutions do not have the right to buy, sell, maintain and inherit properties.”

The Prinkipo Greek Orthodox Orphanage has been returned to the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Turkish government after a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights. But the buildings will take millions of euros to restore. The government of Turkey should show its good faith and commitment to religious freedom by providing the funding for this endeavor, especially in light of the fact that its actions led to the buildings’ state of disrepair in the first place.

“Prinkipo Greek Orthodox Orphanage: Symbol of Greek persecution in Turkey,” by Uzay Bulut, Greek City Times, August 28, 2019:

A restoration of Constantinople’s Prinkipo Greek Orthodox Orphanage would cost at least 40 million euros and would take four to fıve years to complete, according to a recent report by Europa Nostra, the leading European heritage organization, and the European Investment Bank (EIB) Institute.

The orphanage which is located on the Princes’ Islands (Adalar) in Turkey, has been empty for decades and is thought to be the largest wooden building in Europe, and the second-largest in the entire world.

Included in the World Monuments Watch list since 2012, the orphanage is currently classified as “Rescue Needed” by the Global Heritage Network. The complex was also listed among the 7 Most Endangered heritage sites in Europe in 2018, following a nomination made by Europa Nostra Turkey.

“The site is currently abandoned to decay,” said the report released on July 29, “an immediate preliminary intervention should be quickly designed, planned and implemented to protect the buildings from further deterioration.”

The historic facility, along with its vast properties, was owned by the Greek Orthodox Church, centered in the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and it cared for orphans since 1902.

But why and since when has it been “abandoned to decay”?

The story of this orphanage represents the severe and continued abuse that Greek people and cultural heritage have for decades suffered at the hands of subsequent Turkish governments.

Like many other properties belonging to Greeks, the orphanage too was seized by the Turkish Foundations General Directorate without compensation in 1997. For years after its seizure, the Ecumenical Patriarchate unsuccessfully instituted legal proceedings in Turkey to recover the property.

A briefing entitled “The Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey: A Victim of Systematic Expropriation” was held in Washington in 2005 by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Dr. Anthony Limberakis, the then [sic] national commander of the order of St. Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, was one of the speakers. He said, in part:

“The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the victim of religious persecution by the Government of Turkey. This persecution is systemic, involving multiple levels of government, including local and national, judicial and legislative. It is insidious, occurring over many decades, and devastating, designed to ultimately obliterate the very existence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

“The Government of Turkey imposes severe restrictions on the ownership of property by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of the Greek Orthodox community… It has confiscated thousands of properties of the Greek Orthodox community.

“Stated another way, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its institutions do not have the right to buy, sell, maintain and inherit properties.”

As a “calamitous example of this process”, Limberakis referred to the expropriation of the Prinkipo Orphanage by the Turkish government. He then showed a picture of some American citizens – Archons and clergymen – “who took the time to leave their families and businesses and comforts of the United States and travel to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and… witness this religious persecution.” Limberakis also noted that they inspected the orphanage property and found it to be “in a state of complete ruin”.

In 2005, the Ecumenical Patriarchate finally filed a legal action against the Turkish Government in the European Court of Human Rights (to which Turkey is a signatory). As the Order of St. Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America noted at the 2009 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) conference,

“That process ended on July 7, 2008, with a ruling strongly in favor of the Ecumenical Patriarchate… The Court condemned the Turkish State for improperly taking over the Orphanage and held that the rights of the Patriarchate are protected by international law. The Court also stated that it will revert, in a subsequent decision, to the issue of how the Patriarchate’s rights will have to be restored.”

In 2012, Turkish authorities finally returned the building to the Patriarchate. Mihalis Vasiliadis, editor-in-chief of the Greek daily Apoyevmatini, told the newspaper Hürriyet:

“The state did not return the building to us in the same shape it was in when they [seized] it. The most recent studies have revealed beyond any doubt that millions of euros will be required [to restore the orphanage]. It is not possible for our 2000-strong population to meet this figure.

“Even if officials were to return everything that was historically seized, this would hardly change anything, as the Rum [Greek] community in Istanbul is now almost non-existent. [The Turkish government] took everything from us. The properties’ administrators were exiled, and now they are hastily returning [the properties], but to whom?”…

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