Archons deliver Religious Freedom Presentations for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to OSCE

Warsaw, Poland

On behalf of the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons Theofanis Economidis and Achilles Adamantiades, Ph.D., presented two papers at the 2011 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, Poland, of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). OSCE is the world’s largest security organization whose fifty-six participating states and eleven partner states span the globe.

The topics for the presentations were: (a) “The Problems of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul” and (b) “The Greek Orthodox Minority in Turkey.” The dialogue and interaction with other delegates at these meetings was very informative, personable, candid, and useful. It was interesting to note that many complaints were leveled again members of OSCE that continue to violate its basic principles as well as not provide full cooperation with the Helsinki Final Act, the Copenhagen Document, the Charter of Paris, the Corfu Process, and the Astana Declaration. While some countries have not been compliant, they have been duly criticized for their violations, they continue to defend their actions even though they have been strongly denounced. OSCE–a widely respected organization–is a forum to voice grievances and work to effect positive change; however it does not have any mechanisms for the imposition of its rules and no penalties for breaches.

Archons Economidis and Adamantiades had the opportunity to meet with Ambassador Ian Kelly, head of the U.S. delegation, and Dr. Susan Johnson-Cook, Ambassador of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The issues of democracy, human rights and the rule of law were discussed by both Ambassador Kelly and Dr. Cook. During their remarks, they used Russia and many of the countries of the Former Soviet Union as examples of violations to these core issues. They included positive reference to Turkey with regard to the recently announced reforms on property and the return of the Orphanage of Buyukada, and emphasized the request of the U.S. Government for the re-opening of the School of Halki.

The presentation made by Archon Economidis focused on the core concerns of the Order regarding the free exercise of religion by the Ecumenical Patriarchate:

Government interference in Patriarchal elections

The “Ecumenical” title

Denial of legal personality

Restriction on free religious education

Property confiscations
The presentation by Archon Adamantiades addressed the issues of human rights regarding the Greek minority in Turkey, with a particular focus on the return of the confiscated properties since 1936. The Government of Turkey was rightfully recognized for their recent positive actions but requested that OSCE urge Turkey to fully implement their statements and Decree with concrete action.

Ambassador Tacan Ildem offered the official statements as the permanent Representative of Turkey to OSCE. He reiterated Turkey’s adherence to the OSCE principles and emphasized the recent reforms and the return of properties. Ambassador Ildem commented on Archon Economidis’ presentation by saying that: Turkey’s refusal to use the title “Ecumenical” has been “accepted by the Venice Commission” while Turkey’s actions have shown that others can use this title in a totally unobstructed manner.

A lengthy discussion resulted with two Turkish delegates: Mr. Tufan Höbek, Legal Counsel of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey; and Ilham Atuş, Third Secretary, Deputy Directorate General of Turkey for the Council of Europe and Human Rights. The conversation was congenial but no progress was made in changing their convictions, specifically:

The Turkish Government does not feel obligated and does not intend to use the title “Ecumenical,” however, they do not object to the use of the title by the Patriarch himself and others. They also stated that no legal impediment exists that makes the use of this title a legal, punishable violation. We feel their remarks should be further researched by a legal expert and appropriately clarified.

Legal personality cannot be granted by Turkey to religious leaders and religious bodies because it may set a precedent and create problems with other religious groups, including the Turkish Muslims. Property rights, including those requiring court action, can be handled either by individuals or foundations in the context of the exiting Foundation Law, as amended by the recent Decree of August 27, 2011. We responded vigorously that the denial of legal identity cannot be justified, as further endorsed by the Venice Commission and the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) which have clearly stated that the denial of legal identity cannot be justified, is a serious impediment of religious freedom, and must be reversed. This is an important issue which must be legally resolved.

They agreed that the School of Halki must be reopened but that the Government of Turkey must still determine the best and most proper way to accomplish this.
Regarding the recent Decree on the return of Properties, they emphasized Turkey’s commitment to follow through on this matter for which we expressed our expectation for full implementation.

Each time the Order of Saint Andrew has been represented at the meetings of the OSCE, it has been important to forge new relationships with delegates and fortify existing support for the causes of our Ecumenical Patriarchate. Some of the people with whom the Archons met included: Monsignor Marinco Antolovič, Second Secretary of the Holy See at the Permanent Mission of OSCE-Vienna; Mr. Gabriel Coptsidis, Ambassador of Greece to Poland; Mr. Ilias Kastanas, Legal Counsel of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Greece; Ms. Tania Falierou, Second Secretary of the Embassy at the Greek delegation at OSCE in Vienna; Mr. Willy Fautré, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers International; and Mr. Douglas Wake, First Deputy Director of OSCE-ODIHR, based in Warsaw.

The continued presence of the Order of Saint Andrew in the OSCE meetings is important to our concerns, as these meetings afford an international forum for the airing of issues on religious freedom, democratic institutions and the rule of law. This gathering continues to grow both in numbers and in stature, heightening the awareness of other significant leaders from around the world with regard to the challenges faced by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Turkish delegation appreciated the acknowledgment given to them for their recent reforms; seizing on this occasion, we intensified our strong demands for implementation and more future progress. They offered the following important statement: “although the announced reforms are difficult to implement, Prime Minister Erdoğan is the one to make them happen.” We commend their candor and believe that we should continue to persevere in our pursuits until we have obtained fulfillment of their commitments to our Ecumenical Patriarchate.

–Submitted by Archons Theofanis Economidis and Achilles Adamantiades, Ph.D.