NEW YORK (August 4, 2018): The Order of Saint Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, regrets the pressure that the Turkish government has clearly placed upon that nation’s religious minorities in obtaining a statement on religious freedom from them.
Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported Wednesday: “On Tuesday, in a joint declaration, Turkey’s minority community representatives — including followers of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches — said that people of different faiths live ‘freely’. ‘We as religious representatives and foundation directors of societies of different religions and beliefs, who have been settled in this country for centuries, are free to follow our beliefs and practices,’ the declaration read.”
On the basis of this statement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared on Wednesday: “Turkey has no problems related to [religious] minorities. Threatening language of the U.S. evangelist, Zionist mentality is unacceptable.”
One need not be a “U.S. evangelist” or have a “Zionist mentality” to see that the statement from representatives of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches and other religious minority communities was obtained under duress.
The Turkish government also raised concerns with its reference to His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch as the “Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarch Dimitri Bartholomew,” as reflected in this Hürriyet Daily News report. This usage once again denies His All-Holiness his rightful Ecumenical status. The undivided Christian Church bestowed the honor of the title of Ecumenical Patriarch upon the Patriarch of Constantinople, St. John the Faster, in the year 586, and all of St. John’s successors have held it since then. It is absurd for the Turkish government, over fourteen centuries later, to withhold this title from the Ecumenical Patriarch, in a deliberate and calculated gesture of disrespect, while claiming that “Turkey has no problems related to [religious] minorities.”
The Greek Orthodox and Armenian communities within Turkey are well aware of the five principal issues of concern that the Order of Saint Andrew has identified regarding religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and all Christians in Turkey:
1) The lack of any legal identity afforded to the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Turkish state;
2) The closing in 1971 of the Patriarchate’s theological seminary and the resultant inability to train new clergy;
3) Confiscation of thousands of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s properties by the host government;
4) Interference in Patriarchal elections;
5) The non-recognition of the Patriarchate’s historic and venerable “Ecumenical” status.
All these conditions go to the very core of this ancient religious community’s very ability to survive.
In light of them and other aspects of the plight of religious minorities in Turkey, it is clear that Erdogan is acting as a dictator, going to religious minorities asking them to sign a paper that belies reality when they are in no position to refuse, for fear that their situation will deteriorate even more.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recently released its 2018 Annual Report, which documents violations of religious freedom around the world, and makes recommendations to the U.S. government on how this fundamental freedom can be more effectively protected worldwide. Once again, the USCIRF has included Turkey among its Tier 2 violators – that is, countries where religious freedom violations are systematic, ongoing, and/or egregious. This coerced statement amounts to yet another violation of religious freedom in Turkey.
Religious freedom goes hand in hand with freedom of the press, and more journalists are imprisoned in Turkey than anywhere else in the world. Accordingly, we hope that this egregious statement, clearly obtained under duress, will inspire journalists worldwide to investigate and shed light upon the plight of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of all Christians and other religious minorities in Turkey.
And once again, we fervently pray for our suffering Christian brothers and sisters and all those who are persecuted simply for professing their faith in Turkey and elsewhere.
Anthony J. Limberakis, MD