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U.S. Department of State releases findings on Turkey in Annual Religious Freedom Report

The US State Department released its Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, a comprehensive review of the status of religious freedom in countries and territories around the world.

The chapter on Turkey on religious freedoms reiterates reports on problems being faced by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as it continues to seek legal recognition of its status and recognition of the "ecumenical" title of the Patriarch, while the requests of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the re-opening of Halki Seminary and the return of confiscated property remain unanswered.

According to the report “Authorities continued to monitor the activities of Eastern Orthodox churches but generally did not interfere with their religious activities; however, significant restrictions were placed on the administration of the churches. The government previously maintained that only citizens can be members of the Greek Orthodox Church’s Holy Synod and participate in patriarchal elections, despite the Ecumenical Patriarch’s appeal to allow non-Turkish prelates.

Members of the Greek Orthodox community claimed that the legal restrictions particularly threatened the survival of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, because the community was becoming too small to provide enough citizen prelate candidates to maintain the institution. By not formally responding, the government de facto permitted Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I’s 2004 appointment of six noncitizen metropolitans to the Holy Synod, representing the first appointment of noncitizens to the body in the 80-year history of the country. Additionally, in 2010 Prime Minister Erdoğan offered citizenship to noncitizen metropolitans who chose to apply for it. Approximately 25 metropolitans have submitted paperwork, but no government response was received by the end of the reporting period.”

With regards to the ecumenical status of the Patriarch, it is mentioned in the report that “Government officials acknowledged that the 1923 Lausanne Treaty does not address the issue of the Patriarch’s ecumenical status, although the government historically has not recognized the title of Ecumenical Patriarch.

During an official visit to Athens in May 2010, Prime Minister Erdoğan said that the government has “no issue with the title of ecumenical.” In a March 2010 report, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) concluded that there are no grounds for the government to deny the Church’s use of the term “ecumenicity,” and that there are no “factual or legal” reasons for the government not to use it as well.”

Read the 2010 International Religious Freedom Report's chapter on Turkey