Group: Root Admin
Joined: 03/22/05 11:30 AM
Member No.: 16
."Dwindling, Elderly and Frightened?"
The Greek Minority in Turkey Revisited
AIM Athens, January 31, 2000
"'The Greek community is dying and it is not a natural death,' a middle-aged Greek man told Helsinki Watch in Istanbul in October1991. Helsinki Watch meetings with other Greeks in Istanbul and with Greeks in Athens confirmed his statement. The Greek community in Istanbul today is dwindling, elderly and frightened. Their fearfulness is related to an appalling history of pogroms and expulsions that they have suffered at the hands of the Turkish governement. As a result of these acts, the Greek population in Turkey has declined from about 110,000 at the time of the signing of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923 to about 2,500 [in 1991].
(...) Helsinki Watch has reported on various aspect of human rights in Turkey since 1982. Not since our first report have we encountered so many people who were afraid to talk to us, or who would talk only anonymously. This is the first report we have issued on Turkey in many years in which we have had to disguise the identity of almost every person who talked with Helsinki Watch. Even in Greece, members of the community of the community of Greeks in Athens who had emigrated from Turkey did not want their names used for fear of reprisals against them or their families by the Turkish government.
Greeks in Istanbul who met with Helsinki Watch looked over their shoulders apprehensively, afraid their conversations were being observed. A principal of a Greek school continually asked a teacher to lower her voice as she described problems of the Greek children. A well dressed, middle-class businessman shook with fright as he related his difficulties and fears. Some Greeks who were asked by intermediaries to meet with us refused. Interviews with Greeks willing to talk were arranged in secretive, cloak-and-dagger fashion.
Officials of the Istanbul branch of the Turkish Human Rights Association report that in their experience the Greek community is more fearful than the Kurds or the Armenians. These officials say that they have tried to support the Greek community's rights, but find the Greeks unwilling to complain publicly. They also report that when human rights activists have tried to visit Greek homes, Greeks have been unwilling to admit them to their homes to discuss human rights problems, and have only talked briefly with tem through chained doors."
That was the introduction (pp. 1-2) to the report "Denying Human Rights and Ethnic Identity: the Greeks of Turkey" Helsinki Watch (HW) researched in October 1991 and published in March 1992. Eight years later, Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), literally on the eve of the EU Helsinki summit decision to grant Turkey candidacy status, found that some progress was made, but the situation of Turkey's Greeks was far from satisfactory. Certainly, there is less fear than before, though minority leaders share the belief that their moves are carefully watched and their telephones are tapped.
For example, the "principal of a Greek school" mentioned in the HW report paid then a price for having talked to the human rights group. Now, though, he dared go to a major human rights conference held in Istanbul on Human Rights Day, under the sponsorship of the Council of Europe and the International Helsinki Federation. There, among other things, he was the first minority Greek to speak at length with Turkish human rights activists, including Akin Birdal, the President of the same Human Rights Association which had stated to HW that Greeks were unwilling not only to complain publicly but also to merely talk to them. One can hope that he will not face any consequences for that.
Although Constantinople Greeks' diaspora associations were saying in Athens that no one was willing to talk to GHM, and the Greek Consulate in Istanbul was giving the same impression, there appeared to be no such problem any longer, though some minority people were still cautious. After all, just a few days before, a multi-hour debate on a private Turkish television station dealt with the injustices of Turkey towards its "religious" minorities (including Greeks). While there was a record audience for the movie "Salkim Hanim's Necklace," depicting how the notorious "Wealth Tax" introduced in 1942 "served another purpose than to simply help restore the Treasury's depleted resources. It was also to further the aim of 'Turkifying' the nation that began in the 1930's." The preceding quote was from an equally remarkable dossier in "Turkish Probe," the 12/12/1999 Sunday supplement of English language "Turkish Daily News."
All Greek minority leaders, including the Patriarch himself, were in favor of Turkey's EU candidacy, for the same reasons that most civil society and human rights activists supported it: it could force Turkey to modernize its archaic and authoritarian political system, a change that can only be beneficial to minorities and democrats. In fact, one Greek told GHM that the last time "Turkey" [i.e. the Ottoman Empire] was in a similar way admitted as a European country, after the Crimean War in the mid-nineteenth century, it introduced far reaching reforms to install for the first time a state of law. Had the Patriarchate had today the privileges it had acquired then, it would have been very happy, he added.
However, there is nothing rosy about the Greek community in Istanbul. It is further dwindling: GHM estimated there must be some 1,000-1,500 persons left (the community itself gives an estimate of 1,500-2,000). Schools have some 260 pupils in all twelve grades, of which almost one third are Christian Arab rather than Christian Greek children. Turkish authorities consider both communities as "Rum," i.e. Greek Orthodox. Greeks cannot in fact call themselves just Greeks ("Ynanli" in Turkish) and claim they are an ethno-national rather than a religious minority. Just like Turks in Greek Thrace cannot call themselves just Turks and claim an ethno-national minority status, as they have to be merely a religious "Muslim" minority.
The situation with the Patriarchate is equally unsatisfactory. In reality, Patriarch Bartholomeos is respected as the spiritual leader of some 200 million Orthodox around the world, as "first among equals" of the five traditional Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs. However, Turkey recognizes him as the mere religious leader of the Greek Orthodox community within its borders. As a result of that dispute, and unbeknown to almost everyone outside, the Patriarchate has no legal status, and hence no property. The Patriarch himself described to GHM that he is like the Catholic Archbishop of Athens. Indeed, Greek authorities recognize only the Catholic diocese of St. Denis, on the grounds of which is the building of the Catholic Archdiocese. Likewise, the recent renovation permit for the Patriarchate described it as a building within the land of the St. George church, itself a legally functioning foundation ("vakif"), but no ownership was mentioned. Turkey may have no problem granting the Patriarchate the status of a Turkish foundation; but the Patriarchate demands a sui generis international law personality reflecting its international posture and also protecting him from the ramifications of Turkish minority policies, that minority foundations have paid dearly.
The Turkish authorities' intention to limit the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate became evident in Easter 1996. On 14 April, Patriarchical Bishop of Laodiceia Charalambos Sofroniadis went to a Bulgarian Orthodox church, invited, as often in the past, to lead the Liturgy of Love ("Agapi"). However, that day, the church's Bulgarian priest (ordained in 1989 by that same Bishop) and a church councilor told the Bishop he was unwelcome. Reportedly, the congregation did not agree and the liturgy went on with the participation of all clergymen. Subsequently, though, charges were pressed against the Bishop who, on 15 January 1997, was convicted to a suspended sentence of 5 months in prison and a 250,000 Turkish pound fine, by the First Instance Court of the Fatih district in Greater Istanbul. He was found guilty of "disrupting religious duties" (article 175.1 of the Penal Code). The Supreme Court twice confirmed the verdict rejecting the appeal and then the cassation.
The Turkish state's argument was that the Bulgarian Church had split in 1870 from the Patriarchate, which was correct. However, that schism was overturned in 1945, when a bilateral agreement between the two Churches put Bulgarian Orthodox churches under Greek Orthodox jurisdiction in Istanbul (and Greece) and Greek Orthodox churches under Bulgarian Orthodox jurisdiction in Bulgaria. Turkey chooses to ignore that agreement in a clear interference in the internal religious affairs of these Churches. Besides the court's verdict, the Patriarch was once summoned by the Istanbul Prefect to be advised not to include Bulgarians in his concerns. The only other time he was summoned since he came to that post in 1991, was to be advised not to use the term "Ecumenical."
That verdict was not appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, as many other cases that probably violate the European Convention of Human Rights. Minority leaders, when asked, claimed that, even if they were vindicated in Strasbourg, Turkey would not respect the verdict "as it never does," while it may harass them further as a reaction. Clearly, like so many other ones, this minority leadership is misinformed, and consequently misguided with no solid knowledge of human rights principles and practices in the late 1990s.
Other obvious infringements of international norms relate to extended and valuable property owned by the minority foundations in Greater Istanbul. A 1974 Council of State ruling has allowed Turkish authorities to seize all property that was not declared by the minority foundations in a 1936 registration. All acquisitions since, through donations or purchases, have been considered illegal, as (Greek, Armenian, Jewish) minority foundations were considered "foreign" -itself unacceptable if not insulting-and therefore had no right to acquire property in Turkey. . Since 1974, hundreds of cases have been going to the courts and every few months one piece of property is confiscated from one of these "religious" communities. To make matters worse, Istanbul authorities usually refuse to give inheritance certificates to Greeks who live abroad, obviously in the hope that one day the related property could also be confiscated. While they have allowed only once, in 1991, the election of the boards of the Greek foundations -in ways that often produced results favorable to the authorities.
The other major problem, besides the property issue, is the limitations to the Patriarchate's clergy that risk making it very difficult to staff that venerable institution in the next generation. Only Turkish citizens are allowed to become Bishops or Patriarchs, and Turkey refuses to grant Turkish citizenship to Orthodox clergymen who want to settle in Istanbul. In 1995, a priest with French citizenship was forced to leave the country in a rather humiliating way, according to Patriarchate sources. At the same time, the traditional theological seminary preparing new clergy, the Theological School of Halki at Heybeliada, was forced to close in 1971, when all non-Turkish universities were Turkified (e.g. Roberts College became Bogazici University). The Patriarchate had no guarantees it could control the seminary if it became a Turkish educational institution. It was also full of well-founded suspicions towards Turkish authorities at the time, since they were enforcing a law for universities on the seminary even though they had demoted it from a university to a training school in 1964. So, the Patriarchate opted to close the seminary. Nowadays, Turks reportedly want to allow the seminary to function as a department of a soon-to-be-established Faculty of Theology at Istanbul University. The Patriarchate authorities are legitimately asking for guarantees about admission criteria, administration, and curriculum so that it becomes a true seminary open to Orthodox from Turkey and abroad, who will then be allowed to join the Patriarchate, acquire Turkish citizenship and eventually become Bishops or Patriarchs. The fear is that this be merely a step towards an eventual takeover by the state of the seminary and its valuable property.
The recent Greek-Turkish rapprochement has had some beneficial influence on minority education: for the first time exchange Greek teachers were allowed to come from Greece at the beginning of the year, while the two countries have agreed after many decades to introduce modern Greek schoolbooks. Similar improvements have been recorded for the Turkish minority in Greece. Maybe now both communities can admit that they also need special education material and boosting classes for those whose mother tongue is not Greek or Turkish (Pomaks and Roma in Greece, Arabs in Turkey), which will improve the quality of education of all children in the corresponding mixed schools.
More generally, it is perhaps a rare opportunity for the two governments to face up to reality. With the help of human rights NGOs, they need to sit down and try to solve the thorny issues of the various "Lausanne Treaty" minorities, in a way that will respect both that Treaty and all other international human rights norms, that EU members -current or potential- must uphold. Minority leaders themselves can help if they start turning more towards each other (as well as NGOs and inter-governmental organizations) rather than towards the kin states for support.