Istanbul (AsiaNews) - Ramadan has not stopped anti-government protests,
which began with the events of Gezi Park. At an iftar (the traditional dinner after
the daily fast during Ramadan) offered by the mayor of Istanbul to the heads of
non-Muslim religious minorities, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I showed his
interest in and sympathy for the protests, which are a sign of the growing desire
for democracy and justice in Turkish society.
Turkish and foreign authorities were present at the meal to which the
patriarch was invited. On this occasion, Bartholomew expressed his thoughts on
the unrest that trouble Turkey, but also on the fate of Christianity in the
In a veiled reference to the protests in Gezi Park, the patriarch said,
"We are excited and joyful witnesses to important facts that seek to find a
solution to long-standing situations that have accumulated over the years in Turkish
society even though they cause divisions and polarisation."
Bartholomew also expressed appreciation for "the many steps taken
by the current government and Prime Minister Erdogan, on issues affecting
minorities, who have been discriminated against and have endured quite a lot of
"Despite the difficulties experienced," he added, "we have managed
to survive and our coexistence in Turkish society resembles a variegated
garden, where flowers are able to live side by side."
However, "I wonder and cannot understand," he noted, "how it is that
Turkey, which is looking for solutions to the Kurdish question and ways to reform
its constitution for a more overt democratisation of society, is not able to re-open
the Theological School in Halki, improperly closed for 42 years, despite much-repeated
and hopeful promises. "
"All this," Bartholomew said, "shows how in this society it is
still difficult to reach and take certain important decisions."
In his brief but tough speech, Bartholomew mentioned the kidnapping
of Paulos and Ioannis, metropolitans in the Patriarchate of Antioch and
Syrian Jacobite Church, expressing concern for their fate and inviting all
those present at the iftar dinner to pray for them.
At the same time, he appealed to the Turkish government to intensify the
search for their whereabouts. The two prelates were kidnapped by rebel groups,
opponents of the regime in Damascus, supported by Turkey.
"Their seizure," said Bartholomew, "has much troubled the Christian
world and is raising many concerns about the fate of all Christians in the
Middle East, which is becoming increasingly dangerous."
At the end of his speech, there was a muted applause. For his part, the
mayor of Istanbul expressed his usual stance in favour of reopening Halki.