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40th Anniversary of the Forced Closure of the Theological School of Halki

  • Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin
    US












Senate

112th Congress, First Session

Mr. President, I am pleased to be joined today by Senators Snowe, Reid, Shaheen, Whitehouse, and Menendez in introducing a resolution calling upon the government of Turkey to facilitate the reopening of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Theological School of Halki without condition or further delay. 

I was privileged to again meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, during his 2009 visit to the United States. His impassioned request to those of us gathered was for our support for the reopening of the Theological School of Halki, forcibly closed by the Turkish authorities in 1971. In this year marking the 40th anniversary of that tragic action, I urge the Turkish leadership to reverse this injustice and allow this unique religious institution to reopen 

Founded in 1844, the Theological School of Halki, located outside modern-day Istanbul, served as the principal seminary of the Ecumenical Patriarchate until its forced closure. Counted among alumni of this preeminent educational institution are numerous prominent Orthodox scholars, theologians, priests, and bishops as well as patriarchs, including Bartholomew I. Many of these scholars and theologians have served as faculty at other institutions serving Orthodox communities around the world. 

Past indications by the Turkish authorities of pending action to reopen the seminary have, regrettably, failed to materialize. Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met with the Ecumenical Patriarch in August 2009. In an address to a wider gathering of minority religious leaders that day, Erdogan concluded by stating, “We should not be of those who gather, talk and disperse. A result should come out of this.” I could not agree more with the sentiment. But resolution of this longstanding matter requires resolve, not rhetoric. 

In a positive development last August, the authorities in Ankara, for the first time since 1922, permitted a liturgical celebration to take place at the historic Sumela Monastery. The Ecumenical Patriarch presided at that service, attended by pilgrims and religious leaders from several countries, including Greece and Russia. Last November, a Turkish court ordered the Buyukada orphanage to be returned to Ecumenical Patriarchate and the transfer of the property has been completed. 

As one who has followed issues surrounding the Ecumenical Patriarchate with interest for many years, I welcome these positive developments. My hope is that they will lead to the return of scores of other church properties seized by the government. In 2005, the Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, convened a briefing, “The Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey: A Victim of Systematic Expropriation.” The Commission has consistently raised the issue of the Theological School for well over a decade and will continue to closely monitor related developments. 

The State Department’s 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom is a reminder of the challenges faced by Orthodox and other minority religious communities in Turkey. I urge the Turkish Prime Minister to ensure respect for the rights of individuals from these groups to freely profess and practice their religion or beliefs, in keeping with Turkey’s obligations as an OSCE participating State. 

The 1989 OSCE Vienna Concluding Document affirmed the right of religious communities to provide “training of religious personnel in appropriate institutions.” The Theological School of Halki served that function for over a century until its forced closure four decades ago. The time has come to allow the reopening of this unique institution without further delay. 

I urge my colleagues to support this resolution.

SENATE RESOLUTION 196–CALLING UPON THE GOVERNMENT OF TURKEY TO FACILITATE THE REOPENING OF THE ECUMENICAL PATRIARCHATE’S THEOLOGICAL SCHOOL OF HALKI WITHOUT CONDITION OF FURTHER DELAY 

Mr. CARDIN (for himself, Ms. SNOWE, Mr. REID of Nevada, Mrs. SHAHEEN, Mr. WHITEHOUSE, and Mr. MENENDEZ) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations: 

S. Res. 196 

Whereas the Ecumenical Patriarchate is an institution with a history spanning 17 centuries, serving as the center of the Orthodox Christian Church throughout the world; 

Whereas the Ecumenical Patriarchate sits at the crossroads of East and West, offering a unique perspective on the religions and cultures of the world; 

Whereas the title of Ecumenical Patriarch was formally accorded to the Archbishop of Constantinople by a synod convened in Constantinople during the sixth century; 

Whereas, since November 1991, His All Holiness, Bartholomew I, has served as Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch; 

Whereas Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1997, in recognition of his outstanding and enduring contributions toward religious understanding and peace; 

Whereas, during the 110th Congress, 75 Senators and the overwhelming majority of members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives wrote to President George W. Bush and the Prime Minister of Turkey to express congressional concern, which continues today, regarding the absence of religious freedom for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in the areas of church-controlled Patriarchal succession, the confiscation of the vast majority of Patriarchal properties, recognition of the international Ecumenicity of the Patriarchate, and the reopening of the Theological School of Halki; 

Whereas the Theological School of Halki, founded in 1844 and located outside Istanbul, Turkey, served as the principal seminary for the Ecumenical Patriarchate until its forcible closure by the Turkish authorities in 1971; 

Whereas the alumni of this preeminent educational institution include numerous prominent Orthodox scholars, theologians, priests, bishops, and patriarchs, including Bartholomew I; 

Whereas the Republic of Turkey has been a participating state of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) since signing the Helsinki Final Act in 1975; 

Whereas in 1989, the OSCE participating states adopted the Vienna Concluding Document, committing to respect the right of religious communities to provide “training of religious personnel in appropriate institutions”; 

Whereas the continued closure of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Theological School of Halki has been an ongoing issue of concern for the American people and the United States Congress and has been repeatedly raised by members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and by United States delegations to the OSCE’s annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting; 

Whereas, in his address to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on April 6, 2009, President Barack Obama said, “Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond.”; 

Whereas, in a welcomed development, the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met with the Ecumenical Patriarch on August 15, 2009, and, in an address to a wider gathering of minority religious leaders that day, concluded by stating, “We should not be of those who gather, talk, and disperse. A result should come out of this.”; 

Whereas, during his visit to the United States in November 2009, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I raised the issue of the continued closure of the Theological School of Halki with President Obama, congressional leaders, and others; 

Whereas, in a welcome development, for the first time since 1922, the Government of Turkey in August 2010 allowed the liturgical celebration by the Ecumenical Patriarch at the historic Sumela Monastery; and 

Whereas, following a unanimous decision by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in 2010, ruling that Turkey return the former Greek Orphanage on Buyukada Island to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, on the eve of the feast day of St. Andrew observed on November 30, the Government of Turkey provided lawyers representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the formal property title for the confiscated building: Now, therefore, be it 

Resolved, That the Senate— 

(1) welcomes the historic meeting between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I; 

(2) welcomes the positive gestures by the Government of Turkey, including allowing the liturgical celebration by the Ecumenical Patriarch at the historic Sumela Monastery and the return of the former Greek Orphanage on Buyukada Island to the Ecumenical Patriarchate; 

(3) urges the Government of Turkey to facilitate the reopening of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Theological School of Halki without condition or further delay; and 

(4) urges the Government of Turkey to address other longstanding concerns relating to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

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