Turkey scolded over Halki

The leader of the European Parliament’s dominant Christian Democratic alliance yesterday called upon EU candidate Turkey to allow the reopening of a Greek Orthodox seminary on the island of Halki, off Istanbul, or risk provoking religious tensions in Europe. «We want the (seminary) to be opened promptly,» Hans-Gert Poettering was quoted as saying at a conference in Istanbul organized by his group and the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate. «If this isn’t done, then phobia of Islam in Western European societies will increase.» But, the deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, Saban Disli, who was also attending the conference, was guarded in his response. «We are looking for a solution that is suitable for all,» he told the gathering. Turkey’s government has backed the reopening of the Halki seminary, which has been closed for 34 years, but has yet to take any action. However, Disli also reiterated Turkish doubts about the ecumenical nature of Vartholomaios, the head of the Patriarchate. «The Patriarchate is a Turkish institution which deals with Turkish citizens,» Disli said. «If the Patriarchate is a Turkish institution then we want it to become a legal entity because I do not know any other Turkish institution that is not one,» said Patriarch Vartholomaios, the spiritual leader of Christian Orthodoxy. Disli’s comments provoked a reaction from Greek Education and Religious Affairs Minister Marietta Giannakou, also in Istanbul, who said, «Religious freedom and the protection of the rights of minorities are a necessary prerequisite for the accession of any country into the EU.»