Turkey’s top Muslim cleric urged the re-opening of Orthodox clergy schools during a landmark visit paid to the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians on Thursday.
“The fact that any religious community in this nation has to depend on other countries to raise their own clerics just does not befit the grandiosity of this country,” said Mehmet Gormez, the head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate.
The top imam’s call for the re-opening of theology schools came in response to reporters’ questions about whether the Halki seminary, where the Orthodox patriarchate used to train clergy, would be operational once again.
Whatever religious rights Muslims enjoy in Turkey should also be available to the followers of any other religion, Gormez told journalists after the rare visit.
The Halki seminary located on an island off Istanbul was closed in 1971, after Turkey fell out with Greece over Cyprus.
“If we get the permission today, we can make the school operational tomorrow,” the Patriarch, Bartholomew I, said following Gormez’s call on the government.
“Our government has a positive attitude (toward re-opening of the theology school), that’s what we want to be believe,” he noted.
Both the United States and the European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, have increased pressure on Ankara to re-open the Halki seminary as well as introducing further rights for religious minorities in the new constitution it is currently drafting.
The patriarch was consulted in February by the Turkish parliament, which he addressed for the first time, about the role of religious minorities in the new text of the constitution for the Muslim majority but secular nation.
Turkey refuses to recognize Bartholomew I’s title as head of the world Orthodox Christians, considering him only the spiritual head of Turkey’s tiny Greek Orthodox minority.
Today the Greek Orthodox population numbers little more than 2,500 people in Istanbul. There are also some 60,000 Armenians and 15,000 Orthodox Syrians among the minority religious groups.