A Noble Journalistic Voice in Turkey

In the December 7-8 edition of the Turkish newspaper’s Hurriyet Daily News published in Constantinople there was a headline that grabbed my attention: “Religious Freedom for All.”

I read it. I was pleasantly surprised. Journalist Mustafa Akyol defended the right of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to exist in complete freedom.

It required boldness and a sense of obligation to the country, to write these truths, and risked the wrath of readers and authorities in a country that has the most imprisoned journalists

I wondered whether any Greek journalist would do something similar? The Turkish journalist recently attended a three-day conference of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Order of St. Andrew in Berlin. The theme of the successful conference was Tearing Down Walls.

As we know, the mission of the Archons is to protect the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its right to perform its religious duties freely, as it believes is best.

Dr. Anthony Limberakis is their National Commander and their spiritual advisor is Father Alexander Karloutsos, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The article refers to “… the official obsession on this issue … until Prime Minister  Erdogan  said that he had no problem with the title Ecumenical ‘since the Ottomans did not have a problem with it, either.’ Yet still, no official text recognizes the Ecumenical Patriarchate as it is.”

“But that is the least of the problems, the journalist writes. “A much bigger one is the status of the Halki Seminary, the only institution in which the Patriarchate can train new clergy and thus sustain its tradition. The seminary is closed since 1971, when a military junta decided to shut down or ‘nationalize’ all independent schools.”

“The AKP government has been promising to re-open the Halki Seminary for a decade, but with no result. Indeed it was expected that Erdoğan would take this much-expected step in his much-hailed ‘democratization package’ of last September, but he did not. Word has it that the government decided to take the Halki Seminary out of the ‘package’ at the last moment,” he continued.

He asked, “But why? As I explained in the conference, the AKP’s Ottoman references in fact do not create an ideological obstacle to the reopening of Halki Seminary or other Christian institutions or churches. (After all, Halki Seminary was opened in mid-19th Century under Ottoman rule, and was closed down by secularist/nationalist generals in the more ‘modern’ era.)”

However, as he explains, the arguments issue crashes on the rocks of the idea of “reciprocity.”

He writes: “Both sides see their Greek and Turkish minorities as people in the wrong countries, and do not take any step for them unless the other side does with regards to its own minority.”

So, according to this principle, the Turks are not going to open the Halki Seminary if we do not open the Faith Mosque in Athens. We promised them, they say, to do it in the Treaty of Lausanne.

“I despise this ‘reciprocity’ idea, and defend religious freedom everywhere regardless of the political context,” Akyol thunders.

He steps back from the barricades, however, and explains: “It is a political reality, though. Therefore, perhaps calls for more religious freedom will be more productive if they try to see and fix the troubles on both sides of the Aegean. They are quite similar problems created by similarly nationalist mindsets, after all.”

Now, we must understand that around one million Muslims live in Greece today.

Greece cannot toss them into the sea, just as America and England cannot, despite the occasional promises of some of their politicians.

The question, therefore, is whether or not these people have the right to practice their religion freely, in their mosques, as we do in our churches in America?

For how many years, will they continue to pray in basements and other similar places, as our forebears once did here?