Mr. President, this week’s visit to Washington by the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, is an appropriate occasion to renew calls for the reopening of the Halki Seminary, without further delay. Founded in 1844, the Theological School of Halki, located outside modern-day Istanbul, served as the principal seminary for Ecumenical Patriarchate until its forcible closure by the Turkish authorities in 1971. 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. Despite occasional indications by the authorities of pending action to reopen the seminary, to date all have failed to materialize.
Earlier this year, several of my colleagues from the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which I chair, joined me in a letter to President Obama to underscoring our longstanding concern over the continued closure of this unique institution. The continued denial of requests for the reopening of the seminary stands in clear violation of Turkey’s obligations under the 1989 OSCE Vienna Concluding Document, which affirmed the right of religious communities to provide “training of religious personnel in appropriate institutions.” While there is no question that the Halki Seminary is the appropriate institution for training Orthodox clergy in Turkey, the Government of Turkey continues to refuse to reopen the school.
In his address to the Turkish Grand National Assembly in April, President 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.” In a welcomed development, Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with the Ecumenical Patriarch in August. 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.”
Mr. President, I urge Prime Minister Erdogan to follow through on the sentiment of those remarks by actions that will facilitate the reopening of the Halki Seminary without further delay. I am told that the Theological School of Halki is situated atop the summit of the Hill of Hope. For those of us who have pursued this issue over the years, our hope has been that we would indeed witness the reopening of this historic institution. I remain hopeful and encourage Prime Minister Erdogan to act decisively and without condition on this matter before his upcoming visit to Washington.