For years the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been suffering discriminatory practices that fall into three broad categories:
- legal status denial accompanied by property confiscation;
- the Halki Theological School closure;
- Interference into Ecumenical Patriarch election process.
Legal status denial accompanied by property confiscation
Although the government of Turkey has promised to apply equitable policy principles in terms of the conversion of historic Christian sites into mosques, so far it has been remained to be only a promise. The 20th century in Turkrey has been marked by a series of government acts aimed at property confiscation and destruction. Various government decrees and confiscation taxes were imposed on the properties belonging to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its Orthodox Christian communities.
The Halki Theological School closure
Another instance of discrimination is the closure of Halki School of Theology. The school was founded in 1844 and in 1971 it was not allowed to admit new students. For years, the Ecumenical Patriarch has made urgent petitions to allow the reopening of Halki School of Theology, receiving only promises by Turkish officials in response. In spite of all the promises and petitions, the Halki Theological School is still closed. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom 2018 Annual Report states: “Reopening Halki Seminary and returning properties to religious minority groups are issues that remain of keen interest to the United States”.
Interference in Ecumenical Patriarch election process
In 1923 and 1970 the Governors of Istanbul issued decrees requiring that the Ecumenical Patriarch and the voting hierarchs must have Turkish citizenship. However, according to the canons of the Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical Patriarch can be elected from among all hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate all over the world, but not just those who have Turkish citizenship.
Historic Christian Sites
Since 1934, the majority of historic Christian sites in Turkey have had the status of museums and were open to the public. However, in 2012 the church of Saint Sophia in Nicaea was transferred from a museum to a mosque, although there are numerous mosques in the neighborhood for the local Muslim population. The same decision was made by the Government in terms of Saint Sophia in Trabzon. In 2014 Saint Sophia at Eraclea (Eregli) was converted into a mosque in the same manner. As U.S. Religious Freedom 2018 Annual Report sets forth: “For several years, the Christian community in Turkey and beyond has raised concerns about a potential change in the status of the historic Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Despite the Hagia Sophia’s legal status as a museum since 1935, some Muslims—including Turkish parliamentarians—have called for it to be opened as a mosque… U.S. officials have highlighted the need to keep the Hagia Sophia as a museum, emphasizing its importance as a symbol of coexistence between religions”.
Taking into account what has been set forth above, we urge United Nations Human Rights Council to consider the said facts and take effective actions to protect the rights of worshippers and religious communities of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.