The relationship between Erdogan and Bartholomew is still deteriorating

  • Ecumenical Patriarchate
  • 02.Nov ‘20
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The position of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Turkey is truly unique. On the one hand, the patriarchy is the heir to one of the oldest Christian churches and has tremendous international influence, on the other, it is located in a Muslim country, the administrative buildings of the patriarchy are compactly located in the tiny Fanar quarter, and its funding is carried out exclusively from abroad. All this creates a very unusual relationship between Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Turkish President Erdogan.

Unwittingly embroiled in international intrigues at the height of the church crisis in Ukraine, Erdogan did not openly support either side. And the point is not that he did not want to get involved in Christian disputes, but because he tried to maintain partnership relations with both Russia and the United States, which actively supported the opposing churches.

In 2020, relations between Erdogan and Bartholomew began to deteriorate rapidly. It all started with the initiative to turn Hagia Sophia into a functioning mosque. Then Patriarch Bartholomew demonstratively refused to comment on Erdogan’s actions in any way, although practically all the primates of Orthodox churches spoke on this issue. Patriarch Bartholomew expected that for his loyalty in this matter, Ankara would allow him to revive the theological school on Halki, which was closed in 1971.

Instead, Patriarch Bartholomew received only a small monastery of Panagia Sumela, and the Turkish authorities simultaneously took away the Chora monastery from the patriarchate, which will also become a mosque in the near future.

Bartholomew flared up and on September 6, in the building of the former theological school in Halki, he recalled to the Turks all what they have recently done to the Greeks: the pogrom of the Greek community in 1955, and the closure of the theological school in 1971, and St. Sophia, and generally accused the authorities of “insulting our identity, our history, our culture” (we wrote about this in detail here). This demarche of Bartholomew took place against the backdrop of a sharp escalation in relations between Turkey and Greece, and it should be noted here that even despite Turkish citizenship, Bartholomew and the Ecumenical Patriarchate are naturally perceived in Turkey as Greek actors.

The response from Erdogan was not long in coming. According to the Romfea Portal, on the island of Halki, the Turkish authorities decided to build a Center for Islamic Studies.

When Erdogan turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque, he did so primarily to mobilize his conservative Muslim electorate, without a direct desire to offend the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, the decision to open a Center for Islamic Studies in Halki is a clear response of the Turkish authorities to the overly emotional speech of Bartholomew, this is a personal attack against him and his plans to revive the theological school on the island.

We are waiting for a reaction from Patriarch Bartholomew: is he ready to go to an open conflict with Erdogan, or will he accept the fact that, despite world influence, he will not play any role in the life of Turkey.

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