Istanbul (AsiaNews) - "We will never permit tricks or the vagaries of history to wipe us out from this land": the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, has commented on the report of the Turkish foreign ministry, which denigrates the "minority" presence of the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey, and refuses to recognize the "ecumenical" character of the ancient patriarchate.
Presiding over the reopening of the church dedicated to Saints Constantine and Helena in the Bozakoy neighborhood in Istanbul, Bartholomew I highlighted for the faithful present that "we are not finished, or hopeless." And recalling the great battle of Greek king Leonides against Xerxes of Persia, he added: "we will never abandon our Thermopylae."
It seems that the Turkish foreign ministry is trying to make the patriarchate "disappear," continuing to call Bartholomew I "the patriarch of Fanar [editor's note: the neighborhood where the patriarch resides]," refusing to use the title "ecumenical" and acknowledging only that he has spiritual responsibility for the domestic Greek minority, and not for the Orthodox communities connected to Constantinople. It also seems almost a concession from above to accept that Bartholomew I uses the title "ecumenical" abroad. All of this has an impact on the juridical status of the patriarchate, on its freedom to travel abroad, and to host foreign delegations in Turkey.
This position has been reaffirmed in a report on the minorities in Turkey, presented by the foreign ministry in parliament, the details of which have been released recently. The report states that according to the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), the patriarchate of Fanar is allowed ecumenical status: its presence and residence in Turkey is only in function of its service to the religious needs of the Orthodox, Turkish citizens who because of the persecutions and expulsions of the past have been reduced to a small minority of 3,000 souls, with an average age of 60.
But the report does not say that this interpretation is not accepted by the international community, and is also contested by eminent Turkish personalities like Professor Baskin Oran.
The report also excludes the possibility of reopening the theological school of Chalki, in the name of state secularism, but does not say that the Turkish state, secular (and Sunni), finances mosques and schools for imams.
The curious thing is that the report on the minorities should be produced by the foreign ministry. In this way, Turkish citizens are in practice considered foreigners in their own country, under the constant and vigilant observation of the Turkish bureaucracy.
The report also contains manipulations of a political nature. In order to demonstrate to the world the magnanimity of the Turkish state toward the Orthodox minority - especially in view of entry into the European Union - the fact is cited that in Turkey, there are at least 270 places of worship for the Orthodox. But it says nothing about the fact that all of these were built before the foundation of the Turkish republic, during the Ottoman Empire, which, although it was a Muslim state, defended the minorities much more than the current state does.
The report also talks about the "interest" that the United States allegedly has in supporting the patriarchate of Constantinople. This "interest" is due to the fact that the United States would like to counterbalance the importance and influence of the Church of Moscow.
"It is clear," says an Orthodox source, "that the bureaucracy of Ankara wants to diminish the importance of the patriarch after the reconciliation between Moscow and Constantinople, in Kiev and during the pan-Orthodox summit.
"Besides," continues the same source, "Turkey was highly disturbed by the emphasis that the Russian media gave to the presence of ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew at the funeral for Alexy II."
On that occasion, the head of the patriarchal see of Moscow, Kyril Smolensky, praised the role of Constantinople. And even Prime Minister Putin thanked Bartholomew I and expressed his desire to visit the see of the ecumenical patriarchate.