Monday, March 20, 2006

Turkey: EU Membershp: Accession to EU blocked by Turk intransigence on culture, education, particularly Christian education

The closure in 1971 and refusal to allow to reopen the only institution of Christian h+er learning in Turkey, has become a metaphor for Turk intransigence toward historically-Christian Europe and for freedom of religion in Turkey today. Tho Europe is now a post-Christian society, and tho it has strong secularist and atheist power-hegemonic structures and cultural forces (typified these days by Mohammed-mocking-cartoons publisher, the Danish Jyllands-Posten newspaper), Europe in an often-inconsistent way still seeks to maintain religious freedom - from which many religions - including numerous Christian groups, observing-believing Judaic faith-formations, and Muslim denominations - benefit far beyond the status quo in "secular" Turkey.
The institution in question is the historic theological seminary of Turkey's main Christian denominaton which is headed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which on the negative side unfortunately does not offer Eucharists in Turkish but which has undergone numerous episodes of severe oppression since Turkey became a "secular" state, and whose Christian people exist in a precarious state of dhimmitude (classical subservience to Islam, masked in Turkey as a second-classs citizenship to the "secular" state). These Christian Turkish citizens are not at all equal to the status of the mainstream Turkish Muslims who constitute the approved "seculars" - or laîques, to use the evasive French term, with its model of state secularism whereby Muslim girls are forbidden to wear a headscarf in school (to understand the history of the French school policy, see Thomas McIntire - again even while Turkey styles itself a "secular state" and imposes its Muslim-tinted "secularism" with its mainstream-Muslim tint, a mainstream that suppresses even some peacful Muslim sects [for a soporific presentation of the government stance, see the site honouring Moustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938)], founder of what seems like French-style totalitarian religion of secularism, instead of pluralism. A secularity that interconnects with pluralism, instead of suppressing every form of traditional religion except that elevated by the state, could accomodate by the several Islamic denominations that firmly disavow violence and Turkey's religious minorities, including the Christian Orthodoxy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In Turkish Daily News, Fatma Dimirelli reports, "Political criteria: Finished or unfinished job? (Mar19,2k6):
The EU norms require the unanimous vote of all [EU] member states in opening and closing of all chapters [of the statutory regulations for accession to EU membership], giving each state the power to effectively block the negotiations citing a concern on the level of Turkey's compliance with the political criteria.
A reference to political criteria in connection with the chapter on education and culture, for example, may be expected to raise such sensitive issues as the opening of a Greek Orthodox seminary near Istanbul, closed since 1971, or education in Kurdish.
EU officials, on the other hand, admit that such a reference could be used as an instrument by those who oppose Turkey's membership in the EU, but even those who do not want to see the reference to political criteria in the letter say the process is as political as it is a technical one.
"In principle, there should be no problem here because there is nothing new to the whole process. The accession process to the EU is by far not only a technical process," Ambassador Hansjoerg Kretschmer, head of the Delegation of the EU Commission to Turkey, told Turkish Daily News. "There is a lot of technical work to be done, and the bulk of the work in fact is technical. That's certainly correct. But this is a political process apart from that."
He added, "Government knows very well that we are still quite a long distance away from the complete fulfillment of the political criteria."
Interestingly, in a disturbing way, the Greek news source online,, essentially rewrites Fatma Dimirelli's article but strategically omits her reference to the Greek Orthodox Christian theological seminary on the island of Halki (Heybeliada). Cut from the English-languge, nevertheless the Greek-language η θεολγικη σχολη τησ χαλκησ carries a most significant snippet in English:
Although in October 2005 [Turkey's] Minister for Education noted that he was opposed to the continued closure of the Greek Orthodox Halki (Heybeliada) seminary, which has been closed since 1971, no steps have yet been taken to facilitate its reopening». “
One can't help but speculate that the Education Minister's stance suggests that the Turkish Prime Minister and Cabinet are using the very possiblity of allowing the Christians to reopen their Halki Seminary, without which the Orthodox Christians have no means of training future priests (since priests must be of Turkish nationality and study in Turkey, according to government rules), is itself a bargaining chip to force Greece and the EU to pressure effectively its member Greek-speaking Cyprus to agree to the re-integration of Turk Cyprus into one unitary secular state. In other words, the problem for reopening Halki Seminary may be the intransigence of Greek-speaking Cyprus.
refWrite supports the fair and minority-protective unification of Cyprus, the reopening of Halki Seminary, the turning over of Holy Wisdom ('αγια σοφια ) Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Istanbul to the Patriarch (whose community is the true owner), and the protection thereof by the Turk "secular" state. The catherdral goes all the way back to the Byzantine Christan Empire and was forcibly alienated from the administration of the Patriarchate upon the Muslim conquest. The moves again advocated by refWrite could help the Turkish tourist industry by the subsequent influx of Christian pilgrims and tourisists annually. It would lead to the urban redevelopment and revitalization of that section of Istanbul where the Cathedral is now used as a storage wharehouse. Such a return of the Cathedral after all these centuries, besides being a magnificent Turkish statement, would then be able to pay for any expenses of turning over and protecting the Cathedral, the Patriarchate, and Halki seminary. The Christian sites and institutions of Turkey do need special protection, as the 2004 blast that damaged Saint Gregorios church (a modest Istanbul substitute for the ancient Hagia Sophia Cathedral mentioned> so clearly demonstrates.
Istanbul, Turkey (Associated Press). - An explosion shattered windows at the seat of the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians in Istanbul on Thursday [reported Oct8,2k4 in The National Herald] officials said. No one was injured.
The explosive device was placed on the roof of the church of St. Georgios where a similar device had been placed in 1997, a fact that has caused concern both to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the authorities.
The Cathedral’s windows and the main building of the Patriarchate complex were shattered.
A terrorism police squad was investigating the cause of the blast, which came weeks after police clashed with hundreds of rock-throwing fanatic Turks who staged a protest outside the Patriarchate and burned an effigy of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I, whom far-right groups accuse of working against Turkish interests.
The Patriarchate has been the target of a number of small attacks in the past, which has worked against Turkish interests as they strive towards E.U. membership.
The explosion came one day after the E.U. agreed to open membership talks with predominantly Muslim Turkey, but called for humanitarian greater reforms, including expanding religious freedom and improving its treatment of non-Muslim minorities.
Many right-wing Turks are suspicious of the Patriarchate because of its close ties with Greece, and also strongly oppose Bartholomaios’ efforts to reopen an Orthodox seminary that Turkish authorities closed in 1971. Greek Orthodox say the school is crucial for the education of future leaders.
Members of Turkey’s government have expressed support for reopening the school as they push forward with the country’s bid to join the E.U.
Although few Greek Orthodox Christians remain in overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey, forced out years ago, the Patriarchate is still based in Constantinople (Istanbul). It dates from the Orthodox Greek Byzantine Empire, which collapsed when the Muslim Ottoman Turks conquered the city in 1453. Istanbul, then called and still referred to as Constantinople by Orthdox Christians, was the capital of the Byzantine Empire.
Bartholomaios has spiritual authority over the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians.
Were Turkey able to deliver promptly on Halki Seminary and Hagia Sophia Cathedral, the Turk state's bid for EU membership would be h+ly likely to accelerate. It would also go a long way toward undoing Greek Cyprus' injustice to Turk Cyprus.
In closing, I must mention that one authority, Prof David Koyzis in his blog Notes from a Byzantine Calvinist has disagreed with refWrite on the importance of returning Hagia Sophia to the Ecumenical Patriachate in Istanbul. - Politicarp

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