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Archon delegation conduct meetings with Turkish Government officials in Ankara

Upon arrival in Istanbul, National Commander Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, and members of the Archon delegation, briefed the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the events of the ECHR and upcoming meetings in Ankara.

An Archon delegation enjoyed an audience with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and discussed in detail the recent appearance of Patriarchal representatives before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, concerning the confiscation of the Patriarchal orphanage property.

The property was seized by the Turkish government on Prinkipos (Buyukada) which consisted of the largest wooden structure in Europe. It served as the Patriarchal Orphanage from 1903 to 1964 and is located atop a majestic hill overlooking the Sea of Marmara. The building was originally purchased in 1902, prior to the existence of the modern Republic of Turkey. [Read about the Archon trip to Strasbourg] The five-member delegation also offered their recommendations in seeking remedies within Turkey.
 

During the Nov. 28, 2007, meeting, Archon National Commander Anthony J. Limberakis also reported to His All Holiness on scheduled Ankara meetings and that the Archons would raise the mid-November issue of the vandalized Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Halki. [Read the press release] The Ecumenical Patriarch extended his appreciation to the Archon delegation for their continuing efforts.

Other members of the delegation included Archbishop Demetrios of America, Fr. Alex Karloutsos and Archons Christopher Stratakis and George Rockas.
 

In a day-long series of meetings, the Archon delegation traveled to the AK Party where a discussion is held with Mr. Egemen Bagis, AK Party Vice Chairman in charge of Foreign Affairs and member of the Parliament for Istanbul.

The following day, the Archon delegation had four meetings in Ankara with various Turkish government officials arranged by United States Ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson and his staff. In addition, the delegation was accompanied by Embassy Control Officer Jeff Collins and at least one other person from the U.S. Embassy at each meeting.

At the start of each of the four meetings, Limberakis raised the issue of the vandalized Holy Transfiguration Monastery on Halki. He called for the prosecution of the offenders and payment of damages. He then offered a description on the lack of religious freedom experienced by the Ecumenical Patriarchate citing the principle issues of the ongoing chronic religious freedom deficit perpetrated by the government of Turkey, including their interference in the election of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, their refusal to grant legal personality to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the refusal of the government to recognize the title "Ecumenical," governmental property confiscations and the government's forcible closure of Halki.
 

The first meeting was held at the AK Party Headquarters. Egemen Bagis, AK Party Vice Chairman in charge of Foreign Affairs and member of the Parliament for Istanbul, welcomed the visiting Archon delegation. After reporting and discussing on the various issues of concern, Bagis concluded by saying that a new constitution is being written and reforms are being passed and that there is a right to be hopeful about the future.
 

A meeting is held with Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Entugrul Apakan. The Archon delegation was accompanied by US Ambassador Ross Wilson.

In addition to the Archon delegation, U.S. Embassy officials, and Bagis, the meeting attendees also included Melbut Covusoglu, Deputy for Antalya and Chairman of the Turkish Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; Nursuma Memecan, Member of Parliament; and Janice Weiner, Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy.

The next meeting was conducted at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which the Archon delegation was accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Wilson. Following a report on the vandalization of Christ the Savior Monastery, Limberakis noted that it has always been problematic for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to obtain permits. Repeated requests for permits to renovate properties of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's churches and institutions are often ignored by the Turkish authorities. Ambassador Wilson responded that in civilized democracies, governments do not engage in destructive acts notwithstanding the lack of permits.
 

Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Entugrul Apakan responded by saying that the Ecumenical Patriarch is a "friend of Turkey," that the intention of the government is not "to limit him" and that the government wants the "Patriarchate" to remain in Turkey. He further said that the government "wants to be a liberal and democratic country" and "will look at all issues regarding the Patriarchate."

In addition to the Archon delegation, U.S. Embassy officials, and Apakan, the meeting attendees also included Berki Dibek, Ambassador, Director General for Bilateral Political Affairs, and Haydar Berk, Ambassador, Deputy Undersecretary.
 

The Archon delegation meets with the European Commission Delegation to Turkey. Mr. Diego Mellado, Head of Political Section, and Sema Kilicer, Political Officer, Human Rights.

The third meeting took place with the European Commission Delegation to Turkey. Diego Mellado, Head of Political Section, and Sema Kilicer, Political Officer, Human Rights. After reporting and discussing on the various issues of concern, Mellado said that freedom of religion figures prominently in the accession process for Turkey, referencing to the November European Union report.

He said that a new law on foundations is now before Parliament that addresses some, but not all, the problems relating to property. He said that once the new law is approved, the EU will look into implementation and what happened to properties seized years ago.

Mellano emphasized that it is important to draw public attention to human rights violations such as property confiscations. He said that going forward, the Archons should keep the EU informed of the Patriarchate's problems.
 

National Commander Limberakis together with Archons Christopher Stratakis and George Rockas holds discussions with Mr. Izzet Er, Vice-President of the Directorate of Religious Affairs.

The final meeting between took place at the Directorate of Religious Affairs with its Vice President, Izzet Er. Following the introductory briefing by Limberakis on the vandalism of Christ the Savior Monastery, Er cited other examples of vandalism to Turkish mosques in neighboring countries indicating that vandalism problems are not unique to Turkey. He stressed the parties should maintain dialogue and with dialogue, problems will be solved.

At the end of the day, the Archon delegation briefed Ambassador Wilson at the U.S. Embassy on the various meetings. When asked what else the Archons could do to enhance religious freedom on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the ambassador stated "keep doing what you are doing, monitor developments in Turkey and the EU and continue to advocate on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the Turkish government."

Photographs of these meetings can be viewed in the Photo Gallery [View the photos]


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