“Prime minister Erdogan promises more religious freedom, but the facts belie him: the Christian minority continues to experience discrimination. The Vatican’s doubts and Europe’s indifference.” From the incomparable Sandro Magister in Chiesa, with thanks to Nicolei:
ROMA — The Holy See has abstained from any official comment on the European Union’s December 17 approval for negotiations for Turkey’s entry.
The cardinal secretary of state, Angelo Sodano, made his objections known in July and September of 2002, in two memos he sent to the heads of state of the fourteen member countries then composing the EU.
In both notes, the Holy See placed one binding condition upon Turkey’s entry into Europe: respect for religious freedom and human rights. And he pointed out that in practical terms Turkey was far from fulfilling these conditions.
In December of 2002 the Turkish foreign minister assured the Vatican that his country would take steps in that direction. On June 21, 2004, prime minister Tayyip Erdogan repeated this assurance while receiving in Ankara, for the first time, the Catholic bishops of Turkey….
On December 15 the European parliament, voting by a large majority in favor of negotiations for the admission of Turkey to the EU, scrapped an amendment that asked Ankara to confer, as quickly as possible, the status of legal personality upon the Christian churches, and to suppress the ministry of religious affairs, the state agency that supervises worship and blocks the construction of new churches.
In commenting upon the episode, “Avvenire,” the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, lamented “the manifestation of a certain anti-Christian prejudice in the majority of the European deputies.” And they warned:
“We cannot carry out effective negotiations with Turkey if we surrender European identity bit by bit according to their idiosyncrasies.”…
Precise statistics are lacking, but it is estimated that there are probably no more than 100,000 Christians in Turkey. There are about 25,000 Catholics, with six bishops; 10,000 Syriac-rite Orthodox; and 3,000 Protestants of various denominations.
All the exponents of these minorities — lead by the patriarch of Constantinople and the Catholic bishops — are strongly in favor of Turkey’s entry into Europe, which would produce a decisive improvement in their living conditions. Apart from lacking legal recognition, in fact, these minorities are prevented from constructing, and even from restoring, their places of worship, from possessing buildings and land, and from opening schools. Christians are forbidden from taking up some offices and professions, particularly in the military. Not even the Muslim communities escape strict supervision: all the mosques are the property of the state.
All this is in accord with dhimmi laws of ancient provenance, which some still persist in denying were in force in the Ottoman Empire. If the Ottomans didn’t have them, where did the secular Turks get them?
The miniscule Greek Orthodox community is one of the groups most afflicted by discrimination.
On November 21, the feast of the Presentation of the Mother of God, the patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, publicly denounced one of the many abuses of which his community is victim.
“As everyone knows,” he said, “the church of the Presentation of the Mother of God was also struck by the barbarous attack against the British embassy in Istanbul a year ago, sustaining significant damage which rendered it unusable. But today we find ourselves the victims, not only of the terrorists, but also of the authorities of this country, through unjustifiable delays in granting the license necessary for the reconstruction of our church. We have not asked for reparations or favoritism. We have simply asked for what belongs to every citizen of the EU by law, and we are fully within our rights to demand it as peaceable citizens of this country, a country that wants to be accepted within the EU.”
A few days later, visiting Rome, Bartholomew I also informed Pope John Paul II about this. But when he returned home, he not only had failed to obtain his request, he witnessed even more acts of arbitrary power.
At the beginning of December, without any plausible explanation, the Turkish authorities forbade the Greek Orthodox bishop of Myra to celebrate the liturgy, as is done every year on December 6, among the ruins of the venerated church of Saint Nicholas of Myra, in Asia Minor.
Moreover, during the same period, Turkey’s supreme court rejected the patriarchate’s claim to property rights over an orphanage on the Isle of Princes, having vetoed two months earlier the restitution, also to the patriarchate, of the theological seminary of Halki, confiscated and closed more than thirty years ago: a restitution ineffectively promised last spring by prime minister Erdogan….
Then follows a most revealing account of a Protestant pastor’s efforts to buy a church. Don’t miss it.
His opponents are rejoicing. Nizamettin Sagir, the head of the National Action Party in Antalya, is one of these. Hugh Pope quotes him:
“Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think America is being run by a Christian sect that has a hungry eye on our region. It’s like a new crusade.”
OK, you’re a conspiracy theorist.