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Today’s Zaman reports on ‘Yes to a mosque on a Cuban hill, no to Halki Seminary’

New York, NY –Today’s Zaman newspaper recently reported on ‘Yes to a mosque on a Cuban hill, no to Halki Seminary’.

Today’s Zaman is one of two English-language dailies based in Turkey and reports on domestic and international coverage. The published article can be read in its entirety below.

Yes to a mosque on a Cuban hill, no to Halki Seminary

by Gunal Kursan

Read this article on Today’s Zaman »

The Halki Seminary, officially called the Theological School of Halki, was the main school of theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church’s Ecumenical Patriarchate of İstanbul until a law enacted by the Turkish Parliament banned private higher education institutions in 1971. It has remained closed since 1971.

The school is located at the top of Heybeliada (Halki) Island’s Hill of Hope, inside the Monastery of the Holy Trinity built during the Byzantine era. Although there are many non-state-sponsored foundations supporting higher education institutions in Turkey, and it would not be difficult for an Orthodox church foundation to support the seminary, it is shameful to see that the seminary is still closed due to several legal obstacles. In reality, there is no political will to re-open the seminary, nor support from any political party.

It simply means the existence of a double standard, to defend the idea that there is religious freedom in Turkey and at the same time refuse to re-open the seminary after 43 years of closure. This school is significant from both a symbolic and realistic view. It can stand as a sign of respect to others’ religious rights and liberties in a country that is 99 percent Muslim and at the same time, the Orthodox community has a great need for well-educated religious staff for its church. It is very embarrassing that arguments are made suggesting that because there is no mosque in Athens, there should be no seminary in Turkey. I really do not understand where we get the sense that we have the right to control others’ belief as it is still written in the Constitution that this state is secular and maintains an equal distance to all beliefs and religions.

Yesterday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared that a mosque is well-suited for the top of a hill in Havana, the capital city of Cuba. There is a tiny minority of 7,000 Muslims in Cuba and only 4,000 of them live in Havana. They have long complained that they do not have a place to practice their religion collectively and Turkey is known to be willing to build a mosque in Havana. A Turkish delegation traveled to Havana earlier this year to seek permission for a mosque in the capital. Turkish media reported last month that Cuban authorities rejected the request submitted by Turkey’s Religious Affairs Foundation (TDV). I think they started to see this request with reciprocal principles, in other words, no seminary, no mosque.

Religious rights are a matter of democratization. It is essential to comply with the requests of religious minorities, seeing religious minorities as a threat or Trojan horse is pathetic in the 21st century. Again, it is hypocrisy to deny a religious right to our neighbors, brothers and sisters living on the same street and in the same city who hold a different belief but expect others to give that same religious right to people sharing our religion who live 10,000 kilometers away. I really wonder what President Erdoğan will say if the Cubans ask about the situation of the Alevis, Armenians, Caferis, Jews, Assyrians, Baha’is, Chaldeans, Yazidis, Nestorians and Protestants living in Turkey.

Pope Benedict XVI says: “A just laicism allows religious freedom. The state does not impose religion but rather gives space to religions with a responsibility toward civil society and therefore it allows these religions to be factors in building up society.” Sometimes it is good to listen to others and it doesn’t require leaving our beliefs.

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