Feb 16 2019

Turkey’s Erdoğan may reopen Halki seminary to burnish Ottoman legacy - The Economist

Despite legal and political obstacles, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s tendency to summon the Ottoman legacy may open the way for the reopening of Heybeliada Theological School (Halki Seminary) in Istanbul, the Economist said on Friday. 

The theological school was founded in 1844 and operated until 1971 when the Turkish authorities decided to close it, making it very difficult for the Patriarchate in Istanbul to survive.

Halki seminary, the only facility in the country to train orthodox clergy, is a symbol of the rights of minority groups.

Alexis Tsipras, accompanied by the current Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, early this month became the first sitting Greek Prime Minister to visit the Halki Seminary since 1933. “I hope my next visit here will be with President Erdogan, and that together we will open the doors of this school,” Tsipras said during the visit.

Following a meeting with Tsipras in Ankara a day before, Erdoğan said there were few legal obstacles to reopening Halki. Yet, during a joint press conference, he also linked the opening of the seminary to the rights of Greek Muslims in western Thrace.

Greece is unlikely to engage in such barter, the Economist quoted Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, a Greek academic working in Turkey, as saying. Yet, opening the seminary could be a beneficial move for Ankara to send a message to European capitals given the economic downturn in the country, he said.

Since the beginning of accession negotiations between Turkey and the European Union in 2005, the Turkish government has repeatedly promised to reopen the school, but no progress has been made. Bartholomew last year said that he expected the seminary to be reopened no later than September.

The patriarchate is struggling to find clerics for its churches, as, under the Turkish law, they are required to be Turkish citizens. 

“As a stopgap measure, Turkey has granted citizenship to several priests brought over from Greece,” the Economist said, adding that Erdoğan in fact has reasons to do more. 

“Turkey’s president has a knack for summoning (and burnishing) the legacy of the Ottoman Empire, including its laudable record on religious freedoms. He might want to do so again, and reopen Halki,” it said.