ANKARA (Today’s Zaman)–President Abdullah Gul on Monday joined the government’s harsh criticism against Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, whose remarks, in which he likened his treatment by the government in Turkey to crucifixion, have angered Ankara.
Speaking in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” for a story broadcast in the United States on Sunday night, Patriarch Bartholomew said Turkey’s Greek Orthodox community does not enjoy complete freedom as Turkish citizens and are treated as “second-class citizens.”
Asked whether he would consider going to Greece, he said he would stay in Turkey. “This is the continuation of Jerusalem and for us an equally holy and sacred land. We prefer to stay here, even crucified sometimes,” said Bartholomew. Asked if he feels crucified, he replied, “Yes, I do,” according to excerpts published by CBS on Friday.
Ankara’s response was swift, as Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Saturday told reporters: “We consider the crucifixion metaphor an extremely unfortunate metaphor. In our history, there have never been crucifixions, and there never will be. I couldn’t really reconcile this metaphor with his mature personality.” President Abdullah Gul, speaking at a press conference on Monday ahead of his departure from Ankara for an official visit to Kuwait, was reminded of the controversial remarks by Bartholomew.
“The foreign minister spoke of the issue extremely well. There is nothing further to say on the issue,” Gul responded briefly.
Ankara’s criticism towards Bartholomew had already garnered a response from Athens on Sunday when Greek Foreign Ministry spokesperson Gregory Delavekouras issued a statement saying that among Turkey’s obligations for joining the European Union is “that respect for freedom of religion and for the rights of minorities takes precedence.”
“It is the duty of all, and mainly those who are responsible for the situation of the ecumenical patriarch and the Greek minority, to pay attention,” Delavekouras said.
Bartholomew’s remarks sparked further criticism from both the government and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) on Sunday.
In Izmir, speaking at a conference organized by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc called the patriarch’s criticism “unacceptable,” while reiterating that Turkey doesn’t consider the patriarchate to be ecumenical in line with the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, which governs the status of the Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey.
Arinc recalled a rare meeting during which Bartholomew and leaders of the small Armenian, Jewish, Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic communities had lunch with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and senior ministers, including Arinc, on Buyukada, an island near mainland Istanbul.
At the meeting held in August, Erdogan promised democratic reforms, highlighting the issue of minority rights, a key stumbling block in Turkey’s EU membership bid. Arinc said all religious leaders attending the August meeting, including Bartholomew, then stated that they enjoyed their religious rights during the AK Party government and thanked them for that. “If a speech like this is delivered four months later, then it is an unfortunate speech,” Arinc said.
The CBS interview was recorded in May, months before the Buyukada gathering.
In Ankara, CHP Deputy Chairman Onur Oymen released a statement in which he criticized both the patriarch and Davutoğlu. Calling Bartholomew’s remarks “inappropriate,” Oymen suggested that Davutoglu’s response to those remarks was “too weak.”