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Daily News with wires
Seeking to update the government’s terminology for the 21st century, Turkey’s chief negotiator for European Union affairs has announced a decision to use the term “different belief groups” instead of “gayrimüslim” (non-Muslim) in official EU correspondence.

Egemen Bağış said the decision was taken after he received a letter from the vice patriarch of the Ancient Syriac Orthodox Church, Yusuf Çetin, daily Hürriyet reported Sunday.

According to Çetin, “Muslim” means “believer” in Aramaic, a northwest Semitic language used in ancient times as the everyday speech of Syria. As such, the term “gayrimüslim,” which has been the preferred term for non-Muslims in Turkey, implied “nonbelievers.”

“We were directed by the patriarch to make such a change,” Bağış told daily Hürriyet, referring to his meeting with Çetin in 2009.

He also said Çetin explained to him how the Syriacs used the word “Muslim” to refer to believers in their language and that “gayrimüslim” thus mean entailed “infidel” in Aramaic.

“We noticed that we were making a mistake after such a linguistic explanation,” said Bağış.

The government has already begun implementing the decision to use the term “different belief groups” instead of “non-Muslim,” Bağış said, adding that he shared the vice patriarch’s remarks with other officials and they responded positively.

“We have discontinued using the term ‘gayrimüslim’ in correspondence with the EU General Secretariat,” he said.

Meanwhile, the weekly Şalom reported that Bağış recently met with representatives of İzmir’s Jewish community.

According to the newspaper, Bağış said during the meeting that he did not like the usage of the terms “minority” and “gayrimüslim” and that there needed to be research to define which population has the oldest roots in the country.

By doing so, people would then better discuss who was a minority and who was a majority, he said