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Thursday, October 10, 2013

TURKEY: Sultan Erdogan Insists On 'Reciprocity Principle' For Orthodox Rights


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has categorically rejected accusations that the government is reluctant to reopen the Halki Seminary, an issue long under the spotlight, and demanded reciprocal steps from Greece regarding the rights of Muslims there. "[Reopening] the Halki Seminary hangs on an instant," Erdogan said during his Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) parliamentary group meeting speech on Tuesday, indicating that the decision could be made quickly. "Whenever we decide to return something, we also have a right to expect something," Erdogan said. His remarks came amid debates surrounding the rights of non-Muslim minorities after Erdogan unveiled a package of reforms last week that largely improved the rights of Kurds and fell short of expectations with respect to the rights of non-Muslims. Reopening the Halki Seminary was among the reforms hoped for in the package and the non-Muslim community in Turkey has expressed "deep disappointment" over the government decision for it to remain closed. Erdogan demanded the opening of two mosques in Athens and the election of muftis in Western Thrace, which he said would be enough for Turkey to reopen the Halki Seminary. "Let Athens say 'yes' and we will take reciprocal steps," Erdogan said. The principle of reciprocity in relation to the rights and privileges of minorities in Turkey and Greece was introduced by the Treaty of Lausanne, to which the two countries are among the signatories. The treaty was signed in 1924 after Turkey was victorious in its War of Independence following World War I, driving the Greek army from Turkish soil in 1922. Erdogan said he told Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I that Ankara would issue Turkish citizenship to any cleric they wish to bring to Turkey, in line with the Treaty of Lausanne. He added that Turkey has issued citizenship to 18 clerics so far, but complained that Greek authorities are appointing muftis for more than 150,000 Turkish Muslims in Western Thrace. "As I don't appoint the administration of the patriarchate, you can't appoint the muftis," Erdogan said. "This has always been on our agenda for the past 10 years. We have brought this up with every Greek prime minister in our meetings," he added. Turkey has returned property worth $2.5 billion to Greeks, Armenians and Jews living in Turkey in the past 11 years. On Monday, the Directorate General for Foundations (VGM) returned land appropriated from the Turkish Syriac population's Mor Gabriel Monastery to the monastery's foundation. State cannot dictate lifestyle, sect membership Erdogan also dismissed criticisms directed at his government over its alleged interference in people's lifestyles, saying that a state cannot impose a certain lifestyle, a religion or membership in any sect on the public. "The state cannot dictate a certain lifestyle to its citizens. The state cannot dictate a religion or a sect," Erdogan said during his speech. "No one will interfere in others' lifestyles. We will walk toward the future respecting each other. We will compromise by talking to each other, not by using guns or Molotov cocktails," he said. Erdogan said the reform package he announced last week is a sign of Turkey's unity as it lifts "bans and impositions" on some sections of society. "The package we announced is neither the first nor the last," Erdogan added. The package included reforms to lift the requirement of reciting the Turkish pledge of allegiance in primary schools and a ban on wearing headscarves at public institutions; provides for education in one's mother tongue at private schools; the restoration of the original names of villages, districts and provinces; and makes changes to the law on political parties, including the possibility of lowering the 10 percent electoral threshold to enter Parliament.

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