ISTANBUL (Haybad/Zaman)–While the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit may be headlining US President George W. Bush’s trip to Istanbul–Turkey–he took time out on Sunday to meet with various religious leaders.
Bush met with President of Religious Affairs Ali Bardakoglu–Istanbul Mufti Mustafa Cagrici–Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomeos–Armenian Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan–Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yusuf Cetin.
In his opening remarks–Bush welcomed the religious leaders–and referred to Turkey "with its mosaic of faiths and cultures," as a good model of secular democracy–in spite of its predominantly Muslim population.
When a journalist asked at the end of the meeting if the participants had any particular message–Bush said that he came together with important personalities from different religions and faiths and had "an excellent meeting." Bush added that the religious leaders represented the best side of Turkey.
Patriarch Mutafyan had an opportunity to speak to Bush about the situation of Turkey’s non-Muslim population–and stressed that for minorities to exist in Turkey–or for any ethnic or national minority to exist anywhere–three institutions must be guaranteed: First–places of worship to preserve religious heritage and to nourish the spiritual life of the community; second–schools to teach language and culture; and third–foundations to fund religious and educational activities and the necessary personnel to keep them active. The minorities in Turkey–he stressed–are attempting to maintain those institutions for the future and well-being of their communities.
The Patriarch also stressed that though religious leaders attempt to stick to spiritual edification–and stay out of politics–certain instances call for–if not political involvement–at least a moral response.
Mutafyan told the press that the religious leaders conveyed their concerns to Bush about the violent incidents they witness every time the turn on the television. Bush reportedly responded–"Believe me–these do not reflect our real face. Justice will deal with some of the incidents you see on television–particularly those in the prison in Baghdad."
Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomeos indicated that they discussed the role of religion and Turkey’s religious mosaic. "President Bush said that the religious mosaic was very important for Turkey and that it is an asset to the country. In order to maintain this–all the religions need to raise their own religious leaders. Otherwise–the mosaic will disappear," recalled Bartholomeos.
White House National Security Adviser Condolezza Rice–Secretary of State Colin Powell and the US Ankara Ambassador Eric Edelman also attended Bush’s meeting with religious leaders.
Before leaving–Patriarch Mutafyan presented the following letter to President Bush:
"Dear Mr. President,
It is with great pleasure that we welcome your visit to our country on the occasion of the NATO summit here in Istanbul.
The Armenia’s of Turkey–constituting by far the largest Christian community in this country–have long cherished–with affection and amity–the United States of America–which–besides having a historic friendship and alliance with Turkey–also has welcomed to its shores many of our kinsmen’since the second half of the 19th century.
It is because of these warm sentimen’s–that I feel able to express the uneasiness we feel at the escalating level of violence which has been spreading across the globe and which is especially pressing in the Middle East region–where we also live.
I personally believe that you–Mr. Bush–as the president of a great country that leads the world–have the authority to affect the course of events–and this is why I would like to voice my anxiety.
War–terror–torture–embargo–marginalization–defamation or condescension…Whatever form violence takes–it always leads to consequences which are not in accord with human dignity. Instead it leaves indelible scars in memories and generates lasting enmities between peoples. Throughout history–there has never been an act of violence or retaliation which has not harmed the innocent. Sadly–the consequence is usually that violence begets more violence.
This is why–even when seeking to serve legitimate–higher ideals such as establishing peace–upholding democracy or preventing terror–the resort to violence–merely culminates in more pain and suffering to the innocent–especially children.
Throughout history–when governmen’s have resorted to force when challenged by violence or even civil unrest–it often effectively became collective punishmen’s of whole nations or peoples. What has happened recently in Palestine–Iraq–Afghanistan–and Sudan are clear examples. This cannot be a portrayal of sublime sentimen’s and indeed–to many it is viewed as revenge–a sentiment which cannot coexist with civilization.
I believe that the United States of America and her President–have the ability to preserve the values they struggle for without resorting to violence in all its terrible diversity. It is sufficient to maintain their trust in God–in their sense of vocation and ultimate potential for good. Whenever we embrace violence we are already diminished and the high moral and religious ideals to which we aspire are betrayed.
Mr. President–I can imagine to a certain extent the pressures that you must be undergoing at present and therefore please be assured of my prayerful support. May God be in all visions for world peace and may He protect us all from losing our faith.
With my sincere good wishes,
Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey