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Op-Ed: U.S. Responsibility to Protect the Ecumenical Patriarchate

Press Releases

December 14, 2010—No. 85 (202) 785-8430

Op-Ed: U.S. Responsibility to Protect the Ecumenical Patriarchate

WASHINGTON, DC — The following Op-Ed by AHI Executive Director Nick Larigakis appeared in Hellenic News of America 11-9-10, the Greek News 11-15-10, and The National Herald 11-27-10.  It also appeared in The Greek Star and The Hellenic Voice in November.

Op-Ed: U.S. Responsibility to Protect the Ecumenical Patriarchate

By Nick Larigakis
November 5, 2010

As an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, I was honored to be present last weekend in New York at the annual Archon meeting and to witness the new class of Archons for 2010 that were invested at the Holy Trinity Cathedral by His Eminence Archbishop Dimitrios.

It is an inspiring weekend, but also one whereby we are reminded of the extreme difficulties that our Mother Church faces today by the Turkish government. It’s inspiring because of the great pride we feel as we are witness to some of the most powerful Greek Americans in the country who are gathered together and who claim the most coveted of honors that a lay person within the Greek Orthodox Church can attain—that of Archon of the Order of St. Andrew of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. As Archons, we are charged with a very solemn responsibility—“The fundamental goal of the Order of St. Andrew is directed at an ongoing concern for religious freedom and defense and advancement of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.” The Turks are determined to make the task difficult.

The Archons, in recent years, under the leadership and direction of their National Commander, Anthony J. Limberakis, M.D., have made great strides to increase awareness, not only in the U.S., but also internationally, regarding the continuous hardship and duress by which the Patriarch and the institution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate are burdened by the Turkish government. And this month, the Archons are hosting a historic international conference in Brussels titled: Religious Freedom: Turkey Bridge to the European Union.

Our government needs to be doing more too.

U.S. officials repeatedly tell us that they are very concerned about this issue. But the U.S. has failed to take any meaningful measures calculated to relieve the destructive effects of the Turkish actions towards the Ecumenical Patriarchate. And yet, ironically, every time I discuss this issue with State Department officials, it seems to elicit the more understanding than any other issue concerning Turkey.

This sentiment was echoed by President Obama in his historic speech at the Turkish Parliament on April 6, 2009 when he stated:

“Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthen the state, which is why steps like reopening the Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond. An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people.”

While we appreciate our governments concern, it would be more appreciated if this concern could translate into practical effect.

The most recent State Department Country Report on Turkey asserts numerous violations of religious freedom by Turkey, including its continued denial to allow the Halki Patriarchal School of Theology to function and the taking of real property owned by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

In addition, The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) announced in its 2010 recommendations to the Congress, White House, and State Department, that it is keeping Turkey on the “Watch List” as one of the most serious offenders of freedom of religion towards non-Muslim communities. USCIRF defines this as a country “where religious freedom conditions require close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the government.”

The current legal restrictions imposed by the Turkish government on the Ecumenical Patriarchate are unlawful. These restrictions include requiring the Patriarch to be a Turkish citizen and prohibiting the training of priests and the forcible closing of the Halki Seminary. Each of these restrictions violate international law, applicable treaties, judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and U.S. law!!

One of those treaties, the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, which established the rights for minorities in Greece and Turkey, states in articles 37 through 45 that the Greek and Turkish governments agree to, among other, the following:

Protection of life and liberty without regard to birth, nationality, language, race or religion;

  • Free exercise of religion; and
  • The right to establish and control charitable, religious and social institutions and schools.

Further, the continuing failure by Turkey to comply violates U.S. principles on freedom of religion. The U.S. law expressed in Section 2804 of the Fiscal Year 1999 Appropriations Bill, calls for the Turkish government to safeguard the Ecumenical Patriarchate, its personnel, and its property, and to reopen the Halki Patriarchal School of Theology.

Section 2804 stems from H.Con.Res. 50 that the American Hellenic Institute initiated and former Congressman Michael Bilirakis introduced.

Further, under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, (22 U.S.C.A. § 6441, 6445) (“IRFA”), the President must oppose violations of religious freedom in any country whose government “engages in or tolerates violations of religious freedom and promote the right to religious freedom in that country.” The Act further obligates the President to take one or more of 15 enumerated actions with respect to any such country.

Therefore, the President must express to Turkey through all available diplomatic and bilateral means that it is obligated to:

  • recognize the international legal personality of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its nonpolitical religious mission;
  • ensure the continued maintenance and security of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its personnel and the safety of the Ecumenical Patriarch as required under all applicable treaties;
  • remove all legal obstacles to the functioning of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Halki Patriarchal School of Theology; and
  • return more than 7,000 Patriarchal properties illegally taken by the Turkish government as effectively mandated by the European Court of Human Rights.

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is the spiritual leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, including 5 million in the United States. As an institution, the Patriarchate is viewed as the primary source of stability and preservation of the beliefs and practices of the Church charged with specific responsibilities. By every significant measure, it has an international character, international functions, and international authority as an international religious institution. Its international legal personality exists by virtue of its status as “first among equals” in relation to the Orthodox Christian Churches; that relationship is inherently international because the Church centers are outside the borders of Turkey.

It is time for the U.S. to convert sentiment into action and begin to more fully recognize and understand the significance of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Ecumenical Patriarchate. The way to start would be for the President to implement the provisions of the IRFA with respect to Turkey. The title: “His All Holiness Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch,” should not be taken lightly.


The American Hellenic Institute is a non-profit Greek American public policy center that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.


For additional information, please contact Nick Larigakis at (202) 785-8430 or at For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at