USA State Department report slams Turkey on Ecumenical Patriarchate, Hagia Sophia

Global concern over the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, reports New York Times

The USA State Department slammed Turkey on its record on religious freedoms citing the pressures exerted on the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the limitations on the rights of non-Muslim religious minorities in the country in its new report for 2020.

The report said that the Turkish government “continued to restrict efforts of minority religious groups to train their clergy,” and the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary remained closed, while it “continued not to recognize Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I as the leader of the world’s approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians, consistent with the government’s stance that there was no legal obligation for it to do so.” 

The government’s position remained that the Ecumenical Patriarch was only the religious leader of the country’s Greek Orthodox minority population. The government continued to permit only Turkish citizens to vote in the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Holy Synod or be elected patriarch but continued its practice of granting citizenship to Greek Orthodox metropolitans under the terms of the government’s 2011 stopgap solution intended to widen the pool of candidates eligible to become the next patriarch.

“The government did not recognize the leadership or administrative structures of non-Muslim minorities, such as the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and Chief Rabbinate, as legal entities, leaving them unable to buy or hold title to property or to press claims in court,” the report continued.

The report also noted that senior US officials, including the Secretary of State, called on the Turkish government to allow the reopening of Halki Seminary and for the training of clergy members from all communities in the country. In June, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom called for the government to keep Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum.