By Evagelos Sotiropoulos
October 28, 2014
The actions — and inaction — of Turkey in the fight against the evil Islamic State reinforces the foreign policy axiom that there are no permanent allies or enemies, just interests.
As the U.S.-led mission continues to drop bombs on Islamic State targets and fighting in the strategic city of Kobani persists, Turkey, a NATO member and, at least in theory, an aspiring EU member, continues to watch the war go on, its military personnel and tanks sitting idle.
Most, if not all, of Turkey’s decisions in this context is driven by calculations regarding the impact on, and relationship with, its minority Kurdish population and especially the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
It should be noted and applauded, however, that Turkey has allowed hundreds of thousands refugees to enter its country and seek safety; but, as a G20 member and emerging (regional) power — for this, it seems, is the overarching objective of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu — it can, and should, do more.
Within its borders, in the Phanar-district of the historic city of Constantinople (Istanbul), lies the holy and sacred Ecumenical Patriarchate — the heart of Orthodox Christianity.
Yes, the centre of an ancient Christian Church and spiritual home of 300 million Orthodox Christians, dating back to the time of Christ and His Apostles, is found in present-day Muslim Turkey.
The Patriarchate is a hidden gem, which, if polished properly by Turkish authorities can be used to reflect a light on all that is good with humanity: love, joy and peace (cf. Gal 5:22-23).
The Ecumenical Patriarchate, led by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, may not receive the attention that its history and prestige warrants but it was centre stage at a conference held in Toronto on October 21st.
Organized* by the Greek Orthodox Metropolis in Canada, the theme of the conference was “Reflecting on the Past — Looking Towards the Future” and began with a video address from His All-Holiness.
Three-hundred people attended the conference including many Church hierarchs, diplomats and broader community dignitaries from around the world. Four distinguished speakers presented on subjects that aligned with the conference’s theme.
Fr. Maximos Constas, formerly Associate Professor at the Harvard Divinity School, now a monk at the Monastery of Simonopetra (Mount Athos) and Senior Research Scholar at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston, discussed the historical and ecclesiastical role of the Patriarchate, leveraging the work of a little known but much admired theologian and 5th-century Archbishop of Constantinople, St. Proclus.
The keynote address was delivered by His Eminence Metropolitan Ambrosios of Korea who bridged the past and the future by meticulously outlining the historical and present-day efforts of the Patriarchate to make disciples of all the nations (cf. Mt 28:19) through its missionary efforts.
Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Andrew Bennett, spoke about federal government efforts to promote freedom of religion; he also spoke specifically about the Ecumenical Patriarchate, its need for religious freedom and the need for Turkey to re-open the Halki Theological School.
Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, the National Commander of the U.S. Order of Saint Andrew, systematically presented on the plight of the Patriarchate and the need for meaningful and outcomes-driven reforms by Turkish authorities.
It is here where Turkey has a golden opportunity to collaborate with, and improve the state of, the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Even setting aside the fact that Patriarch Bartholomew is a citizen of Turkey (and having served in the Turkish military) and therefore entitled to full and unqualified rights under the law, it is actually in the strategic interest of the Republic of Turkey to harness the internationally renowned reputation and stature of the Patriarchate.
By granting the Patriarchate its full rights — nothing more, nothing less — Ankara will fulfill its legal obligations and show itself as a serious country committed to the rule of law and a responsible member of the international community.
Moreover, by employing the global reach and influence of His All-Holiness, Turkey will help to counterbalance the evil emanating from different Middle Eastern hotspots. Patriarch Bartholomew, for example, has been a leading force promoting Christian-Islamic dialogue and cooperation.
After all, Islamic State fighters not only target and kill Christians (who are the true martyrs in this battle) but they indiscriminately murder Muslims as well.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is an ace up the strategic sleeve of the Turkish state; it can be used to advance peace and preach unity.
The time for Turkey to justly use this advantage is now.
(*Full disclosure: I was a volunteer member of the organizing committee)