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Small Island, by Helena Drysdale

The following article, "Small Island," by Helena Drysdale, is about the Orthodox Theological School of Halki, which was closed by the Turkish authorities in 1971. She is the author of books including “Strangerland: a Family at War” and “Mother Tongues: Travels Through Tribal Europe.”

As anti-Islamist violence erupted across Turkey, another threat to the ambitions of Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the rising tension between Christians and majority Muslims. The problem stands out on Halki, home to a venerated and endangered Orthodox seminary.

“You can’t come in,” snaps the moustachioed guard in front of the gates.           

“Why not?” I ask. Back at the Patriarchate in Istanbul, Father Nephon, an archimandrite or senior abbot, had said I didn’t need permission to visit the great Orthodox seminary. Just go, he had advised, blithely.

So I and my guide, a professor at an Istanbul university, have taken the 90-minute ferry ride across the Sea of Marmara to the island of Halki (known in Turkish as Heybeliada). We have toiled up Halki’s “Hill of Hope”, past Ottoman-era clapboard summer houses built by Greeks and now inhabited by Turks. The air reeks of horse manure: horse and carriage and bicycle are Halki’s only transport, and as we near the forested summit, two chestnuts trot by. They tow a carriage bearing five Orthodox clerics wearing black robes and cylindrical black hats draped in black veils. Clearly we are on the right road.

“Please let us in,” my professor friend begs the guard. “We’ve come all this way.”

Continue reading this article on the website of NewStatesmen»