Speaking in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” for a story that was broadcast yesterday, Patriarch Bartholomew said Turkey’s Greek Orthodox community does not feel they enjoy full freedoms as Turkish citizens and feel they are treated as “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,” Bartholomew said. “I have visited the prime minister, many ministers, submitting our problems … asking [them] to help us,” he told the program.
“It is not [a] crime … to be a minority living in Turkey, but we are treated as … second class,” Bartholomew told Bob Simon in an interview for the newsmagazine program, 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.”
At a joint press conference following a meeting of the Reform Monitoring Group (RİG), which consists of the justice minister, the foreign minister, the interior minister and the chief negotiator for EU affairs, Foreign Minister Davutoğlu was asked Saturday about Bartholomew’s remarks.
“We consider the crucifix metaphor an extremely unfortunate metaphor. In our history, there have never been crucifixes and there never will be. I couldn’t really square this metaphor with his mature personality,” Davutoğlu told reporters.
Stating that the Turkish nation’s history was built on religious tolerance, Davutoğlu went on to say, “I hope to see this as an undesirable slip of the tongue.”
Bartholomew is the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world. Ankara rejects Bartholomew’s use of the title “ecumenical,” or universal, arguing instead that the patriarch is merely the spiritual leader of İstanbul’s dwindling Orthodox community.
The European Union and the US have frequently criticized Turkey for not reopening a Greek Orthodox seminary closed in 1971 and failing to take 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 remarks to Simon were some of his harshest criticisms to date.
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. 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.
Turkey is a secular and democratic state based on the rule of law, and it doesn’t treat its own citizens differently according to their religious identities, Davutoğlu said,
“If Bartholomew has complaints about this, there are authorities involved in these issues in Turkey; he can convey [those complaints] to us. Necessary effort will be exerted on whichever issues he feels should be addressed. We are ready to listen to every kind of complaint on this issue, but we cannot accept this making of comparisons that we don’t deserve.”
‘A daily used phrase’
While Davutoğlu was speaking in Ankara, Kezban Hatemi, a lawyer for Bartholomew, was speaking with the Anatolia news agency in İstanbul, where she announced that Bartholomew has planned to release a statement this week in order to prevent any misunderstanding.
The interview subject to controversy was recorded in May, Hatemi underlined, adding that “being crucified” was a commonly used Christian phrase.
Sources close to the patriarch, speaking with Turkish newspaper Milliyet, also underlined that the term “being crucified,” was commonly used among Greek people. The patriarch didn’t particularly target the government with those remarks, but he rather referred to decades-old troubles faced by the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey, the same sources told the daily.
“We use the phrase in daily language. This is not against the government, because the term of the ruling Justice and Development Party [AK Party] has been the most comfortable term for us in modern history. But of course, is it possible to forget that our school [Halki] is still closed; the Sept. 6-7 incidents [1955 rampage against ethnic Greeks which led thousands to leave the country]; that our properties have been confiscated; and the troubles which we have been through?” the sources were quoted as saying by Milliyet.