Obama makes appeal on Halki

US President Barack Obama, addressing Turkey’s Grand National Assembly yesterday, urged Ankara to reopen the Halki Orthodox Seminary near Istanbul as a gesture to show it supports freedom of expression and pushed for a solution to the Cyprus problem. On his first official visit to the country, the president praised Turkey for taking steps toward granting rights to its Kurdish citizens. But he urged the Turks to drop their resistance to reopening a historic Orthodox seminary located on an island near Istanbul, a key demand by the European Union which Turkey hopes to join. «The United States strongly supports Turkey’s bid to become a member of the European Union… [but] Turkey has its own responsibilities,» Obama told an audience which included his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul. «Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening the Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond,» Obama added. The Turks have consistently dodged Greek appeals for the reopening of the seminary, asserting that a religious institution cannot exist in Turkey without government oversight. Obama also offered US support for a new drive to reunify Cyprus. «The United States is willing to offer all the help sought by the parties as they work toward a just and lasting settlement that reunifies Cyprus into a bizonal and bicommunal federation,» he said. The US president also encouraged Turkey to resolve its dispute with Armenia. «I know there are strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915,» he said in reference to the widespread killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks. The US president avoided using the word «genocide» as he had done early last year when he was a presidential candidate. He added, «The best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive.»

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