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AHI, In Response To U.S. Report, Condemns Turkey Treatment Of Ecumenical Patriarchate
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: C. Franciscos Economides
March 10, 2009—No. 18 (202) 785-8430

AHI, In Response To U.S. Report, Condemns Turkey Treatment Of Ecumenical Patriarchate

WASHINGTON, DC—The American Hellenic Institute, responding to the State Department’s latest human rights report on Turkey, condemned Turkey’s restrictions on religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and called on the United States to demand that Turkey immediately adhere to international agreements guaranteeing religious freedom and human and minority rights.

In its report released on Feb. 25, the State Department said that non-Muslim religious groups in Turkey “continued to face restrictions on practicing their religion openly, owning property and  training leaders.” It noted that the Turkish government did not recognize the ecumenical status of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and that the Ecumenical Patriarchate continued to seek to reopen the Halki seminary closed in 1971.

“Very little progress has been forthcoming on behalf of Turkey safeguarding the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the spiritual leader of approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world,” said Nick Larigakis, AHI’s executive director. “On the contrary, in view of Turkey’s aspirations to join the European Union (EU), one can argue that there has been regression regarding any progress concerning the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”

“Turkey’s restrictions on the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate reveal that democratic reforms have still not taken root there,” Larigakis said. “We condemn Turkey’s toleration of assaults against its Greek Orthodox Christian minority, its continuing illegal closure of the Greek Orthodox Halki Patriarchal School of Theology, and its illegal seizure of property of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and  the Greek Orthodox minority of Istanbul, Imbros and Tenedos.”

Reiterating calls it made in a recent letter to President Obama, AHI said Washington should tell Turkey to:

  • Implement and strictly enforce the guarantees of religious freedom and human and minority rights set forth in international treaties and the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act of 1988;
  • Safeguard the Ecumenical Patriarchate;
  • Reopen the Halki seminary and lift the restrictions to the elections of the Patriarch;
  • Return the nearly 7,000 properties illegally confiscated from the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Turkish government since 1936.

“AHI urges the U.S. government to use its influence with the Turkish government to safeguard the Ecumenical Patriarchate, its personnel and its property,” Larigakis said.

CYPRUS

Founded in 1974 after Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus, AHI works to advance the best interests of the United States on issues of importance to Greek Americans. Although Turkey’s continued occupation of 37 percent of Cyprus was not mentioned in the State Department report on Turkey, AHI decried the continuing major violations of human rights by Turkey in the occupied territory and called on the United States to demand that Turkey withdraw its 43,000 troops illegally on the island.

Thirty five years after the invasion, thousands of Greek Cypriots remain displaced from their homes and deprived of their property, and those Greek Cypriots living in the occupied portion of the island continue to be the subject of human rights violations, AHI said.

“The information presented from independent sources leaves no doubt about the systematic and deliberate policy of eradicating all aspects of the Greek Cypriot heritage and presence in the occupied areas,” retired professor Van Coufoudakis, chairman of the 2009 AHI Foundation Fellows, wrote in his 2008 booklet “Human Rights Violations in Cyprus by Turkey.”

“This is a stigma on the international community at a time when, with the support from the Republic of Cyprus, Turkey is engaged in accession talks with the EU,” wrote Coufoudakis, dean emeritus and professor emeritus of political science at Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

In its recent letter to the U.S. president, AHI urged  Washington to demand that Turkey:

  • Demilitarize Cyprus;
  • Withdraw its troops and return to Turkey the 180,000 illegal settlers/colonists;
  • Tear down the green line barbed wire fence across the face of Cyprus;
  • Not manipulate current talks between the Cyprus government and Turkish Cypriot leaders.

“Turkey’s ongoing human rights violations in Cyprus, its continuing occupation, its intransigence in solving the problem, its refusal to recognize the Republic of Cyprus and its veto to the accession of Cyprus to international organizations threatens stability in the region and damages U.S. interests,” Larigakis said.

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For additional information, please contact C. Franciscos Economides at (202) 785-8430 or at pr@ahiworld.org. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at http://www.ahiworld.org.