WASHINGTON — Almost a year after Turkey turned the ancient revered church of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople – without facing any sanctions – the US State Department said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should stop pressuring the Ecumenical Patriarch and limiting the rights of non-Muslim minorities.
Erdogan has demanded that Greece offer more rights to Muslim Turks in northern Greece and recognize mosques still remaining in Greece from the 400-year Ottoman Occupation but won't grant the same rights to Greeks in Turkey.
It its report for 2020, the US said Turkey has “continued to restrict efforts of minority religious groups to train their clergy,” and the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary remained closed.
Turkey's government, the statement added, continued not to recognize Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I as the leader of the world’s approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians, consistent with the government’s stance that there was no legal obligation for it to do so,” said Kathimerini.
Turkey said the Patriarch was only the religious leader of the country’s Greek Orthodox minority population and will allow only Turkish citizens to vote in the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Holy Synod or be elected Patriarch.
But it kept a practice of granting citizenship to Greek Orthodox metropolitans under the terms of the government’s 2011 interim solution intended to widen the pool of candidates eligible to become the next Patriarch.
“The government did not recognize the leadership or administrative structures of non-Muslim minorities, such as the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and Chief Rabbinate, as legal entities, leaving them unable to buy or hold title to property or to press claims in court,” the report also continued.
Senior US officials, including the Secretary of State, called on the Turkish government to allow the reopening of Halki Seminary and for the training of clergy members from all communities in the country, but they were ignored.
Last year the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom called for the government to keep Aghia Sophia's status as a museum but Erdogan paid no attention to that call either.