A "satisfied" Bartholomew I hopes for the reopening of the Halki School
by NAT da Polis
For the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, the return of properties seized by the Turkish government is an act of justice and reparation for the illegal acts of the past. He has asked for further steps and Erdogan replied to him: This is just the beginning. Imminent reopening of the Theological School of Halki, closed by Ankara in 1971.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) - Bartholomew I, ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, has expressed great satisfaction with the decision of Prime Minister Erdogan Tayep to return properties confiscated after 1936 to all non-Islamic minorities. At the same time, meeting the Turkish prime minister, he expressed the hope that there will be "further steps". Erdogan replied, "This is just the beginning."
The patriarch also strongly hopes in the return and the theological school of Halki to the Orthodox Church, and that the academy, which the Turkish government closed in 1971, will be re-opened.
As if to anticipate the possibility of its opening, Bartholomew I has appointed Msgr. Elpidoforos Lambrinidis, Metropolitan of Bursa, as prior of the monastery of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity), and director of studies: the theological school of Halki in fact belongs to the monastery.
After much pressure from the international community and especially the European Union, the Erdogan government has issued a decree which returns to the Greek-orthodox, Armenian, Jewish and other non-Islamic minority groups, thousands of properties which Turkish the government had unfairly stolen or seized from them in contravention of their international commitments.
The decision is of historical significance because it reveals a change in Ankara’s view of religious minorities, after over 70 years.
Yesterday, the Ecumenical Patriarch went to Our Lady of Souda for the feast of the Sacred Area of Our Lady. The church where he celebrated mass is located near the city’s ancient Byzantine walls. In his homily, Bartholomew I, for the first time, commented on the government's decision.
"Today is a very special day - the patriarch began - because the festivities take place a few days after Turkish government's return of property unfairly taken from us after 1936. It is a moment of great joy not only for us Orthodox Christians, but for all minorities who have lived in these lands for centuries "
"Better late than never," he exclaimed, and added: "If Turkey considers itself a State of law, everything must be done in a context of justice and not lawlessness."
Some commentators underline this sentence because it defines Mr. Erdogan's initiative, not as an act of favour to non-Muslim minorities, but as an act of reparation for the injustice perpetrated against them, despite the commitments and agreements made by previous Turkish governments that were never respected.
Bartholomew I concluded by expressing his satisfaction, joy and thanks to Erdogan but he also wanted to remind him that "everyone is waiting for further significant steps towards non-Muslim minorities." The Prime Minister replied to him: "This is just the beginning".
Meanwhile, the ecumenical patriarch yesterday appointed the new prior of the monastery of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity), to which the theological school of Halki belongs. The new prior is Msgr. Elpidoforos Lambrinidis, Metropolitan of Bursa. He is due to take over the direction of studies in Halki, as soon as the school is reopened.
In diplomatic circles it is rumoured that this appointment points to the probable or imminent reopening of the Theological School of Halki, because - they say - "Erdogan wants to close all the outstanding issues with non-Muslim minorities, a legacy of the governments of the old establishment."
The choices in favour of non-Islamic minorities show the prime minister is engaged in a new Middle Eastern geopolitics. The gesture of the reopening of Halki would further improve his image not only in the eyes of Westerners, but throughout the entire region.