Istanbul (AsiaNews) - A visit of great importance yesterday marked the conclusion of the holiday season for the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul. Bartholomew I received the deputy prime minister of the Turkish government Bulent Arinc, in charge of minority affairs for the AKP government and representative for the party’s religious wing. After blessing the waters of the Golden Horn and has launching a cross into the Sea of Marmara, Bartholomew I held talks with the Turkish government official.
The visit is the first for 58 years, when the prime minister of the time, Adnan Menderes, paid a visit to the then Patriarch Athenagoras. Unfortunately this visit was followed by the bloody anti-Christian pogrom of 1955, for which Menderes was partly responsible. Yesterday's visit assumes special significance because it occurs one month after the legal recognition of the Ecumenical Patriarchate by Turkish authorities with the restitution of the deeds of property of the Buyukada orphanage. In August 2009 Patriarch Bartholomew visited Prime Minister Erdogan, and Minister Arinc.
During yesterday's meeting - which also included the representative for minorities of the Directorate General of Foundations, Lakis Vingas - various issues were taken into consideration. Chief among these education for minorities and the properties of religious foundations, in the light of the new law on religious foundations, against which the opposition party CHP had appealed to the Constitutional Court. The appeal was dismissed.
At the end of meeting Arinc stated: "I have come not only to exchange greetings, but also to respond to the Patriarch’s personal invitation and I hope that my visit here will mark the beginning of a new era." Arinc said: "As a government we are obliged to meet the needs of these citizens who have a centuries-old presence in these lands."
Bartholomew thanked the government for the return of the Buyukada orphanage, to which Arinc responded: "For our part we have not given anything and we have not recognized anything. Justice was done, by applying the decision of the Strasbourg and Turkish Courts ".
Patriarch Bartholomew I concluded his speech by saying that "The new Law on Foundations does not satisfy us 100%, but it certainly is a step forward. These openings concern only non-Muslim minorities in Turkey, but are a test of a democratic opening that leads Turkey closer to Europe. A reason for joy for everyone in this country. We look forward to 2011 and the reopening of the Theological School of Halki (This year marks the 40 years since its closure). We hope this year will see us continue on the journey towards Turkey’s full membership of the European Union. "
The Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, yesterday underlined the importance of Bulent Arinc’s visit to the Fanar to his party's members, highlighting the difference between the policy of his minority government and that of the opposition. He extolled the importance of knowing how to understand and accept others.
Well-informed diplomatic sources say that when the patriarch speaks of the process of democratic opening of Turkey, he believes that these openings should also include Christian minorities that are not explicitly included in the Treaty of Lausanne (1923, which speaks of minority Christian Orthodox, Armenian and Jewish ), and therefore also the Catholic Church, which still lives devoid of any recognition.