Even thought the Greek Orthodox
minority of Istanbul received a series of guarantees from the Lausanne Treaty
of 1923, several events since the 1930’s (mostly linked to Cyprus) led to the
diminishing of the community from almost 140,000 people in 1923 to less than
2,000-3,000 today. Turkey, with a series of laws took measures against the
community by preventing Greeks from exercising specific trades and professions.
The most important measures were the 1932 parliamentary law and the 1942 Whealthy Levy
(Varlik Vergisi). However, it is of no doubt that the most catastrophic moments
in the minority’s modern history were the Pogrom in September 1955 and the
1964-65 deportation of the Greek citizens of Istanbul. After these events the
minority was shrunken to less than 3,000 today.
It is also important to stress that several measures were token in
Imvros and Tenedos as well, which resulted to the actual destruction of the
Greek communities which were predominant in these islands in 1923.
St. George's Church- Ferer, Istanbul.
As for the Ecumenical
Patriarchate, which is supposed to be the ‘spiritual guide’ of the Greek
Orthodox community of Istanbul under the Lausanne Treaty, three are the major
problems: the first one is the Holy Theological School in Halki (Heybeliada) which
was shut down in 1971 and since then the Patriarchate calls for its re-opening.
The actual problem which arises is that the Theological School is vital for the
Patriarchate to exist, since there it can trains its clergy. Furthermore, since
the Turkish law demands that the Patriarch has to be Turkish citizen by birth
it can be assumed that with the Halki School closed it is impossible for the Ecumenical
Patriarchate to train its prospective Patriarchs.
The second major
problem is found in Turkey’s denial of a legal personality for the Ecumenical
Patriarchate. The imminent effect of this denial is that actually the
Patriarchate has no ownership rights. Furthermore,according to a 1974 Turkish Supreme Court of
Appeals (Yargitay) decision, the Turkish state does not recognize properties
which have been donated after 1936 to religious foundations and whose
constitutive document does not explicitly mention the right to acquire
property.Also, many Greek Orthodox
cemeteries are being ruled by the Turkish local authorities in violation of the
Lausanne Treaty (Article 42) and pursuant to Article 160 of the Law on Local
Finally, the last problem which the Ecumenical
Patriarchate faces is the non-recognition of the Patriarchates ecumenical
nature by the Turkish authorities. Turkey suggests that the Patriarchate in
Istanbul serves only the Greeks of Turkey and terms such as ecumenical are threatening the
sovereignty and the laicité of the
Turkish state. However the term ecumenical is not related to politics. It is a
clear spiritual and religious title which was given to the Patriarchate of Constantinople
(Istanbul) during the 6 century A.D. The peculiarity of the Turkish refusal is
that the ecumenical nature of the Patriarchate is been recognized worldwide and
the bishop whom they regard as a local is recognized as the spiritual leader of
more than 300,000,000 Orthodox Christians around the world. In
terms of operation, the refusal of its ecumenicity prevents the Patriarchate
from accepting deacons from outside of Turkey who can permanently work and
settle themselves in Turkey.
Consequences from the rapprochement for the
minority in Istanbul
As we have seen, the
rapprochement process between the two countries helped a lot to the creation of
a more ‘constructive’ environment in order to reach a final settlement in the
Regarding the ‘stricto sensu’ minority problems we can
see that things do not seem to have been better for the Greek minority in
Istanbul. The problems are still there,
and the fact that Turkey treats the Greek minority in Istanbul under a mindset
of reciprocity of the Greek state towards the Muslim minority in Greece leads
is heavily paradoxical. The reason I am suggesting this is that minority
members in Istanbul are Turkish citizens of Greek origin and therefore Turkey
shouldn’t demand ‘exchanges’ from Greece and vice versa. By doing so, both
countries are alienating the minorities and actually they lead them to seek
assistance from outside, which of course perplexes even more the bilateral
relations of these countries. Furthermore, in the case of Turkey I still insist
that its attitude towards the minority and especially the Ecumenical
Patriarchate is totally insane. The very reason I am suggesting this, is that
actually it is for Turkey’s national interests to promote the Ecumenical
Patriarchate. One the one hand this would make it easier to diminish its
‘Greek’ character in favor of its ‘ecumenicity’ and on the other hand Turkey
would receive credentials as an example of a muslim country which respects
minorities and is also the base of an international institution. The latter
certainly would improve Turkeys profile as an EU candidate member state.
During December 2009 the Turkish
Ministry of Education announced that there is an ongoing process for the
re-opening of the Greek Orthodox Theological School in Halki,
an event which certainly is a positive one. However, I suggest that it was not
the rapprochement process which helps the Patriarchate to improve its situation
rather than the charismatic personality of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.
His international magnitude as well as his efforts against climate change ( The
so called ‘Green’ Patriarch) and his role in order to open a dialogue with
other Christian churches and Islam certainly created a lot of international
pressure to Turkey in order to settle the issue.
The Halki Theological School which remains closed since 1971.
As for the properties of the
Greek community and the Patriarchate things seem to be hopeful. The Turkish law
which was voted by the Turkish National Assembly makes on February 2008 in
order for the country to comply with EU legislation. The ‘‘law 5555’’ certainly helps the situation regarding the properties
owned by minorities (which had been confiscated by the Turkish state) however
both the EU and the minorities suggest that there are more which are needed to
be done. In addition to that, Turkey’s conviction in the ‘Fokas case’
created a precedent for members of the Greek community in order to assert their
properties.The Panagia Soumela Monastery near Trebizond, a symbol for the Pontian Greeks
Also the Ministry of Culture
announced that once a year, a divine liturgy will be allowed to the Panagia Soumela Orthodox Monastery in
the Trebizond area, a
symbol for the refugees of 1922. Certainly many can argue that these moves are
only to impress, however if the rapprochement process was not the strategic
doctrine in the bilateral relations, nothing of these symbolic moves would have
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Hale, W. (2000) Turkish
Foreign Policy, 1774-2000. London, Frank Cass,
Holland, Robert. "The
Struggle for Mastery, 4 October 1955–9 March 1956," Britain
and the Revolt in Cyprus, 1954–59,
Keridis, D. and Triantaphyllou,
D. (eds), Greek-Turkish-Relations in the Era of Globalization,
London, Brasseys, 2001.
Ker-Lindsay, J., Crisis and
Conciliation: A Year of Rapprochement between Greece and Turkey, London,
I.B. Tauris, 2007.Speros Vryonis, Jr. The
Mechanism of Catastrophe: The Turkish Pogrom of September 6–7, 1955, and the
Destruction of the Greek Community of Istanbul, New York: 2005
Struggle for Mastery, 4 October 1955–9 March 1956," Britain
and the Revolt in Cyprus, 1954–59,
Press, 1998, pp. 75–77.
Imvros and Tenedos are located next to the Dardanelles (Canakalle). Both of the
islands were inhabited by Greek people who numbered 8,000 and 5,000
respectively. The islands were captured by the Greek navy during the First
Balkan War in 1913 and after 12 years of Greek administration were given to
Turkey under the Treaty of Lausanne (article 14) because of their strategic
importance. Even thought the Greeks of these islands were protected under the
Treaty and had a series of rights and privileges, Turkish authorities violated
the Treaty by establishing in Imvros an open jail and by expropriating 95% of
the arable land which belonged to the Greeks. Today Greeks in Imvros are 400
people and in Tenedos almost 200.
Holy Theological School of Halki was closed in 1971 by the Turkish authorities
according to a law which forbids private universities from functioning. Since 1998 the issue took an international
aspect since the US Congress passed resolutions which supported the re-opening
of the School. The Theological School is considered of vital importance for the
continuation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to exist, since it is the only
place where future Patriarchs can be trained. For more information about the
issue check http://www.patriarchate.org/patriarchate/monasteries-churches/halki.
Also visit mfa.gr and mfa.gov.tr to see the respective approaches for the
issue from both countries.
Bartholomew’s interview in channel CBS in December 2009, when he stated that he
feels ‘crucified’ and ‘second class citizen’ had a strong impact in the
American society and resulted to the expression of international sympathy
towards the Patriarchate. Also, various voices in Turkey stated that it is for
Turkey’s interest to promote the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Fokas brothers who are living in Katerini, Greece were deprived from their
right to inherit their sister Polixeni Pistika (died in 2000), according to the
presidential decree of 1964 which confiscated Greek properties. After an
18-year judicial marathon, the two brothers were vindicated by the European
Court of Human Rights on September 2009. The Court unanimously demanded from
Turkey to return the property to its owners or to reimburse them with the
amount of 19 million Euros. Since the Court decided unanimously (even the
Turkish judge voted for), Turkey is deprived of its right to exercise
announcement was made by the Minister of Culture of Turkey in late 2009 and
involved the re-opening of the Armenian Church in Lake Van as well as the
opening of Panagia Sumela once a year for liturgy.