Constantinople, August 10, 2018
Christians in Turkey were recently pressured by Erdogan’s government to sign a declaration that they face no religious persecution in the nation, according to a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared last Wednesday that Turkey has no problems with religious minorities. “Turkey has no problems related to [religious] minorities. Threatening language of the U.S. evangelist, Zionist mentality is unacceptable,” he said, according to the Andalou Agency.
His statement comes on the heels of the signing the day before of a joint declaration by every non-Muslim community, including Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Jewish leaders, denying allegations of “pressure” on minority faith groups.
As the Daily Sabah reports, the statement reads, “As religious representatives and directors of different faiths and beliefs who have been residing in our country for centuries, we live out our faiths freely and practice our worship freely according to our traditions. The statements that claim and/or imply that [our faiths] are under pressure are totally unfounded and exceed reality. Many troubles and instances of victimization experienced in the past have been resolved in time.”
However, the Order of St. Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate has denied the statement, its National Commander, Anthony J. Limberakis, MD, writing that the statement was signed under duress.
“The Order of Saint Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, regrets the pressure that the Turkish government has clearly placed upon that nation’s religious minorities in obtaining a statement on religious freedom from them,” he writes.
He adds that “One need not be a ‘U.S. evangelist’ or have a ‘Zionist mentality’ to see that the statement from representatives of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches and other religious minority communities was obtained under duress.”
As Limberakis details, the Greek and Armenian communities in Turkey are well aware of the Archons’ many concerns about religious freedom in Turkey. They have pinpointed five principal points:
1) The lack of any legal identity afforded to the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Turkish state;
2) The closing in 1971 of the Patriarchate’s theological seminary and the resultant inability to train new clergy;
3) Confiscation of thousands of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s properties by the host government;
4) Interference in Patriarchal elections;
5) The non-recognition of the Patriarchate’s historic and venerable “Ecumenical” status.
He draws the conclusion: “In light of them and other aspects of the plight of religious minorities in Turkey, it is clear that Erdogan is acting as a dictator, going to religious minorities asking them to sign a paper that belies reality when they are in no position to refuse, for fear that their situation will deteriorate even more.”
He also notes that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has categorized Turkey as a systematic violator of religious rights.
An Archon is an honoree by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for his outstanding service to the Church, and a well-known distinguished, and well-respected leader of the Orthodox Christian community.
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