(GOARCH-Chicago) - Yesterday, February 20, 2012, His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, delivered a monumental presentation to a sub-commission of the inter-party Constitutional Reconciliation Commission in Istanbul, Turkey, demanding equal rights for minorities within the Republic. Following Christ’s words, “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you,” His All Holiness came to the table as an advocate for reconciliation, not incrimination for past deficiencies.
Setting the tone in a positive light, the Patriarch said “There have been unjust practices against minorities. Those unjust practices have been slowly corrected. A new Turkey is being born, and we don’t want to be second class citizens anymore…” His All Holiness understood the historic nature of the invitation to speak before the commission, noting that it was the first time that religio-ethnic minorities had been invited to the table to discuss a way forward for the Turkish state, which is seeking to amend its current constitution, which was instituted following a military coup in 1980. To that end, the Patriarch submitted an 18 page document, expressing the needs of the minorities, and especially the Orthodox people who have been denied their liberty as guaranteed to them and other minorities in the 1924 Treaty of Lausanne.
Among his requests was for material support from public funds for the religious and educational institutions of minorities. “The state has never extended financial assistance to any church or minority school…” he said, but also noted that as tax-payers and patriotic citizens of the Republic, such institutions have a right to receive equal funding.
The perennial issue of the Greek Orthodox Seminary on Halki was also included in His All Holinesses address. The Patriarch insisted that the seminary must be reopened, noting that the seminary, which was protected and operated freely during the Ottoman period and in Ataturk’s time, remains inexplicably closed. If the new constitution will in fact grant the religious freedom, freedom of expression and the right to assembly, such situations must end immediately.
It has already been agreed, on behalf of His All Holiness, that the seminary will be operated under the auspices of the Ministry of Education of the Republic. “We told the sub-commission that equality of citizenship should not be confined to documents; it should be practiced,” said the Patriarch, also noting that religio-ethnic minorities were not able to participate fully in the public square as judges and prosecutors through silent exclusion. “We are hopeful that our demands will be addressed” the Patriarch said, looking forward to a future where exclusion and denied opportunities will be a thing of the past, and all Turkish citizens will enjoy equal liberty under the law.