Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Saturday criticized as unacceptable remarks by the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians that he feels "crucified" and "second class" living in Turkey.
"We regard the use of the crucifixion simile as extremely unfortunate.... I would like to see this as an undesired slip of the tongue," Davutoglu told reporters here when asked about Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I's comments in an interview with US television network CBS.
"We cannot accept comparisons that we do not deserve," the minister added.
He rejected criticism that the Islamist-rooted government in Turkey was discriminating between its citizens on religious grounds.
"If Patriarch Bartholomew I has complaints on this issue, he can convey them to relevant authorities who will do whatever is necessary," he said.
In an excerpt from the interview, which will be broadcast in full on CBS on Sunday, Bartholomew I says that the tiny Greek minority in Turkey is not treated equally.
We regard the use of the crucifixion simile as extremely unfortunate.... I would like to see this as an undesired slip of the tongue
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu
"We are treated... as citizens of second class. We don't feel that we enjoy our full rights as Turkish citizens," says the patriarch, who represents the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians.
He ruled out the option of leaving Turkey. "This is the continuation of Jerusalem and for us it is equally holy and sacred land. We prefer to stay here, even crucified sometimes," the patriarch adds.
The CBS website quotes Bartholomew I as saying that the Turkish government "would be happy to see the Patriarchate extinguished or moving abroad, but our belief is that it will never happen."
The Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul dates from the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire, which collapsed in 1453 when the city fell to the Ottoman Turks.
Though Ankara does not interfere with the patriarchate's religious functions, it withholds recognition of Bartholomew's ecumenical title, treating him only as the spiritual leader of some 2,000 Orthodox Greeks still living in the country.
Turkish authorities also keep closed a theological school on an island off Istanbul, depriving the church of a means to train clergy.
This is the continuation of Jerusalem and for us it is equally holy and sacred land. We prefer to stay here, even crucified sometimes