The İstanbul-based spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians has directed harsh criticism against the Turkish government, saying he feels “crucified” living in Turkey under a government that would like to see his patriarchate die out.
Speaking in an interview with CBS television for a story to be broadcast this Sunday, Patriarch Bartholomew said Turkey’s Greek Orthodox community does not feel that they enjoy full freedoms as Turkish citizens and that they are treated as “second-class citizens.”
The European Union and the US have frequently criticized Turkey for not reopening a Greek Orthodox seminary closed in 1971 and not taking measures to protect the patriarchate’s property rights. The patriarch has long complained about the status of the seminary, located on an island near İstanbul, and property issues, but his CBS remarks are one of his harshest criticisms to date.
“[The Turkish government] would be happy to see the patriarchate extinguished or moving abroad, but our belief is that it will never happen,” Bartholomew said. “I have visited the prime minister, many ministers, submitting our problems … asking [them] to help us,” he told the program. But no help has come his way from the Turkish government, which, according to CBS, prides itself on being secular and fears any special treatment for Orthodox Christians could lead to inroads by other religions, especially Islam.
The government says it has been assessing a number of legal options to open the Halki Seminary — which Bartholomew says is of vital importance for the survival of the Greek Orthodox clergy. It has also pushed for a law to restore the property rights of non-Muslim foundations despite objections from the opposition. The law expands property rights for non-Muslim foundations but does not change the status of property seized by the state in past decades.
“It is not [a] crime … to be a minority living in Turkey, but we are treated as … second class,” Bartholomew told CBS, according to excerpts published by CBS on Friday. “We don’t feel that we enjoy our full rights as Turkish citizens.”
Asked whether he would consider going to Greece, he said he would stay in Turkey. “This is the continuation of Jerusalem and for us an equally holy and sacred land. We prefer to stay here, even crucified sometimes,” said Bartholomew. Asked if he feels crucified, he replied, “Yes, I do.”