“On Monday, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I and representatives of Turkey’s Arameans submitted their proposals to a sub-commission of the inter-party Constitutional Reconciliation Commission. Their utmost concern was equal citizenship rights,” Today’s Zaman reports.
2/21/2012 Turkey (Today’s Zaman) – Two groups from Turkey’s non-Muslim community have presented their packages of proposals to the parliamentary sub-commission working to replace the country’s military-prepared Constitution, emphasizing the restricted rights of minorities and demanding equal standing as citizens. On Monday, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I and representatives of Turkey’s Arameans submitted their proposals to a sub-commission of the inter-party Constitutional Reconciliation Commission. Their utmost concern was equal citizenship rights. “There have been unjust practices against minorities. Those unjust practices have been slowly corrected.
“A new Turkey is being born, and we don’t want to be second class citizens anymore,” Patriarch Bartholomew said following the meeting in Ankara, as quoted by the Anatolia news agency. He also said this was the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic that minority groups have been officially invited to the Parliament to voice their demands.
“We just want our rights as citizens of Turkey. We don’t want discrimination. We want equality because we are citizens of Turkey: We are born here, we pay our taxes here, we serve in the military here, we vote here,” the Patriarch said. “We are hopeful that our demands will be addressed.”
Answering questions from Today’s Zaman, Laki Vingas, representative of several minority foundations and a Turkish citizen of Greek origin, said they presented an 18-page document to the sub-commission voicing their specific demands.
“We told the sub-commission that equality of citizenship should not be confined to documents; it should be practiced,” he said, adding that making a new constitution is important for every Turkish citizen and it is disturbing that Turkey still has the military constitution written after the 1980 coup.
Vingas also said that as they voiced their demands and concerns about the educational issues facing Turkey’s Greek community, the sub-commission members have been interested in hearing more about why Halki Seminary on Heybeliada, the second largest of the Princes’ Islands, is still closed.
“The Patriarch told the commission members that the school was open during the Ottoman era and Atatürk’s time. However, it was later closed due to a political decision. The Patriarch made it clear that the Greek community of Turkey wants the school to be operated under the Ministry of Education,” he said.
Vingas added that the new constitution is supposed to provide religious freedom, freedom of expression and the right to assembly. It is also supposed to prohibit hate speech and discrimination.
“If these things are granted in the new constitution, the seminary will automatically be opened, as its closure falls under the issue of freedom of religion. When there is freedom of religion, adherents of a religion should be able to educate their religious leaders,” he said. Before the Greek Patriarch met with Parliament, representatives from the Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation presented their proposals for the new constitution.