His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew made on Monday February 20th, 2012 a landmark presentation at Parliament’s constitution-making commission, demanding equal treatment for non-Muslim minorities, including an equal share of public funds for religious services and education.
“It is the first official invitation to non-Muslim minorities in Republican history. We don’t want to be second-class citizens. Unfortunately there have been injustices in the past. These are all slowly being rectified. A new Turkey is being born. We are leaving the meeting with hope and are extremely grateful”, the patriarch told reporters after the meeting.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew made the presentation behind closed doors at the Constitution Conciliation Commission, tasked with drafting a new constitution for Turkey.
The patriarch stressed his community’s biggest problem was the fact that it did not have legal entity status and requested that the new charter guarantees that, sources told the Hürriyet Daily News. He renewed demands for the re-opening of the Theological Academy of Halki (Heybeliada), an island near Istanbul, stressing that they accepted vocational school status for the Theological Faculty under the supervision of the Education Ministry.
“We want equality in all realms, including education and the bureaucracy. Minorities are virtually non-existent in the higher posts of the bureaucracy”, he was quoted as saying.
Academic Emre Öktem, a member of the team accompanying the Ecumenical Patriarch, suggested that the new constitution should make a reference to the 1924 Lausanne Treaty, which guarantees the rights of Turkey’s Greek Orthodox, Jewish and Armenian communities, and explicitly define the offense of “hate crimes”.
In the 18-page paper that Patriarch Bartholomew gave the commission, he also said that the new constitution should ensure that minorities benefit equally from public funds allocated for religion and education. “The state has never extended financial assistance to any church or minority school”, he said.
The head of the Syriac Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation, Kuryakos Ergün, also met with the commission and similarly hailed the occasion. “It’s a historic day. Syriacs have lived in these lands for 6,000 years. We are not guests here”, Ergün told reporters. Ergün highlighted the need to give Syriacs official minority status similar to that granted by the Lausanne Treaty to Jews, Greeks and Armenians. Non-Muslim minorities should be represented at the Directorate of Religious Affairs, he said.