The 40-year silence of the Halki (or Heybeliada) seminary must end, said Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I, repeating a long-time demand of the patriarchate, on Monday night at the premiere of the documentary “The Silent School” commemorating the 50th anniversary of his graduation from the seminary.
Tracing the historical background of the seminary from its establishment in 1844 up to its closure by Turkish authorities in 1971 under a law that put religious and military training under state control, the documentary includes an interview with Bartholomew himself. Alluding to Turkey’s bid for European Union membership, Bartholomew said his wish was to have the school reopened. “I want the seminary to reopen, and I want its 40-year silence to come to an end,” he said. Bartholomew, who declined to answer journalists’ questions, repeated the phrase “The school should open.”
Co-produced by the Hellenic History Foundation and the Greek Radio Board (ERT), the film’s co-director, Irini Sarioglou, said the documentary was realized with the collaboration of Greek and Turkish historians. “We researched the history with objectivity,” she said. “The school is one that has been declaring its silence for 40 years. Let us now pay attention to its silent screams.”
Hrisa Arapoğlu, a member of the Greek parliament, said it was a fortunate coincidence for the 50th anniversary of Bartholomew’s graduation to coincide with his birthday. She also stressed the seminary’s importance for the Greek people. “I am certain that after watching this film we will better understand your long struggles. In terms of the silence, this will end with the further development of relations between the two nations,” she said. “The Silent School” will be re-screened at Megaron -- the Athens Concert Hall -- on April 4, 2011.
The EU and the US have frequently criticized Turkey for not reopening the Halki Greek Orthodox seminary -- which experts say is related to Turkey’s interpretation of secularism -- and failing to take measures to protect the patriarchate’s property rights. The patriarchate is an institution under the protection of international law as granted by the Lausanne Treaty. The patriarch has long complained about the status of the seminary, located on the island of Heybeliada near İstanbul, as well as other property issues. The government says it has been assessing a number of legal options to reopen the Halki seminary -- which Bartholomew says is of vital importance for the survival of the Greek Orthodox clergy.