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ICC Note: As you read this article, keep in mind that Muslims are free to build Churches and freely assemble etc. In Turkey, Christians are severely restricted in terms of Church legal status, building of Churches, and assemblage. ICC has also received reports from inside Turkey of an attack on Christians that smacks of police/government complicity. This kind of double standard and hypersensitivity without reciprocity of what they complain about is really annoying and needs to be confronted vigorously.

See this related article about double standards etc. /suffering/newssummpopup.php?newscode=4086

Turkey ’s Top Religious Official Criticizes Pope

Papal visit raises bar on religious freedom issues.

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, December 6 (Compass Direct News) – Ankara’s top government religious official accused Pope Benedict XVI yesterday of “doing injustice to Turkey” by declaring after his historic visit to Turkey last week that the country’s Catholics live under difficult conditions.

In an interview with the semi-official Anatolian News Agency published in today’s liberal Radikal newspaper, Director of Religious Affairs Ali Bardakoglu complained that the problems of Turkey ’s religious minorities had been exaggerated during the pope’s visit.

Speaking from Rome on Sunday (December 3), the pontiff had expressed his “cordial thanks” to the Turkish authorities for their friendly hospitality last week during what he termed a fruitful and “unforgettable spiritual and pastoral experience” of Christian ecumenism and dialogue with Muslims.

But Benedict also noted in his Sunday address that the “small flock” of Catholics in Turkey “live in conditions that are not easy.” His gentle but direct remark echoed similar comments sprinkled throughout his four days of public statements while in Turkey .

The pope’s comments caused the foreign press to conclude, Bardakoglu objected, that “ Turkey does not have religious freedom. This is an injustice to Turkey .”

“There are countless attacks on mosques in Europe , and Muslims are facing discrimination just because of their faith,” Bardakoglu said. “But we have never acted like this, making targeted accusations against the Western countries and all Christians over these actions.”

While he described the papal visit as “rather positive” in terms of Turkey ’s image and hospitality, Bardakoglu said that resolving isolated problems mentioned by the pope “required discussion.”

From the outset, it was clear that Benedict’s high-profile visit to Turkey had the potential to go beyond its related goals of Christian ecumenism and dialogue with Muslims. In effect, the pope’s modest but repeated comments on religious freedom last week further dramatized the Vatican ’s campaign for “reciprocity” between majority Muslim and Christian nations.

Advancing Solutions

In a clear statement the day Benedict arrived, Archbishop Demetrios of America declared to an Istanbul press conference, “It is hoped, if not expected, that the meeting between Pope Benedict and Patriarch Bartholomew will advance the proper solution” to unresolved issues for local Greek Orthodox Christians.

Archbishop Demetrios cited recognition of Bartholomew’s title as “Ecumenical” Patriarch, full legal church status, the return of government-confiscated church properties and opening of the Orthodox seminary as major problems to be addressed with Turkish authorities.

Thus it was no surprise that Benedict specifically included the issue of religious freedom in almost every public statement he made.

In so doing, he raised the bar of international awareness and scrutiny of Turkey ’s unresolved issues with its non-Muslim religious minorities.

The Catholic leader’s observations also made it into the Turkish media, which rarely gives significant or balanced coverage to incidents of discrimination or violence against Turkey ’s tiny Christian minorities.

Sharing a public exchange of dialogue with Bardakoglu on November 28, his first day in Ankara, the pontiff declared: “Freedom of religion, institutionally guaranteed and effectively respected in practice, both for individuals and communities, constitutes for all believers the necessary condition for their loyal contribution to the building up of society.”

The following day, Benedict again touched on religious freedom and minority rights during his homily outside the House of Mary, a tiny stone church on the hill overlooking the ruins of ancient Ephesus .

Describing Turkey ’s Christian community as “a small minority which faces many challenges and difficulties daily,” the pope noted that local Catholics were still wounded by the tragic murder of Father Andrea Santoro, an Italian priest killed last February while kneeling in his church in the Turkish city of Trabzon .

Link to EU Guarantees

The joint declaration issued on Thursday (November 30) by the pope and his host, Patriarch Bartholomew of the Greek Orthodox Church, took an even stronger stance, declaring religious freedom “a witness and guarantor of respect for all other freedoms” in the context of European Union (EU) guarantees.

“In every step towards unification,” the declaration noted, “minorities must be protected, with their cultural traditions and the distinguishing features of their religion.” And while they acknowledged that Europe must remain “open to other religions and their cultural contributions,” the two Christian leaders also called for a united effort to “preserve Christian roots, traditions and values.”

Later that same day, during a formal visit to Istanbul ’s Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate, Benedict made reference in his remarks to the “Christian faith and witness of the Armenian people, transmitted from generation to the next, often in very tragic circumstances such as those experienced in the last century.”

The Turkish government officially denies what it terms the “alleged genocide” of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in 1915. Today’s Armenian community, which constitutes Turkey’s largest Christian minority, faces ongoing restrictions preventing education of their clergy, ownership of their centuries-old properties and legal church status.

In his final mass celebrated on Friday (December 1) in Istanbul ’s Church of the Holy Spirit, Benedict stressed that “the church wishes to impose nothing on anyone…she merely asks to live in freedom.”

Even today, during his general audience at the Vatican , the pontiff continued the theme: “The distinction between civil and religious spheres constitutes a principle, and the [Turkish] state should guarantee effective religious freedom. Christians and Muslims should collaborate together on issues like justice, peace and life.”

Pope ‘Seriously Misinformed’

As a government-appointed bureaucrat, Bardakoglu clearly had anticipated some discussion of Turkey ’s treatment of its non-Muslim religious minorities during the papal visit.

“If the pope says Christians in Turkey are mistreated, I will tell him that he has been seriously misinformed,” Bardakoglu told Reuters in an interview published November 24, four days before Benedict arrived.

Sidestepping the rights of Turkey ’s Christian citizens, Bardakoglu instead cited his government’s support for places of worship for expatriates living and working in Turkey , according to Reuters.

The EU has identified religious freedom reforms as one of four key issues Turkey must resolve in its negotiations to obtain EU membership status.

Statistically, Turkey has fewer than 100,000 Christian citizens. Most Christians in Turkey are members of the ancient Armenian, Greek and Syriac communities, in addition to an undetermined number worshipping in small Catholic and Protestant congregations across the country.