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First time Top Religious Official Pays Key Visit to Istanbul Greek Orthodox Patriarchate

Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate pays first official visit to Greek Patriarchate in Istanbul’s Fener district. Among the topics discussed are the reopening of Halki seminary and restoration of Büyükada orphanage.

The head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate paid a historic visit to Greek Patriarch Bartholomew I yesterday at Istanbul’s Fener Greek Patriarchate and gave the religious figure his full support on the issue of the reopening of Halki Seminary.

The visit bears significance as it is the first time a directorate head visits the patriarchate in Istanbul.

During the meeting, Mehmet Görmez gave his full support to the issue of reopening Halki Seminary on Istanbul’s Heybeliada Island, while Patriarch Bartholomew said the Patriarchate is ready to open the school. Görmez said the fact that a religious community in Turkey currently needs to recruit and train their religious staff in another country was not appropriate.

“In this country, a religious community’s need for other countries to raise their own ecclesiastics does not comply with the greatness of this country. The continuation of their [religious communities’] existence in the framework of law and legislation is more suitable to this greatness, as it has always continued throughout history,” Görmez said in a statement made after the visit.


Basic rights and freedoms should be the object of the principle of reciprocity, Görmez said. “I do not find it suitable if a major country tells another country ‘I will give as much rights to communities under my rule, as you give to the Muslims in your country,’” he said.

The Patriarch said they have been given hope that the seminary would be reopened, but were still waiting for the school to be opened.

“We are ready for any substructure work and we will keep on being hopeful,” he said.

In 1971, with the introduction of the Higher Education Law, the Halki Seminary was taken under state supervision. The Fener Greek Patriarchate did not accept this decision, so the theology department of the seminary was closed. The seminary continued to provide education at the high school level for a while before it was shut down by the Patriarchate.

In a speech during the visit, the Patriarch expressed his delight and honor at the visit. “We follow and appreciate your activities, the beautiful things you do and the beautiful speeches you make. We also follow your statements about the reopening of Halki Seminary with pleasure, and feel gratitude for them,” Patriarch Bartholomew said.Görmez also said the visit between the two should have actually occurred a long time ago. The first unofficial visit to the Patriarchate was made in 2001 by Mehmet Nuri Yılmaz, who was head of the Religious Affairs Directorate at that time.

Meanwhile, the governor of southern Hatay province, Celalettin Lekesiz, accepted a visit from the Board of Trustees of the Sarılar Ayayorgi Greek Orthodox Church.

Support Demanded for Restoration of Orphanage

An anonymous source from the Patriarchate told Daily News that another topic discussed in the meeting was the restoration of the historical orphanage on Büyükada, which currently cannot be restored due to financial problems.

The source also said that Patriarchate thus asked for the financial support of the Directorate of Religious Affairs’ for the restoration of the orphanage, which is a budget of 65 million Turkish Lira. Meanwhile, it was planned that Patriarch Bartholomew and Görmez would make a speech from the balcony of the Patriarchate building. A few hours before the visit, a flag with the Patriarchate’s symbol was hung there, but the balcony speech was cancelled and Görmez and Bartholomew instead answered journalists’ questions at the exit of the Patriarchate building. Minority Foundations Chief Laki Vingas from the Foundations Directorate General indicated this was a return visit and that they had wanted and worked for this meeting for a long time. The Patriarchate’s lawyers, Kezban and Hüseyin Hatami, also attended the meeting.

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