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About an agreement’ between the Patriarchate and government

Tuesday 23 November 2010, by Orhan Kemal Cengiz

Can a ‘secret agreement’ between the Patriarchate and government promote freedom of religion?

When I heard that Greek newspaper To Vima had reported that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew had reached a “secret agreement,” I did not find it surprising.

This news, of course, needs to be verified, but given the political culture in Turkey and the well-known attitudes of minorities, an unwritten, undeclared agreement would not be a surprise. However, the question remains whether these kinds of agreements promote freedom of religion in Turkey and if they can provide sustainable, substantial benefits for religious minorities.

Before, answering this question, let’s look at the content of this alleged “secret agreement.” As far as I know, the agreement contains the following specifics:

a) The patriarchate will use the title “ecumenical,” and the government will not interfere with it.

b) Erdoğan’s government will recognize the “legal personality” of the patriarchate by implementing the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights concerning the Büyükada Orphanage, namely they will restore ownership back to the patriarchate.

c) The government will grant citizenship to the members of the Holy Synod in order to facilitate the choice of a new patriarch when it is needed.

d) The Halki Seminary will be reopened.

First of all, let me tell you that I do not have the slightest suspicion about the goodwill of the parties to this agreement. They both want to solve existing problems. However, I believe this allegedly existing agreement could only bring temporary relief to the deep suffering of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is now on the brink of extinction.

Because, if there is no legal and open recognition of the rights and the existence of the patriarchate and its institutions, these kinds of “agreements” could easily be dissolved, like a sandcastle, at the first instance of political turmoil in Turkey. By turning a blind eye to the usage of the title “ecumenical,” you are not recognizing it. Because, “ecumenical” is not only a title, but a signifier of the “character” of the institution.

By giving back the orphanage, you will not be recognizing the patriarchate’s legal personality because this does not fill the deliberately created legal gap that denies “legal personality” to religious institutions in Turkey. You will give the building back, but this will not automatically provide the patriarchate with “legal personality,” which is nonexistent in Turkish law and unless changes are made, considering the needs of religious institutions, there will be no such “legal personality” for religious institutions in Turkish law.

If you really will open the Halki school, why have you waited for eight years? If you open Halki Seminary, will you also allow other minority groups to train their clergymen in similar educational facilities?

I can ask many other questions, but I think neither the government, nor the patriarchate would like to go beyond the “comfort zones” in which they have been operating for ages. The government wants to ease the constraints of the patriarchates but it does not want to pay any price for this. Therefore, they want to solve these problems using “de facto” measures. But these de facto measures can only give temporary relief, since they do not create the necessary legal devices and since they do not contribute to changing the mentality and political culture that are the root causes of the problems of minorities in Turkey.

The patriarchate also acts within its own “comfort zone.” They do not seek their rights through legal avenues; they do not bring cases before domestic courts or the European Court of Human Rights. The only cases they have brought before the courts were simply aimed at taking back their “seized” properties. They do not offer “draft laws” and regulations that would have the capacity to give them substantial rights and would provide viable solutions to their problems.

I am specifically referring to the Ecumenical Patriarchate here, but the situation of the “other recognized” religious minorities are not different at all. They have very complex problems, solutions to which require changes at many different levels. These changes include, but are not limited to, the introduction of new laws and regulations; officially recognizing minorities and their institutions; having an open and honest confrontation with Turkey’s past; educating society about tolerance; and so many other things.

In short, we do not need sandcastles; we need to create a whole new political and legal environment for our vulnerable minorities, from which Turkish democracy can learn and flourish.

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Source : TdZ

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