Thursday, 17 October 2013

Challenges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Greek Minority

Wednesday 17th October 2013
Rev'd Archimandrite Nikodemos Anagnostopoulos spoke to the group from his paper on 'The Present Status and the Challenges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Greek Minority of Turkey int eh context of Muslim-Christian relations in Modern Turkey' It was well received and supported by some thought provoking questions and a good discussion. Nikodemos focused on the modern era from October, 1923 (the date of the founding of the Turkish Republic) to the present day.

The issues discussed and referred to during our Meeting were as follows;

The Orthodox community had to adapt to living as part of the majority Christian community in the first centuries A.D., to living within the Ottoman Empire for over 600 years with dimmi status as determined by sharia law and then to 'minority status' within the Turkish Republic.  The population of Christians was reduced by the population exchanges on the founding of the Republic between Greece and Turkey as part of the Treaty of Lausanne. Over a million Christians were forcibly transferred to Greece and over 500,000 Muslims transferred  from Greece to Turkey. The City of Constantinople in Turkey and the Province of Western Thrace in Greece were excluded from this requirement and so the Ecumenical Patriarchate  remained in Constantinople and a Muslim majority is present in Western Thrace in Greece.  Over the years under the Republic, the number of Christians in Constantinople has diminished as discrimination in employment and property rights has made it more difficult to live comfortably and occasional anti Christian riots (e.g. 1955) have destabilized the community. Today there are about 3,000 Christians in Constantinople compared with perhaps 200,000 in 1955. As with Iraq, Syria and Palestine, we are witnessing an continuing exodus of the Christian community from the region and the region is becoming increasingly that of nation states all of one faith which historically has been to its detriment.

Modern Turkey espouses an 'active' secular society rather than a 'passive' secular society which the rest of Europe and the United States encourages. It is active in the sense that state ultimately sanctions and manages the life of the Ecumenical Patriarchate  (EP) in Turkey. The EP is not a legal person under Turkish Law and cannot therefore own property. Christian churches and other buildings have been expropriated by the State ,under a law enacted in 1935, without compensation and are placed under the direct control of a Minority Foundation outside the control of the Patriarchate.  The Ecumenical Patriarch has to be a Turkish citizen and the list of candidates for the election of the Patriarch has to be approved by the State and the State has the right to remove a candidate. Matters came to a head recently which with the diminishing Christian population in Constantinople threatening the continuity of the Patriarchate. An agreement was made with the Turkish Government.The State decided that twelve  heads of the autocephalous orthodox community in Europe and the United States that is in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate and recognises the Patriarch as the 'first among equals' within the Orthodox Community should be Turkish citizens and therefore eligible for the list of candidates to be approved by the State. Secularism, in Turkey, requires the faith communities ultimately to be accountable to the State for their organisation and behaviour as a faith community. This can be seen as a stranglehold  on the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the ultimate goal of squeezing the Christian community in its entirety from Turkey. Passive secularism on the other hand accords a much greater degree of freedom of belief, organisation and behaviour of faith communities in the nation state.

The other controlling factor of the Christian Communities is education. Although education and theological training was provided for under the Treaty of Lausanne, the Turkish authorities illegally closed the Theological Academy of Halki in Turkey in 1971 which meant that all Theological training had to be undertaken outside Turkey. The Turkish Government have required Greece to establish a mosque in Athens in order to allow the re-opening of the Halki Theological Academy. This matter is still under discussion today.

Nikodemos says that he has often heard in 'Arab' countries in the Middle East that the Turkish management of other faith communities is a model which might help them in resolving the status of the Christian communities in their situation. The justification for such a claim is difficult to justify in the light of this paper and this discussion.