Today's Zaman newspaper recently reported in its 'Opinion' section on 'What is Bartholomew grateful for?' written by lawyer, human rights defender and newspaper columnist, Orhan Kemal Cengiz. The article is written following the celebration of the second Divine Liturgy yesterday for the Feast of Dormition at Panagia Soumela Monastery in Trabzon. The Turkish Government granted the Ecumenical Patriarchate the right to celebrate a service for the first time in 88 years, last August.
Mr. Cengiz was a speaker and panelist in the International Archon Religious Freedom Conference which took place mid-November 2010 in Brussels, Belgium. The conference theme was focused on "Religious Freedom: Turkey's Bridge to the European Union."
Today's Zaman is one of two English-language dailies based in Turkey and reports on domestic and international coverage. Mr. Cengiz's published article can be read in its entirety below.
What is Bartholomew grateful for?
By Orhan Kemal Cengiz
What each person may be grateful for can vary quite significantly; of course, some factors might contribute to your sense of gratitude quite dramatically.
Your level of optimism, your love and passion for others, whether you are a spiritual person and so on are all factors that may contribute to your feelings of thankfulness.
There are, however, important factors that may have a huge impact on your gratefulness, and this is the degree of your plight, your prior situation, the perspective of your thinking and whether there has been any level of improvement in these. The worse the conditions you were previously in will mean the brighter your new conditions will seem to you.
For someone in a concentration camp, for example, anything that resembles ordinary life would feel like a great privilege. After enduring inhumane conditions in a concentration camp, simple things like a clean toilet, hot meals and even a blanket can appear to be valuable contributions to one’s life.
As I read the recent speech by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in which he expressed his gratitude to the Turkish government for granting permission for the second religious ceremony at the Sümela Monastery, I couldn’t help having all these thoughts going through my mind. His Holiness did not use the exact word “gratefulness” in his speech, which he delivered on Monday, but you can sense it from the tone and wording of his speech.
Bartholomew thanked the government on the second occasion of a service at the Sumela Monastery in Trabzon. It is quite interesting to have a religious leader thank a government for allowing prayers at a religious building that actually belongs to his community, which he is only allowed to use on one single day each year.
When Bartholomew thanked the government, he was not only expressing gratefulness for this one small “favor” but for the general conditions which he must regard as quite a big improvement for his institution. This is exactly what reminds me that gratefulness of the survivors of concentration camps and that sense of gratefulness for ordinary favors.
I do not deny that there have been serious improvements in the general conditions of all minority groups in Turkey since the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power in 2002, but these are all relative. The prior conditions of minority groups, including the situation of the Patriarchate were so bad, that these new conditions would appear as a huge improvement for everyone.
The historical enemies of Patriarchate (including the spokesperson of the Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate, which was established with the funds of the Turkish deep state to fight non-Muslims in Turkey) are all in prison in connection with the Ergenekon case. Today the patriarchate may feel less and less threatened as a result. The government has also provided some “de facto” improvements for other areas related to the patriarchate’s practical running. The patriarchate may employ some “foreign” personnel with relatively low bureaucratic conditions; the government does allow “foreign” people become members of the “Holy Synod” and so on. The government “respects” the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in cases that are brought by the patriarchate.
But not a single “legal right” has been provided to the patriarchate. Its ecumenical status has not been recognized yet, its institutions are not given legal status, the Halki school has not yet been opened and there are no signals that it will be opened in the foreseeable future. There are so many other significant and urgent problems of the patriarchate that are waiting to be solved. The patriarchate has long been on the verge extinction, and this fact has not yet been changed.
Yes, the survivor of a concentration camp may have been given food, clothes and so on. But his conditions are still far from acceptable minimum civil standards. This government has long lost all its excuses to make the necessary improvements for the survival of this historical institution. Maybe it is high time for the patriarchate to demand concrete and legal steps from the government.