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USCIRF issues statement: “Turkey: Reopen Halki”

Read this article on the web site of USCIRF »

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today urged the Turkish government to reopen the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary, the only Greek Orthodox educational institution in Turkey, which was closed 43 years ago this month.  Halki remains closed despite Turkish government officials’ promises and public statements of support for its reopening.


“The ongoing closure of Halki Seminary flies in the face of the fundamental right of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate to educate and train its clergy in Turkey so it can lead the community’s faithful around the world,” said USCIRF Chair Katrina Lantos Swett.  “We encourage the U.S. government to urge the Turkish government to publicly commit to a specific date in the immediate future to reopen Halki.”


After a military coup in 1971, the Turkish state nationalized all private institutions of higher learning.  As a result, the Halki School of Theology, located on the island of Heybeli, was closed and remains closed to this day.


“Reopening Halki would be a significant gesture by Turkey and would send a signal to the international community that Turkey respects the freedom of religion or belief of diverse faiths,” said Lantos Swett.


“While Turkey recently has implemented some reforms, concerns remain,” continued Lantos Swett.  Reforms include returning some confiscated properties to minority religious communities, lifting the headscarf ban for women in public institutions and schools, allowing minority schools to enroll non-citizens, and revising textbooks to eliminate some religiously intolerant language.  Despite these reforms, along with the ongoing closure of Halki, other concerns include requiring that all members of the Greek Orthodox Church’s Holy Synod be citizens of Turkey; the limitations on religious communities’ rights to build, operate and maintain houses of worship and other properties; and the Alevi population’s right to operate their cemevis, which Alevi’s view as their houses of worship.


USCIRF placed Turkey on the Tier 2 list in its 2014 Annual Report, noting that the overall landscape for democracy and human rights has deteriorated significantly during the report year.


For more information about USCIRF’s work on Turkey, please view the 2014 Annual Report here.

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