One would think that Turkey has chosen a bad time to harass the Ecumenical Patriarch, but the Turkish government probably figures — correctly — that it won’t matter to anyone in Europe, and that the West will knuckle under presently. From AP, with thanks to Keith Roderick:
ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) – A furor in Turkey ignited by the title of a Christian spiritual leader on a U.S. embassy invitation has underscored concerns about the largely Muslim country’s treatment of minorities two weeks before the European Union decides whether to open membership talks with Ankara.
The problem revolved around the status of the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, a Turkish citizen and ethnic Greek. He is considered “first among equals” of the world’s Orthodox patriarchs and directly controls several Greek Orthodox Churches around the world.
But Turkey has long refused to accept any international role for the patriarch and rejects his use of the title “ecumenical,” or universal. It argues the patriarch is merely spiritual leader of Istanbul’s dwindling Orthodox community of less than 3,000.
So when the U.S. Embassy sent out invitations for a reception on Thursday hosted by Ambassador Eric Edelman that referred to Bartholomew as “ecumenical patriarch” – a term long accepted by the United States and Europe – Turkish officials were furious.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which has made EU membership its top priority and hopes to open membership talks with the bloc next year, ordered public officials not to attend the reception.
“We find it wrong that although none of our citizens has such a title, that invitations are issued in this form,” Erdogan said in a television interview on Wednesday, adding that the patriarch’s status was determined by an international treaty signed in 1923.
The issue goes to the heart of questions about Turkey’s commitment to European values. The EU has said that improved rights for ethnic and religious minorities would be a condition for Turkey’s EU membership.
Turkey’s desire to contain Bartholomew’s influence to Istanbul stems from a deep mistrust many Turks feel toward the patriarchate because of its traditional ties with Greece, Turkey’s historical regional rival.
But the dispute has flared at precisely the wrong time for Turkey – ahead of a Dec. 17 summit that will decide whether to begin membership negotiations for its entry into the EU. In October, a parliamentary bill to criminalize adultery also raised questions about Turkey’s commitment to European values, just as Brussels was considering a preliminary recommendation on opening talks.
The crisis was defused when Erdogan, whose party has Islamic roots, persuaded lawmakers to back away from the law. But the EU report that eventually cleared the way for the Dec. 17 decision suggested that improved rights for ethnic and religious minorities would be a condition for membership….
In Athens, the head or the Orthodox Church of Greece, Archbishop Christodoulos, defended the patriarchate Thursday and accused Turkey of violating its obligation toward the EU.