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PM Erdoğan Asserts Turks Rights in Greece in Return For Halki Seminary January 15, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Human rights abuses, Turkey, Yunanistan.
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Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed ongoing efforts to re-open the Halki Seminary on Heybeliada, but added: ‘The Greek government should solve problems of Turkish minority in Thrace, too.’

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in an interview with Kriter magazine confirmed that the Education Ministry has been working on approaches to re-opening the Halki Seminary on Heybeliada, one of the Princes’ Islands off Istanbul.

“The seminary issue requires a multidimensional process. We need to examine it in detail for both legal regulations and the education system. The related ministers and institutions have been studying possible approaches,” said Erdoğan.

Professor Ali Bardakoğlu, director of Religious Affairs, welcomed the re-opening. “Such matters can be discussed and easily solved in scope of religious freedom,” he said.

“I see how Jewish and Christian citizens live in this country as equals like us. They are able to assign their Islamic clergy,” said Bardakoğlu.

Turkey asserts that “mutual steps” should be taken on both sides, which means Greece should introduce more freedoms to Turks living in Thrace.

“Of course, what Turkish minorities in Thrace demand from the Greek government should be considered, too,” said Erdoğan. “The Greek government should consider Turks and solve their problems related to the assignment of Islamic clergy, unemployment and the rights to establish minority associations.”

What is expected from Greece

Greece can ease tensions and contribute to a permanent solution by introducing measures that address what the Turkish minority haslong requested, for example Turks are not allowed to use the word “Turk” in naming of associations.

There are no mosques in Athens despite the large number of Turkish-Muslim communities in the city. The existing mosques from the Ottoman era are museums, and others are left unprotected.

The building of a Muslim cemetery is also forbidden in Athens, where more than 100,000 Muslims live. Instead, Muslim citizens must bury their deceased in Thrace.

Patriarch Bartholomew, however, criticized the notion of “mutual demands.”

“It is reasonable to demand mosques in Athens, but I’m not responsible. Why should we have to account for the mistakes there? It is forbidden to elect Islamic clergy in Thrace. That’s true, but why is that my fault?”

“We are Turkish citizens who vote and pay taxes. What we demand is basic citizenship rights,” he said.

Possible approaches to re-open seminary

As part of its “democratic initiative” to extend minority rights, the government is expected to announce the re-opening of the Halki Seminary just as the Fener Greek Patriarchate has long hoped for.

While the Education Ministry has been working on possible approaches, discussions have centered on the seminary’s possible status: a foundation or a school affiliated with the ministry.

According to the first approach, the seminary would consist of two departments while its high school section would be considered a “private-religious high school” and be affiliated with the Education Ministry. Its college section would operate under the umbrella of the Higher Education Board, or YÖK.

The curriculum and textbooks would be under the control of the Education Ministry if the seminary operates as a vocational religious high school, such as imam-hatips.

The second approach envisions that the seminary would be re-opened as a foundation.

The private education law would have to be altered in order to implement either approach because it is illegal to open a religious or military school under the existing regulations.

According to a 1971 Constitutional Court ruling, all private colleges must be affiliated with a state-run university. Article 130 of the Constitution states: “Foundations are allowed to establish nonprofit colleges that are under state supervision and inspections,” but Article 132 states, “Only the Turkish Armed Forces and police are allowed to open private colleges.”

This law will be altered in line with European Union legislation.

The government is also considering the introduction of more religious freedoms for minorities in line with what the Christian community requests.

Patriarch Germanos IV converted the monastery into a school of theology in 1844. Following a major earthquake in 1894, it was rebuilt and inaugurated in October 1896.

History of the Halki seminary

Numerous Eastern Orthodox scholars, theologians, priests, bishops and patriarchs graduated from Halki, including Patriarch Bartholomew I. Many patriarchs, bishops and former teachers of the school are buried on the grounds.

When established in 1844, the school had seven grades – four high-school levels and three higher levels. In 1899, the high school division was dissolved and the school functioned as an academy with five grades. When the Turkish Republic was established in 1923, the seven-grade system was restored. In 1951, it was changed to three high school grades with four higher-level grades.

As a result of a 1971 Constitutional Court ruling, all private institutions of higher education either became part of state universities, or were closed down. The Halki’s Board of Trustees refused to become part of Istanbul University. Consequently, the seminary section of the school was closed down. The high school section is still open, but no longer has students.

The seminary has received international attention in recent years. The EU has also raised the issue as part of Turkey’s bid for full-membership in the bloc.

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