New minorities report limits status of Patriarch

69667791.jpgANKARA – The minority population of Turkey as defined by the 1923 Lausanne Treaty stands at a diminished 89,000, according to a new report by the Foreign Ministry and submitted to Parliament.

The report, which the Daily News learned of Friday, was submitted to the Parliament’s Human Rights Commission in November. In addition to confirming the decline of the country’s main non-Muslim communities, the report also reasserted limits on the controversial term “ecumenical” for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate headquartered in Istanbul.

For centuries, the Istanbul patriarch was regarded as titular leader of all Orthodox Christians, or “ecumenical,” a status still acknowledged internationally. But the new reports reasserts that the Lausanne accord which ended Turkey’s War of Independence, converted the patriarch’s status to only that of local community leader. According to the treaty, Turkey granted specific rights of worship and education to non-Muslim citizens of Greek or Armenian origin and to Jewish citizens.

Some groups, notably Syriac Christians in Turkey, rejected the designation of minority and remain outside the regulations of the statute. The report said, “Just to meet the religious and spiritual needs of the Greek Orthodox population in Istanbul, the Patriarchate is allowed to maintain a presence in the city.” Nevertheless, Patriarch Bartholomeus uses the title “Ecumenical,” during his foreign visits and has not been prevented from using this title in Turkey.

Assigning foreign bishops after synod elections in 2004 was also not opposed,” the report said. The report also stated the Constitution does not allow religious institutions to become incorporated commercially.

The report includes some information about minorities generally and states there are more than 270 non-Muslim places to worship in Turkey, 108 belong to the Greek Orthodox minority which among the other minority groups has the smallest population.

The population of the Greek minority in Turkey is between 3,000 to 4,000. They have 15 primary schools, six high schools, 75 foundations, a hospital and 108 places of worship, of which 90 are open, in Turkey. But the report said the Greek minority’s demand to reopen the Halki Seminary could not be granted due to the Constitution. It added that the government’s proposal to establish a unit within Istanbul University’s Faculty of Theology where it could continue its education had not been accepted by the Patriarchate.

While Greeks are the smallest minority group, Armenians are the largest with a population of 60,000. Aside from the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul, Armenians have 55 churches open for worship as well as a kindergarten, 17 primary schools, five high schools and two hospitals. There are also 52 Armenian foundations currently operating in Turkey.

Jewish citizens follow Armenians with a population of around 25,000. They have 36 synagogues open for worship, a kindergarten, a primary school and a high school in Turkey. They also have 18 foundations and two hospitals.

What does ‘minority’ mean in Turkey?
In diverse Turkey, the word “minority” is a subject of ongoing sensitivity and debate. While the word in common usage can refer to distinct social groups whose numbers are relatively small, there are three legally established, statutory minorities in Turkey: Greeks, Armenians and Jews.

This definition was made in the Lausanne Treaty in 1923 at the behest of Western powers and obligated the new Turkish Republic to acknowledge the special status of these groups. Some small groups, notably the Ancient Syriac Orthodox community, rejected the status at the time as divisive and remained outside the legal definition. The Jewish community also rejected portions of the Lausanne designation as a violation of social cohesion. Reflecting the sensibilities of the time, Lausanne regarded all Muslims of Turkey as a single “majority.” The Constitution, however, does not recognize religious or ethnic affiliation in defining citizenship. The word “Turk,” while regarded in some quarters as an ethnic label, does not under the law mean anything more than a person of Turkish citizenship.

In the cultural realm, however, the many groups that demographically or culturally may be described as minority in Turkey include the Alevi religious sect, the ethnic Kurdish population and many others, ranging from the “Laz” population which hails from the Black Sea region in Turkey’s north, to a large Arab-speaking community in southeastern Turkey to the Roma (or Gypsy) population which has lived in Istanbul since Byzantine times. Some demographers will argue that Turkey has no “majority” population in the sense in which it is used in Europe or the United States and count more than 30 languages spoken in Turkey as evidence.

Periodically, calls are made within Turkey and without to expand the “Lausanne definition.” To date, this suggestion has been rejected. Those rejecting the argument, including many within the groups that might be affected, who suggest expansion of special categories is an outdated notion but who do defend acknowledgement of the growing awareness of Turkey’s many unique cultures and sources of identity. Use of the word “minority” in the TDN does not imply endorsement of any side in this ongoing debate.