By Selcan Hacaoglu - The Associated Press
ANKARA - Turkey's parliament yesterday was divided over the wording of a resolution regarding minority schools, with opposition lawmakers fearing that it could allow a Greek Orthodox theology school closed 35 years ago to reopen.
Turkey has been resisting pressure from the European Union to reopen the Halki Theological School, on the Heybeliada (Halki) island near Istanbul, which was closed to new students in 1971 under a law that put religious and military training under state control. The seminary remained open until 1985, when the last five students graduated.
On Wednesday, lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party voted to approve the resolution allowing foreign students to attend minority schools in Turkey, acting on a last-minute request from the Foreign Ministry to allow children of foreigners living in the country to attend such schools.
But legislators from the opposition Republican People's Party strongly opposed the resolution, arguing that it would reopen the Orthodox seminary.
The opposition forced parliament to postpone the debate until Tuesday, to wait for clarification from the Foreign Ministry and Education Ministry.
Lawmakers from the ruling party argued yesterday that the resolution was restricted to the first eight grades and would not apply to the Orthodox seminary, which is a high school. EU officials and the United States have repeatedly called on Turkey to open up the religious seminary that has trained generations of Orthodox leaders, including current Orthodox Patriarch Vartholomaios, and restore property to minority Christian groups that was seized by the state after a decline in the size of their congregations.
The parliament is also expected to address the property issue next week. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has said reforms would address the problems of minority religious groups, such as Greeks and Armenians, but it was not clear if they would allow the groups to reclaim property that has since been sold to other people.
The Halki school trained generations of church leaders, and Orthodox officials say the school's reopening is important for educating future leaders.
After the college closed, the Patriarchate tried to train future leaders of the church by sending them to theological schools abroad after they finished the high school here.
But most never returned, something church officials complain starves them of possible new leaders.
The Orthodox leadership elected a young ecumenical patriarch intentionally in 1992, Vartholomaios, who was only 51 at the time. Under a 1923 treaty with Greece, the ecumenical patriarch must be a Turkish citizen. That was the condition set by Turkey for allowing the Patriarchate to remain in Istanbul.