ANKARA (AFP)–The spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians said he was hopeful Turkey would re-open a historic seminary that was shut down nearly four decades ago, the Anatolia news agency reported.
The school, on the island of Halki off Istanbul, was the main centre of theological education for more than a century before it was closed by Turkish authorities in 1971 under a law to bring universities under state control.
The European Union has long asked Turkey to re-open the seminary in order to prove its commitment to human rights as it strives to become a member of the bloc.
“We are hopeful that the seminary will open and we are waiting on official news from the government,” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who represents the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians, was quoted by the agency as saying late Wednesday.
“There has been a lot of talk so far, but no news from Ankara,” he added.
Keen to boost its bid to join the EU, Ankara has in recent years taken steps to improve the rights of its non-Muslim minorities, but has so far refrained from a move on the seminary.
But there have been recent positive signals from the government.
Last month, Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay said in newspaper interview that Ankara was planning to re-open the school and was working on a formula to adjust it to the existing university system.
But he underlined that no final decision had been made yet.
The Halki seminary is crucial for the survival of the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul which dates from the Byzantine Empire, which collapsed in 1453 when the Ottoman Turks conquered the city.
Without it, the Church has no means to train clergy, making it difficult to find a successor for Bartholomew I.
Editor’s Note: For an in depth look into this issue read our recent report on the Halki Seminary and the existential crisis facing the Greek Patriarchate in Turkey.