Turkey seems to have changed very quickly on the one hand, but if you focus on problematic areas you will see nothing is actually changing.
Look at this recent “crucifixion” discussion in Turkey. It tells us many things, if only we can decode the messages correctly. His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew stated on CBS television that sometimes he feels crucified in Turkey. He also added that the Orthodox in Turkey feel themselves to be second-class citizens. “[The Turkish government] would be happy to see the patriarchate extinguished or moving abroad, but our belief is that it will never happen,” he said.
I think it was the first time he stated his frustration with such harsh words. His remarks and criticism created a chain reaction in Turkey. He was also criticized by the members of the government with equally harsh words.
After His All Holiness’ words came onto political agenda in Turkey, his lawyer made a press release and tried to repair the “damage” done according to her understanding. She said when patriarchate was criticizing government he was indeed criticizing the state, not this government in particular. The lawyer was referring to the state-government distinction in Turkey which is made to explain that some policies in Turkey will not change with the change of government because they are state policies. We have such a distinction, it is true, but I believe that Bartholomew was not only criticizing state policies, but also this government in particular.
Let me try to explain this “quarrel” between Bartholomew and the government from my perspective. As I tried to explain in an earlier article of mine which was published in this column on July 10, 2009 (“Is the ecumenical patriarchate in Turkey waiting for Godot”), the patriarchate in Turkey is on the verge of extinction as a result of some policies and tactics which have been deliberately and systematically applied by the Turkish state since the establishment of Turkish Republic in 1923. Turkish state has applied “a fait accompli strategy” against patriarchate in which it has taken everything from this institution with sudden and unexpected attacks, each of which has been followed a period of silence and these silent periods have always been followed by waves of new attacks. This historic institution has lost everything during this secret war which has been waged against it by the Turkish Republic. With every passing day, the noose around its neck has been tightened more and more. This was a war which aims at to weaken this institution so much that it will finally be forced to leave Turkey. To avoid outside pressure, Turkey has conducted this war in such a way, the final purpose of which may have not been seen even by the patriarchate until very recently.
The patriarchate lost its congregation in Turkey first. Population exchanges, pogroms and attacks against the Greek minority in Turkey wiped out Greek-origin Turkish citizens from Turkey almost completely. After losing its people, the patriarchate started to lose its property. In addition to these material losses, it has been denied a legal capacity and personality, which has added its vulnerability. As you all know, Turkey also created quite unacceptable limitations on the method of choosing a new patriarch, which dictates that the patriarchate, and the members of the holy council which choose new patriarch can only be Turkish citizens. Turkey closed down the Halki Theological School which educates Orthodox clergyman, but also future patriarchs. While the patriarch is accepted as the leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians all over the world, he has been subjected to persecution in his homeland here in Turkey for using his title of “ecumenical.” Not to mention threats, physical attacks and other kind of intimidation. I will continue on this next Wednesday.