Chris­tian cul­tural her­itage and mi­nor­ity rights in Turkey: the Sumela Monastery case

AR­TI­CLE IN BRIEF: Once ac­count­ing for about a quar­ter of the Ot­toman Em­pire’s pop­u­la­tion, Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties al­most dis­ap­peared from Ana­to­lia dur­ing the 20th cen­tury. The in­flu­ence of a French Revo­lu­tion-in­flu­enced blend of cit­i­zen­ship, na­tion­al­ism an

Turkish Review - - ARTICLE -

This pa­per will out­line the dra­matic fate of the Ot­toman Greek Or­tho­dox Chris­tians since the 19th cen­tury, with a fo­cus on the Black Sea re­gion’s Sumela Monastery and its cur­rent re­la­tion to the Pa­tri­ar­chate of Con­stantino­ple. It will also shed light on how cul­tural her­itage poli­cies over­lap with the thorny is­sues of na­tion­al­ism and Mus­lim iden­tity in present-day Turkey.


When Con­stantino­ple fell to the Ot­toman Sul­tan Mehmet II in 1453, it was the last pocket of re­sis­tance to sur­ren­der to a Mus­lim em­pire that by then oc­cu­pied most of Ana­to­lia and had al­ready pen­e­trated the Balkans. Since the Umayyad and Ab­basid Caliphates, Chris­tians and Jews un­der Mus­lim author­ity had been ad­min­is­trated ac­cord­ing to Shariah, which con­ferred on them the sta­tus of dhim­mis and bound them by a set of rules that de­fined their rights and re­stric­tions. Un­der Ot­toman rule, the sta­tus of non-Mus­lim sub­jects of the em­pire was reg­u­lated from 1517 by the

mil­let sys­tem, which al­lowed cer­tain au­ton­omy to re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties to be ruled by spe­cific courts ac­cord­ing to their own re­li­gious pre­cepts, as long as the quar­rels didn't in­volve Mus­lims. The mil­let sys­tem di­vided Ot­tomans sub­jects by faith, re­gard­less of their eth­nic­ity or lan­guage. Thus, the Mus­lim mil­let re­ferred to Sunni and non-Sunni Mus­lims alike (Ale­vis, Shias, Alaw­ites), whereas the Chris­tian mil­let in­cluded all Chris­tian sects (Greek, Ar­me­nian, Syr­iac, Nesto­rian). Ke­mal Karpat demon­strated how the Greek Pa­tri­ar­chate of Con­stantino­ple gained supremacy dur­ing the nearly five cen­turies of Ot­toman reign due to its prox­im­ity to the sul­tan. 1 Be­cause it was the sole heir of the Or­tho­dox Church of Byzan­tium, the Pa­tri­ar­chate of Con­stantino­ple gained author­ity over the Pa­tri­ar­chates of An­ti­och and Jerusalem as the em­pire ex­tended its bound­aries in the Mid­dle East. Within the Mil­let -i Rum ( Rum was a generic term used among Arabs to re­fer to the Byzan­tines, i.e., Chris­tian­ized Ro­mans) a va­ri­ety of eth­nic churches op­er­ated in an in­de­pen­dent man­ner lo­cally but were rep­re­sented be­fore the sul­tan by the Greek

Pa­tri­ar­chate of Con­stantino­ple. Greek and other churches rep­re­sented a net­work of lo­cal dio­ce­ses. Just as Mount Athos was by far the most im­por­tant cen­ter of Greek Or­tho­dox monas­ti­cism in the west­ern part of the em­pire, the Sumela Monastery of Trab­zon Prov­ince was, on a smaller scale, the cen­ter of Greek monas­ti­cism in the em­pire's eastern lands.


Trab­zon had not only been an im­por­tant com­mer­cial port since the an­tiq­uity but was also the start­ing point of trade routes to Iraq, Iran and In­dia, es­pe­cially in the Byzan­tine pe­riod. 2 Through­out the cen­turies, the re­gion had suc­ces­sively been oc­cu­pied by Hit­tites, Per­sians, Goths, Scythes, Kartvelians and Mon­gols. Since 756 B.C., Trab­zon had evolved from a small Greek trad­ing colony to an im­por­tant Ro­man and later Byzan­tium cen­ter, en­joy­ing strong eco­nomic ties with Venice and Genoa. Af­ter the frag­men­ta­tion of the Byzan­tine Em­pire that fol­lowed the Fourth Cru­sade, Trab­zon be­came the cap­i­tal of the Em­pire of Tre­bi­zond, which briefly sur­vived the fall of Con­stantino­ple but sur­ren­dered to Mehmet II in 1461. Hel­l­enized and Chris­tian­ized over cen­turies, the re­gion had be­come pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim by the end of the 17th cen­tury, 3 mainly as a re­sult of con­ver­sion rather than im­mi­gra­tion, as ev­i­denced by the fact that most of the cit­i­zens still spoke Greek. Con­ver­sions of­ten oc­curred among the low­est seg­ments of so­ci­ety, i.e. poor peas­ants wish­ing to avoid the bur­den of taxes re­served for non-Mus­lims. How­ever, an im­por­tant com­mu­nity re­mained faith­ful to Greek Or­tho­doxy and the monas­ter­ies of Vazelon, Saint Ge­orges and Sumela con­tin­ued to host hun­dreds of monks un­til 1923. Sit­u­ated on a main trade route, the re­gion be­came a strong eco­nomic cen­ter. Wealth­ier, its pop­u­la­tion was less vul­ner­a­ble to con­ver­sions. Founded in A.D. 386 dur­ing the reign of the Em­peror Theo­do­sius I (375-395) and cur­rently lo­cated in the Black sea dis­trict of Maçka, 47 kilo­me­ters south of the city of Trab­zon, the Sumela Monastery has been a site of great his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance through­out his­tory. Et­y­mo­log­i­cally, the name of the monastery de­rives from the Black Moun­tains upon which it stands; how­ever, some re­search sug­gests that it could also be as­so­ci­ated with the black color of the icon of Pana­gia Soumela, al­legedly painted by Luke the Evan­ge­list him­self. The monastery was sacked and

re­built on sev­eral oc­ca­sions and reached its present form in the 13th cen­tury af­ter gain­ing promi­nence dur­ing the Em­pire of Tre­bi­zond. At that time, 4,000 monks dwelt there. Since 1682, the monastery housed the Phron­tis­te­rion of Trape­zous, a well-known Greek ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion of the prov­ince. Sumela was lav­ishly ren­o­vated in 1749. Ad­di­tional rooms for monks and guests were built in 1860. The prin­ci­pal el­e­ments of the monastery com­plex were the Rock Church, sev­eral chapels, kitchens, stu­dent rooms, a guest­house, a li­brary, a sa­cred spring and an aqueduct. In the late 18th cen­tury, the Maçka re­gion had be­come a rich en­clave of Greek in­tel­lec­tu­als, num­ber­ing over 50 Chris­tian schools and around 500 small churches and chapels.

By World War I, the Ot­toman Em­pire had lost its west­ern and eastern prov­inces and the re­main­der of Ana­to­lia was cov­eted by the Bri­tain, French, Rus­sian, Greek and Ital­ian chan­cel­leries. En­cour­aged by West­ern pow­ers to weaken the Ot­tomans from within, Chris­tian na­tion­al­ists move­ments led to the in­de­pen­dence of the Balkans, which echoed among the Pon­tic Greeks. Although the Pa­tri­ar­chate of Con­stantino­ple tried to re­main loyal to the sul­tan, 4 many Greeks wel­comed Rus­sian armies in 1916. Af­ter a brief Ar­me­nian oc­cu­pa­tion in 1919, Trab­zon re­turned to the Ot­tomans, whose re­venge cost the lives of 50,000 Ar­me­ni­ans. Fol­low­ing the Turk­ish War of In­de­pen­dence, Trab­zon be­came a part of the Turk­ish Repub­lic and the fate of the Pon­tic Greeks was sealed by the Treaty of Lau­sanne; the Con­ven­tion Con­cern­ing the Ex­change of Greek and Turk­ish Pop­u­la­tion was signed on Jan. 30, 1923.

On Aug. 20, 1923, around 25,000 Pon­tic Greeks were de­ported to Greece and Sumela con­se­quently closed. The monastery re­mained aban­doned for decades. Be­tween 1935 and 1961, the keys of the monastery were handed to the priest of Trab­zon's Catholic Church of Santa Maria, be­fore end­ing up at the lo­cal head­quar­ters of the Na­tional Forestry Board.


The way in which the sys­tem, which had worked through­out the early days of the Ot­toman Em­pire, im­ploded with the rise of na­tion­al­ism has been il­lus­trated above. Karpat showed how the frag­men­ta­tion of the em­pire was the re­sult of the in­flu­ence of a new type of po­lit­i­cal sys­tem im­ported and im­posed by Europe that de­fined state­hood based on race and lan­guage, a con­cept alien to the uni­ver­sal­ity of Chris­tian­ity and Is­lam on which the

mil­let sys­tem was based. 6 Through­out the 19th cen­tury, the Ot­toman Em­pire wit­nessed a dra­matic change in the com­po­si­tion of its pop­u­la­tion. With the wars over Crimea, the em­pire ac­com­mo­dated sev­eral Mus­lim mi­nori­ties flee­ing Rus­sian ex­pan­sion to­wards the Black Sea and the Cau­ca­sus. Later, the Balkan Wars re­sulted in an ad­di­tional forced migration of Balkan Mus­lims, whose tragic ac­counts ex­ac­er­bated re­sent­ments among re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties. By World War I, the Ot­toman pop­u­la­tion was ut­terly di­vided into eth­nic and re­li­gious lines. The rise of Chris­tian and Arab sep­a­ratism had the con­se­quence of ex­ac­er­bat­ing a “Turk­ish-Mus­lim” iden­tity. On the one hand, Chris­tians had gained re­spectable func­tions in the gov­ern­ment as am­bas­sadors of the Sub­lime Porte to Euro­pean coun­tries, and, along with mem­bers of the Jewish mil­let had de­vel­oped a wealthy bour­geoisie in the field of trade (at the ex­pense of the Mus­lim aris­toc­racy); on the other hand, they started to be viewed as traitors to the sul­tan's author­ity and enemies of the state. 7

Sev­eral fac­tors sparked an­i­mos­ity be­tween com­mu­ni­ties. When Chris­tian Or­tho­dox states in the Balkans be­came in­de­pen­dent, they ex­pelled their Mus­lim pop­u­la­tions, who em­i­grated to Ana­to­lia and Con­stantino­ple and whose tes­ti­monies por­trayed Chris­tians as op­pres­sors. Dur­ing the Rus­sian oc­cu­pa­tion of Trab­zon, mosques were closed and Mus­lim Turks ex­pelled. The whirl­wind of wars and the ha­tred it fu­elled among com­mu­ni­ties re­sulted in a ho­moge­nous and na­tion­al­ist Mus­lim Turk­ish Repub­lic where Greek and Ar­me­nian is­sues re­mained a shame­ful taboo un­til re­cently.



As Chris­tians fled or dis­ap­peared, they left a large amount of prop­er­ties that the Turk­ish Ke­mal­ist state quickly con­sid­ered “aban­doned.” The goods and

live­stock were sold in public auc­tions, while houses were mostly given to Mus­lim refugees from the Balkans or Greece. Chris­tian shops, schools and churches were also con­fis­cated. Founded in 1920, the Di­rec­torate Gen­eral for Foun­da­tions (VGM) is the state body re­spon­si­ble for mon­i­tor­ing, in­spect­ing and man­ag­ing all es­tab­lished foun­da­tions. The his­tory of Ana­to­lian foun­da­tions can be traced to the takeover of eastern Byzan­tium by the Selçuk Turks, who in­her­ited churches, syn­a­gogues, shrines, mosques, baths, car­a­vansaries, cov­ered bazaars, foun­tains and bridges. Tom Pa­pademtriou demon­strates that rather than a purely re­li­gious mat­ter, the Ot­toman sul­tans ap­proached the mil­let sys­tem from a fi­nan­cial per­spec­tive; taxes raised from land ten­ure were an im­por­tant part of do­mes­tic rev­enue. 8 Thus, the repub­li­can VGM in­her­ited a well-or­ga­nized postOt­toman bu­reau­cracy reg­u­lat­ing mon­u­ments and es­tates. In 1936, a law re­quired that re­li­gious foun­da­tions com­pile and of­fi­cially reg­is­ter lists of all prop­er­ties they owned. The Greek Or­tho­dox churches and in­sti­tu­tions reg­is­tered ap­prox­i­mately 8,000 prop­er­ties. How­ever, in the ab­sence of rep­re­sen­ta­tives, the VGM seized foun­da­tions when it uni­lat­er­ally deemed them to be “no longer of char­i­ta­ble or prac­ti­cal use.” In 1998, only 2,000 prop­er­ties were owned by the Pa­tri­ar­chate of Con­stantino­ple. To­day, that num­ber is less than 500. From 1936 un­til 2011, new re­li­gious foun­da­tions were not able to reg­is­ter. Fol­low­ing con­fis­ca­tions, many re­li­gious Chris­tian sites re­main to this day de­prived of their orig­i­nal own­er­ship and are cur­rently su­per­vised by state bod­ies such as the Cul­ture and Tourism Min­istry, the VGM, the Trea­sury, the Di­rec­torate of Re­li­gious Af­fairs (Diyanet), mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and vil­lage ad­min­is­tra­tions.


Defin­ing cul­tural her­itage is not an easy task, since it in­cludes fields such as ar­chae­ol­ogy, ar­chi­tec­ture, graphic arts, lit­er­a­ture, an­thro­pol­ogy, his­tory and re­li­gious stud­ies. A doc­u­ment pub­lished by the In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre for the Study of the Preser­va­tion and Restora­tion of Cul­tural Prop­erty (ICCROM) in 1990 con­sist­ing of ref­er­ences to “cul­tural prop­erty” and “cul­tural her­itage” from a num­ber of var­i­ous sources lists over 60 def­i­ni­tions. The UNESCO def­i­ni­tion of 1985 de­clares that “cul­tural her­itage may be de­fined as the en­tire cor­pus of ma­te­rial signs -ei­ther artis­tic of sym­bolic -- handed on by the past to each cul­ture and, there­fore, to the whole of hu­man­ity.”

Euro­pean schol­ars showed in­ter­est in the re­mains of an­cient Greek and Ro­man civ­i­liza­tions within the bor­ders of the Ot­toman Em­pire as early as the 16th cen­tury. Ar­chae­ol­ogy ap­peared as a dis­ci­pline among the West­ern-ed­u­cated Ot­toman elite in the 19th cen­tury. The first Ot­toman mu­seum con­sisted of Byzan­tine ar­ti­facts that be­longed to sul­tans or high­rank­ing ser­vants. The first law to pro­tect an­tiq­ui­ties

was pro­mul­gated in 1884.9 How­ever, with the birth of the Turk­ish Repub­lic, his­tor­i­cal and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­search was mo­ti­vated by strong na­tion­al­ist pro­pa­ganda in­tended to raise Turk­ish na­tional iden­tity. In an at­tempt to make an­cient Ana­to­lian civ­i­liza­tions fore­fa­thers of mod­ern Turkey, Turk­ish schol­ars fo­cused mainly on an­cient Ana­to­lian civ­i­liza­tions, while the Chris­tian pres­ence that had ex­isted in Ana­to­lia for over 1,000 years was de­lib­er­ately ig­nored.


In an ar­ti­cle about Ge­or­gian churches in the Artvin re­gion neigh­bor­ing Trab­zon, Chris Hel­lier raised the is­sue of the con­ser­va­tion of Chris­tian her­itage, and stated that “the hand­ful of the 80-odd churches that had sur­vived was un­der threat from ne­glect and lack of un­der­stand­ing.” 10 Af­ter hav­ing be­ing grad­u­ally aban­doned, many fell into ruin or were plun­dered for their stone; oth­ers were dam­aged by earth­quakes or by trea­sure hun­ters. Hel­lier gives fur­ther ex­am­ples of churches whose domes were pulled down, whose win­dows and doors were filled with ce­ment and rub­ble and whose walls have been black­ened by fire. In one case, the church was sim­ply dy­na­mited. Hel­lier sum­ma­rized the sit­u­a­tion that most non-Mus­lim sanc­tu­ar­ies face in Turkey: “The re­main­ing churches are con­sid­ered pro­tected build­ings un­der Turkey’s laws on an­cient mon­u­ments but there is no con­ser­va­tion pro­gramme to en­sure their con­tin­ued sur­vival.” 11 In his eyes, the only hope for Ge­or­gian churches to be saved from dis­ap­pear­ance is to rec­og­nize them as a tourist as­set and raise funds to re­store them. This echoes with Mehmet So­muncu and Turgut Yiğit’s ob­ser­va­tion that “lo­cal peo­ple re­sid­ing within sur­round­ing ar­eas of his­tor­i­cal and nat­u­ral im­por­tance are poorly aware of their val­ues and pro­tected sta­tus.” 12 Since the foun­da­tion of the UN Ed­u­ca­tional Sci­en­tific Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UNESCO) in 1946, Turkey has seen 11 sites reg­is­tered in the World Her­itage list and 41 prop­er­ties sub­mit­ted on the UNESCO ten­ta­tive list. 13 With over 7,000 ref­er­enced ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites14 and the strength­en­ing role of UNESCO as an in­ter­na­tional body that ad­vo­cates cul­tural aware­ness, Turkey got in­volved in the broad is­sues of cul­tural her­itage and grad­u­ally re­laxed its at­ti­tude to­wards its Chris­tian past.


As noted ear­lier, Sumela's keys were kept by the Na­tional Forestry Board from 1961, whose sur­veil­lance was rather loose. It is re­ported that of­fi­cials al­lowed vis­i­tors to en­ter the monastery with­out scru­tiny, which re­sulted in a decade of loot­ing and dam­age. The monastery was handed to the Min­istry of Cul­ture and Tourism only in 1972, and the first en­trance fee was es­tab­lished in 1986. The Sumela Mu­seum went through sev­eral ren­o­va­tions. In 2013, the min­istry de­voted a bud­get of TL 410,000 to a com­pre­hen­sive ren­o­va­tion work as part of its bid to reg­is­ter the site on the UNESCO World Her­itage list. Re­search pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Food, Agri­cul­ture and En­vi­ron­ment gives de­tailed fig­ures about Sumela's vis­i­tor num­bers and rev­enue, reach­ing a to­tal of 403,703 vis­i­tors and rev­enue of TL 1,266,430.15 The in­vest­ment in the mu­seum and the num­bers of vis­i­tors sug­gest that the gov­ern­ment nowa­days re­gards Sumela as an im­por­tant as­set within its her­itage con­ser­va­tion pol­icy.



Ar­gylo Pit­ti­dou ar­gues that dur­ing the Lau­sanne Con­fer­ence talks, Turk­ish Ke­mal­ist of­fi­cials were determined to ex­pel not only the Pa­tri­ar­chate but all Greeks living in Turkey. 16 How­ever, the fi­nal draft of the treaty al­lowed the Greeks of Con­stantino­ple, Im­bros (Gökçeada) and Tene­dos (Boz­caada) to re­main, which rep­re­sented an es­ti­mated 119,822 peo­ple. Through­out the 20th cen­tury, non-Mus­lim Turks faced regular per­se­cu­tions from the state. In 1932, Greeks -- along with other re­main­ing non-Mus­lim mi­nori­ties -- were barred from most pro­fes­sions. In 1942, the cap­i­tal tax heav­ily stig­ma­tized non-Mus­lim Turks and many sui­cides were re­ported. 17 In 1955, Turk­ish se­cret ser­vices staged the ar­son of Atatürk’s birth­place in Thes­sa­loniki, which re­sulted in two days of pogroms, the death of a dozen Chris­tian and Jews and wide-scale de­struc­tion of shops, houses and churches in İstanbul. Th­ese events marked the be­gin­ning of a new wave of Greek em­i­gra­tion to Greece, which cul­mi­nated in 1963, when -- heated by the nascent con­flict in Cyprus -- Prime

Min­is­ter İs­met İnönü didn't re­new the 1930 GreekTurk­ish friend­ship agree­ment, re­sult­ing in the ex­pul­sion of 12,500 Turk­ish cit­i­zens of Greek ori­gin. The Greek pop­u­la­tion of Turkey de­clined from 119,822 per­sons in 1927 to about 7,000 in 1978. In İstanbul alone, the Greek pop­u­la­tion de­creased from 65,108 to 49,081 be­tween 1955 and 1960. It is es­ti­mated to con­sist of only 2,000 peo­ple to­day.


The ori­gin of the Pa­tri­ar­chate of Con­stantino­ple goes back to the con­ver­sion of Byzan­tium in A.D. 380. As the leader of the Or­tho­dox Chris­tians un­til 1453, the Pa­tri­ar­chate's power rose sig­nif­i­cantly dur­ing the 500 years of Ot­toman rule. In its hey­day, the Pa­tri­ar­chate the­o­ret­i­cally over­saw a flock of over 4 mil­lion believ­ers. Even though Ar­ti­cle 40 of the Treaty of Lau­sanne granted mi­nori­ties “the right to es­tab­lish, man­age and con­trol at their own ex­pense, any char­i­ta­ble, re­li­gious and so­cial in­sti­tu­tions, any schools and other es­tab­lish­ments for in­struc­tion and ed­u­ca­tion, with the right to use their own lan­guage and to ex­er­cise their reli­gion freely therein,” it failed to clearly de­fine the sta­tus the Pa­tri­ar­chate, whose de facto di­min­ished sta­tus lost all po­lit­i­cal rights and re­mains purely re­li­gious. The new na­tion­al­ist Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties saw in the Pa­tri­ar­chate of Con­stantino­ple a hos­tile in­sti­tu­tion sus­pected of work­ing in the in­ter­ests of Greece against Turkey. 19 Not only did the Turk­ish secular state deny its for­mer ec­u­meni­cal author­ity over the world's 300 mil­lion Or­tho­dox Chris­tians and rec­og­nized the pa­tri­arch as only the leader of the al­most ex­tinct Turk­ish Greeks, but it also de­nied its legal stand­ing. This lack of legal per­son­al­ity meant the Pa­tri­ar­chate has no right to own prop­erty, not even the churches in which its parish­ioners wor­ship. Prac­ti­cally, it can nei­ther pur­chase new prop­er­ties nor re­pair de­te­ri­o­rat­ing churches. Iron­i­cally, it can­not even own the ceme­ter­ies in which its de­ceased pa­tri­archs are buried. The in­cum­bent 270th pa­tri­arch, Bartholomew I, was born in 1940 among Greeks al­lowed to live on the is­land of Gökçeada. Elected in 1991, he has gained in­ter­na­tional visibility through both his do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional ac­tiv­i­ties.


The Jus­tice and Devel­op­ment Party (AK Party) came to power in Turkey in 2002 and has been re-elected at ev­ery sub­se­quent elec­tion. In the ini­tial years of its rule, the party man­aged to gain suc­cess by re­form­ing the econ­omy and de­moc­ra­tiz­ing Turk­ish so­ci­ety and raised the prospect of Turkey join­ing the EU. In a 2011 in­ter­view, Pa­tri­arch Bartholomew I him­self ac­knowl­edged that progress had been made since cur­rent Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan’s AK Party broke away from Turkey's Ke­mal­ist par­a­digm. Sev­eral taboos -- such as the Kur­dish is­sue, the Ar­me­nian Geno­cide and the ques­tion of the Is­lamic head­scarf -were over­come and have started to be mat­ters of public con­cern. How­ever, many an­a­lysts ques­tion the true in­ten­tions of the gov­ern­ment, ac­cus­ing it of us­ing the demo­cratic op­por­tu­nity pro­vided by the EU as a bul­wark against its secular Ke­mal­ist enemies. 20 Turkey’s ap­pli­ca­tion to re­open the EU membership process in 1999 has brought its leg­is­la­tion in line with EU po­lices, pos­ing im­por­tant chal­lenges to na­tion­state un­der­stand­ing and the con­cept of ho­mog­e­nized Turk­ish na­tional iden­tity and cit­i­zen­ship. 21

The AK Party’s pol­icy to­wards Chris­tian mi­nori­ties has ap­peared to be some­what in­con­sis­tent.

While the gov­ern­ment has ex­pressed will­ing­ness to con­sider claims of non-Mus­lim mi­nori­ties, it has sim­i­larly main­tained a na­tion­al­ist and Is­lamist dis­course against non-Mus­lims, con­sid­ered by some an­a­lysts as hate speech against Jews, Ar­me­ni­ans and Greeks. 22 Con­versely, Ar­ti­cle 301 of the Turk­ish Pe­nal Code (TCK), which crim­i­nal­izes those who “in­sult Turk­ish­ness” re­mains in place, although now sel­dom used. On Aug. 27, 2011, then-Prime Min­is­ter Er­doğan an­nounced a new de­cree that al­lowed com­mu­ni­ties whose prop­er­ties had been ex­pro­pri­ated to ap­ply for re­turn or com­pen­sa­tion and per­mit­ted the for­ma­tion of new re­li­gious com­mu­nity foun­da­tions and the re­open­ing of foun­da­tions that had pre­vi­ously been closed and ad­min­is­tered by the VGM. The Pa­tri­ar­chate sub­mit­ted ap­pli­ca­tions for 1,252 pieces of prop­erty, of which only 352 have been ac­cepted.

The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion of the Halki Sem­i­nary il­lus­trates the para­dox­i­cal na­ture of cur­rent gov­ern­ment pol­icy. Sit­u­ated on the is­land of Hey­be­li­ada (the sec­ond-largest of the Princes’ Is­lands, in the Mar­mara near İstanbul), the sem­i­nary used to be the main the­o­log­i­cal school of the Greek Pa­tri­ar­chate and is where Bartholomew I him­self stud­ied. It was closed in 1971 when a law stip­u­lated that all pri­vate col­leges should be af­fil­i­ated with a state-run uni­ver­sity and did not per­mit the op­er­a­tion of a sem­i­nary within a monas­tic com­mu­nity. While in power, the AK Party gov­ern­ment nearly de­mol­ished the Chapel of Our Lord’s Trans­fig­u­ra­tion at­ten­dant to the sem­i­nary in 2007. Five years later, the land sur­round­ing the sem­i­nary was re­turned to the Agia Tri­ada Monastery Foun­da­tion (the foun­da­tion hold­ing the legal ti­tle to the sem­i­nary’s prop­erty). How­ever, the de­ci­sion to re­open the sem­i­nary was re­moved at the last minute from the de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion pack­age that then-Prime Min­is­ter Er­doğan un­veiled in Septem­ber 2013. A case out­side the Greek com­mu­nity em­pha­sizes the gov­ern­ment’s am­bigu­ous at­ti­tude to­ward mi­nori­ties. When the Min­istry of Cul­ture ren­o­vated the Ar­me­nian Cathe­dral of the Holy Cross on the is­land of Akhta­mar in Lake Van in 2007, it listed it as a mu­seum, which -- ac­cord­ing to reg­u­la­tions on secular cul­tural mon­u­ment -- pro­hibits its use for re­li­gious pur­poses. Even though some mem­bers of the Ar­me­nian com­mu­nity cel­e­brated the open­ing, some groups boy­cotted the one-day re­li­gious au­tho­rized cer­e­mony held in 2010, call­ing the event “a pub­lic­ity stunt by the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment aimed at im­prov­ing its im­age in the West.” 23

This ex­am­ple echoes the re­la­tion be­tween the Greek Pa­tri­ar­chate and the Sumela Monastery of Trab­zon. When, in a sym­bolic at­tempt to draw public at­ten­tion to the lim­i­ta­tions im­posed on the Greek Pa­tri­ar­chate, Bartholomew I tried to hold a mass in Sumela Monastery on Aug. 15, 2009, the cer­e­mony was in­ter­rupted by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties on the grounds that the premises are listed as a mu­seum and not a place of wor­ship. A year later, while Pa­tri­arch Bartholomew I was even­tu­ally al­lowed to per­form the first mass in 88 years within the premises of the monastery, sev­eral voices from ul­tra­na­tion­al­ist cir­cles raised their op­po­si­tion to the event. The mass has been con­ducted ev­ery year since. Dur­ing the last edi­tion, in Au­gust


2014, Bartholomew I ex­pressed his mixed feel­ings of hope and con­cerns, thank­ing Pres­i­dent Er­doğan per­son­ally while de­scrib­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties he had faced in or­der to per­form the liturgy. The sin­cer­ity of the gov­ern­ment was called into ques­tion when, in 2013, Diyanet won a court case and re­claimed the own­er­ship of the Ha­gia Sophia Church in Trab­zon from the Min­istry of Cul­ture and Tourism (which pre­vi­ously ran it as a mu­seum), turn­ing it into a mosque. 24 A few months ear­lier, Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Bü­lent Arinç had promised that the church-mu­seum soon would be "smil­ing" again as a mosque. 25 One can also men­tion that in the year when land was re­turned to the Halki Sem­i­nary and an an­nual mass au­tho­rized for the third year in row in Sumela, the gov­ern­ment re­fused the pa­tri­arch’s re­quest to per­form a mass in the Tax­i­archis Or­tho­dox Church in the Aegean vil­lage of Ay­valık. The re­fusal was made public on the eve of the planned event, forc­ing over 700 fol­low­ers from dif­fer­ent coun­tries to hold the mass in a ho­tel. The church had been pre­vi­ously ren­o­vated by the Min­istry of Cul­ture and Tourism with a bud­get of TL 3 mil­lion. Again, the pa­tri­arch's re­quest was re­fused on grounds that the church was not in­cluded in the list of 2,000 churches where re­li­gious ser­vices can be held. 26


This es­say has il­lus­trated how the Greek Or­tho­dox Pa­tri­ar­chate of Con­stantino­ple fell from its pre­dom­i­nant role among all Ot­toman Chris­tians to a much di­min­ished en­tity de­prived of its tra­di­tional rights and prop­er­ties, re­gain­ing some small mea­sure recog­ni­tion in the last decade. Sim­i­larly, the rise of aware­ness over cul­tural her­itage that oc­curred in the last decades of the Ot­toman Em­pire took on an ide­o­log­i­cal tone dur­ing repub­li­can years, with Chris­tian her­itage sim­ply si­lenced. Even though progress has been made dur­ing the last decade, the ques­tion about the own­er­ship of Chris­tian her­itage sites con­tin­ues to be a dis­puted one in Turkey. TR

AUG. 15, 2010 PHOTO: ZA­MAN

Around 500 Or­tho­dox Chris­tians from the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion, Greece, Ge­or­gia, the US and Turkey at­tend a cer­e­mony at Sumela.


The Sumela Monastery con­tin­ued to host monks un­til 1923.


The Halki Sem­i­nary was closed in 1971 when a law stip­u­lated that all pri­vate col­leges should be af­fil­i­ated with a state-run uni­ver­sity.


The Halki Sem­i­nary used to be the main the­o­log­i­cal school of the Greek Pa­tri­ar­chate.

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