This enlightening and sobering article explains the geopolitical considerations that have led Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to join the Russian government's campaign of disinformation and intimidation against the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It elucidates the unique pressures and challenges that His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is facing today, and why both Russia and Turkey consider themselves to be so threatened by the spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians.
The article was cowritten by Dr. Aykan Erdemir who served as a panelist at the Archon 2nd International Religious Freedom Conference held in Berlin, 2013. He is a former member of the Turkish parliament and is the senior director of the Turkey program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (Photo by Archon D. Panagos)
The Ecumenical Patriarch and Archbishop of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, is the spiritual leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians. He is “first among equals” among the prelates of all the self-governing Eastern Orthodox churches in the world.
Yet, thanks to Vladimir Putin’s instrumentalization of the Russian Orthodox Church to advance his geopolitical ambitions, the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate increasingly finds itself in the crosshairs of the Kremlin.
As the Russian Church has by far the largest Orthodox community in the world, and most Orthodox Christians live in former Iron Curtain countries, Bartholomew finds himself an unwitting competitor with the Russian government.
What is more difficult to understand is why Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of NATO-member Turkey, sees it in his interest to join Putin’s pressure on the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
However, a closer look shows that Putin and Erdogan both see the Ecumenical Patriarchate as an extension of Western influence that threatens their respective political ambitions.