Patriarch: Tolerance is lacking

Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, in his most outspoken comments on the subject, yesterday described the shrinking of Turkey’s Greek community and other minorities. He also reiterated his call for the Turkish authorities to open the Orthodox seminary on the island of Halki, which was closed in 1971. «The Greek minority, which used to number 120,000, has been reduced to 3,000,» Vartholomaios said at a round-table discussion in the central Turkish province of Cappadocia, whose hills are riddled with caves and churches once used by Christians. «In my birthplace, Imvros, there were 6-7,000 Greeks when I was a child. Now there are hardly 250,» he added. Referring to other Christian minorities, Vartholomaios noted the fate of the Syriac Catholics in southeastern Turkey. «In Mardin and its environs, there used to be thousands of Syriacs and now they number some 2,000. Some fled to Istanbul, most of them to Western Europe,» he said. «All of this shows that the principle of tolerance does not rule,» Vartholomaios said. But he added: «Despite the mistakes and injustices of the past, today we must acknowledge that there are positive developments in Turkey, like the so-called religious tourism, in which Orthodox liturgies are held here in Cappadocia.» Vartholomaios said that the closing of the Halki seminary violated the right to religious freedom established by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. He noted that only after PM Turgut Ozal intervened in 1987 was the patriarchate allowed to restore its central building in Istanbul’s Phanar quarter after a fire in 1941. Meanwhile, Archbishop Christodoulos of Greece expressed displeasure that he had not been consulted before the bishop of Volos agreed to Vartholomaios’s visiting the city on June 26-27 to be awarded an honorary doctorate by the local university.