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Turkish parliament fails to pass resolution to reopen Orthodox seminary

Turkish parliament fails to pass resolution to reopen Orthodox seminary

Turkey's parliament on Wednesday failed to pass a resolution to move forward with a European Union-requested reform that could have allowed a Greek Orthodox theology school closed 35 years ago to reopen.
The parliament first voted in favor the resolution, but then stopped short of giving final approval amid strong opposition. The ruling Justice and Development Party was expected to step back and withdraw the change on Thursday, in a sign of internal opposition to the highly unpopular move.
Lawmakers from the ruling party voted by a show of hands to allow foreign students to attend minority schools in Turkey upon a last minute request from the Foreign Ministry.
But legislators from the opposition Republican People's Party opposed the reform, arguing that it would reopen the Halki Theological School, on an island near Istanbul, which was closed in 1971 under a law that put religious education under state control.
The opposition party said the school was shut down because of lack of students and that the motion would allow it to reopen. The opposition party forced the parliament to give a one-hour break during which some members of the ruling party reportedly complained about the measure as well.
The ruling party has a majority in the 550-member parliament and was expected to take back the change Thursday before finalizing other amendments regarding minority schools such as providing electricity and water at discount rates as well.
If it had been approved, the reopening of Halki would have appeased the European Union and the United States.
EU officials and Washington have repeatedly called on Turkey to open up the religious seminary that has trained generations of Orthodox leaders and restore property to minority Christian groups that were seized by the state due to a decline in the size of their congregations.
The parliament is expected to address the property issue in the coming days too. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said reforms would address the problems of minority religious groups such as Greeks and Armenians but was not clear if they would allow the groups to reclaim property that has since been sold to other people.
The Halki school trained generations of church leaders, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, and Orthodox officials say the school's reopening is important for educating future leaders.
The patriarchate in Istanbul dates from the 1,100-year-old Orthodox Greek Byzantine Empire, which collapsed when the Muslim Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, today's Istanbul, in 1453.
Istanbul-based Bartholomew I is the leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, although only a few thousand Greeks now live in Turkey. He also directly controls several Greek Orthodox churches around the world, including the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
But Turkey has long refused to accept any international role for the patriarch, a Turkish citizen and ethnic Greek, and rejects his use of the title "ecumenical," or universal. It argues the patriarch is merely the spiritual leader of Istanbul's dwindling Orthodox community.
Turkey's desire to contain Bartholomew's influence to Istanbul stems from a deep mistrust many Turks feel toward the patriarchate because of its traditional ties with Greece, Turkey's historical regional rival.
Bartholomew has been actively lobbying for the reopening of Halki.


Updated : 2021-06-13 17:38 GMT+08:00