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Critics and Defenders of Archbishop Weigh in on “Turkish House” Flap

September 23, 2021

NEW YORK – After the participation this week by Archbishop Elpidophoros of America in the inauguration by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the Turkevi Center, or Turkish House in Manhattan triggered transatlantic community and diplomatic storms, circles close to the Archbishop are attempting to explain the reasons for the decision. The Archbishop’s presence at an event also attended by Ersin Tatar, the hardline Turkish Cypriot leader who traveled to New York to demand the permanent partition of Cyprus, which was illegally invaded and occupied by Turkey in 1974, has shocked Hellenes and Greek and Cypriot officials and media alike.

While The National Herald at press time was in the process of confirming reports that Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has cancelled his previously scheduled meeting with the Archbishop, there is no confusion about the position of Cyprus’ President Nicos Anastasiades: “I cannot meet with him when a day earlier he was at a ‘fiesta’ with a leader of the occupying powers,” he reportedly told colleagues, according to diplomatic sources.

On Thursday afternoon, Sept. 23, Government Spokesman Giannis Oikonomou expressed the Greek Government’s “dissatisfaction” with the Archbishop’s attendance at the event.

Friends of Elpidophoros insist that the Archbishop accepted the invitation from the Turkish diplomatic delegation without knowing at that time who else had also received an invitation. They clarify, however, that if Elpidophoros had known that Tatar, the leader of the pseudo-state would have been present, he would not have attended the event.

The same circles explain that the Archbishop accepted the invitation for institutional reasons, to protect and promote the role and rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. They also noted that Elpidophoros is in constant communication with His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, but it was not specified whether the latter was aware of the Archbishop's decision to attend the inauguration of ‘Turkish House’.

The same sources also remind that the Archbishop of America is always active in promoting religious freedom, and has often spoken out on issues such as the conversion of Aghia Sophia into a mosque and the reopening of the Theological School of Halki, an issue for which it was said that he is a pioneer in the internationalization of the campaign. They note that Elpidophoros talks and will continue to talk with officials of Turkey, as with any other country, in the context of his efforts to support the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Orthodoxy, world and regional peace, and interfaith dialogue. They point out that the Archbishop takes every opportunity given to him to vigorously engage with interlocutors all over the world – and especially Turkey – on those matters, as well as for a just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem, based on United Nations resolutions calling for the withdrawal of Turkish occupation troops from the island nation.

Indeed, those sources insisted that during his presence at the inauguration of the ‘Turkish Center’, the Archbishop reiterated demands for the reopening of the Halki Theological School while also calling for religious freedom for minorities in Turkey.

Key Community organizations, especially those connected with Cyprus, were not satisfied with such unofficial accounts. The Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) and the International Coordinating Committee – Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA) issued a statement on Wednesday expressing their “disappointment” over the incident, which included criticism of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who also was present.

“We understand the need and special ability of both to hold dialogue with Turkish authorities,” they said. 

“Dialogue is one thing; participating in disingenuous charm offensives and publicity stunts is an entirely different matter,” they noted.

Indeed, contrary to the reports of the Archbishop’s supporters, the joint statement declared, “both the Secretary-General and His Eminence had prior knowledge that Ersin Tatar was going to participate at the event as ‘President’ of the illegal ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.’ They nonetheless chose to appear with him. This appearance was particularly painful as it occurred the same week Tatar insisted on a two-state ‘solution’ to Cyprus – a two-state ‘solution’ that would, of course, continue to violate UN resolutions and effectively end the prospect of the reunification of Cyprus,” by attempting to formalize the illegal partition.

The organizations called on Guterres and the Archbishop to make their “commitment to international law and human rights clear by restating their unequivocal commitment to UN Security Council Resolutions on Cyprus and by refraining from participating in further whitewashing efforts by the Erdogan regime.”

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