Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, expressed their shared hope that the Halki Orthodox seminary, which was shut down by Turkish authorities in 1971, will soon reopen.
Tsipras said that protecting the rights of religious minorities was a self-evident obligation “and not up for negotiation. Religious faith should bring people together, not divide them.” The decision to reopen the seminary “would be evidence of friendship, mutual understanding and brotherhood,” he continued.
Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios hailed the visit by Greece’s Prime Minister at the school “highly symbolic”, expressing hope that the day when the theological school is put back into operation “is not far distant.”
Perched atop a hill on the Marmara islet with the same name, the Halki seminary which was founded in 1844 was the training center for many Orthodox leaders, including Vartholomaios. It was operated by the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate until a Turkish court ordered the school shut under a law curbing non-state religious education.
The European Union has in the past pressed Turkey to reopen the historic seminary, saying its closure undermines freedom of religion. The bloc has also tied it to Ankara’s membership ambitions. Pressure has also come from the United States. In a speech at the Turkish parliament in 2009, former president Barack Obama urged Ankara to reopen the seminary as a means of promoting freedom of religion and expression.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously suggested that its reopening depends on reciprocal measures from Greece designed to improve the lives of the country’s Muslim minority in the north.