US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Turkey on Sunday to re-open Orthodox clergy schools near Istanbul that authorities have kept closed for more than 40 years.
“It is our hope that the Halki seminary will open,» Kerry said during a press conference in Istanbul after two days of talks on the Syrian crisis and the Mideast peace process.
Kerry said he discussed religious freedom in overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey and the possible re-opening of the theological schools in talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
The Halki seminary, where Orthodox clergy used to train, is located on an island off Istanbul and was closed in 1971, after Turkey fell out with Greece over Cyprus.
Kerry also met on Sunday the Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians.
Both the United States and the European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, have increased pressure on Ankara to re-open the seminary as well as introducing further rights for religious minorities in the new constitution it is currently drafting.
Ankara says it is also in favour of such a move but cites procedural issues for the delay in implementing it.
Vartholomaios told Kerry that the Turkish government had improved its treatment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate recently.
“Over the last few months and years, there has been progress in the government’s behaviour towards the Patriarchate and more generally towards minorities,” he said.
“Of course, within this framework, we expect solutions to our existing problems, such as the re-opening of the Halki Seminary, which is a great need for our Patriarchate, for its present and future.”
[AFP & Kathimerini English Edition]