For the first time after 86 years, an acting Greek prime minister visited the Greek Orthodox Theological School on the island of Halki in the sea of Marmara in Turkey. In a highly symbolic move, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras arrived at Heybeliada, as the name of the island is in Turkish, and walked up to the hill with the impressive building of the Theological Seminary.
““I want to believe that the day is approaching when these rooms will be filled again with the laughter of happy students,” Tsipras said in a speech.
The reopening of the Theological School, would send a “message of friendship, understanding and brotherhood”.
“There are issues between our governments and our countries which only dialogue can resolve,” he added.
Tsipras was welcomed by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Istanbul-based spiritual head of Orthodox Christians worldwide and crowds of peop0le, mostly Instanbulites of Greek descent.
Toether with representatives of the Turkish government, Tsipras planted a tree as a symbol of the new era in the relations of the two countries.
Tsipras said among others, he was optimistic that his next visit would be made together with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, in order to announce the re-opening of the island’s historic Orthodox seminary.
However, this glorious day will not happen in the near future.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear during his meeting with the Greek Prime Minister on Tuesday, that making concessions in a matter of bargain and diplomatic reciprocity. The School in Halki will open again, when the Turkish state will be allowed to appoint its own muftis for the mosques in Thrace, where “the Turkish minority” leaves.
Greece cannot accept this as it considers the minority as “Muslim Minority” and not as Turkish.
Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos visiting Halki Seminary on 29 September 1933.
Founded on 1 October 1844 the Seminary was the main school of theology of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople until the Turkish parliament enacted a law banning private higher education institutions in 1971.
Parts of the Private University Law were ruled unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of Turkey, which ruled that all private colleges must be affiliated with a state-run university; subsequently all private institutions of higher education either became part of state universities or closed down.
The seminary section of the Halki school was closed down and although the high school remains open the Turkish government no longer permits students to attend it. The school is currently only used for conferences, including the International Environmental Symposium.
The Halki Theological School has received international attention and became part of a campaign to open it again. In the 1990’s it received US support, especially by the Democrats. During their visits to Turkey, US Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama urged the Turkish government to allow the reopening of the school.
The current Turkish government has often promised Ecumenical Patriarch Bertholomew that the reopening could happen. However, the issue is thorny also for the internal politics of the country, like nationalism.
At the same time, Turkey has a state foreign policy and no matter who is the ruler and what intentions he may have, the last word lies at the principle of “tough bargain in a Turkish bazaar.”