Crumbling Churches A Sign Of Turkey's Disregard For Its Rich Religious Tapestry
From: "Katia M. Peltekian" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tue, 28 Nov 2006
The Irish Times
November 27, 2006 Monday
The stabbing of Fr Pierre Brunissen in Istanbul last July was the third attack on a Catholic cleric in the country this year. There are just 32,000 Roman Catholics in Turkey.
Sadly, coverage of this historic visit - the first of Pope Benedict's
pontificate to a Muslim country - looks likely to focus on his purported "bias" against Islam and Turkey. As a result, the issue of Turkey's discrimination against its non-Muslim minorities, specifically Christians (who comprise roughly 1 per cent of the population), is likely to be ignored
, though it warranted criticism in the EU's recent progress report on this country of almost 70 million.
The invitation to Pope Benedict to come to Turkey was extended by
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the leader of Turkey's Greek Orthodox Church and spiritual leader of more than 250 million Christians worldwide.
The Turkish government refuses to acknowledge his ecumenical authority
and bans the use of his title. His flock, which has a 1,500-year-old presence in Istanbul, is still viewed with deep suspicion.
The French press agency AFP in July 2003 claimed Turkey was "dragging
its heels on reforms for its Christian minority", including basic rights such as training their own clergy or providing an independent religious education
. A prime example is the state's closure of the Greek Orthodox seminary of Halki in 1971.
Religious communities other than Sunni Muslims cannot legally train
new clergy. The ecumenical patriarch's requests to have the seminary
re-opened have been continually rebuffed.
A 2004 US state department report noted that the "Greek and Armenian Orthodox communities have lost property to the government in the past and continue to battle against more losses, because current laws
allow the state agency, Vakiflar, to assume direct administration of expropriate properties that fall into disuse when the local non-Muslim
If the number of Christians in Turkey continues to "dwindle" (down
from 207,000 in the 1965 census to 140,000 in the 1995 census), then
the fate of many historically significant churches looks increasingly
likely to be at the mercy of the state.
When I visited Anatolia's Tur Abdin region last year, members of the
Syriac Orthodox Church
complained bitterly at the crisis which these strictures on seminary formation were imposing.
This ancient community still use a form of Aramaic dating from the
time of Jesus in their liturgy, while their monasteries are some of
the oldest in the world.
The Mar Gabriel monastery was founded in AD 397. However, with no
new priests being trained, they are unable to replace priests who die. There were just two monks left in the monastery last year.
The conflict in the region between the Kurds and Ankara has driven
thousands of Syriac Christians abroad over the past two decades.
One of the most tragic examples of Turkey's disregard for its rich
and diverse religious tapestry is its neglect of Armenian monuments
such as the ancient Monastery of the Seven Churches of Varagavank,
near the city of Van.
Despite offers to fund restoration work from abroad, a permit has not been granted. And so each year its wonderful mosaics fall into a greater state of dilapidation.
Sarah MacDonald is editor of The Word magazine.