The Turkish government made an announcement on August 2 that is likely to increase tensions between the state and its Orthodox Christians.
While the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s seminary on the island of Halki has remained closed since 1971, Turkey has announced that it intends to open an Islamic studies center on the same island. Moreover, building plans have the Global Center for Islamic Studies situated right in front of the Orthodox seminary building, reports Sedmitza.
According to experts, the opening of the Islamic studies center would completely rule out the possibility of reopening the seminary, which the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been working for for years, thus far unsuccessfully.
The theological school was founded in 1844 with the permission of Sultan Abdulmejid I and operated until 1971 when the Turkish authorities decided to close it. Rumors about the seminary’s reopening have been circulating since 2010. The building was recently renovated, and Turkish President Erdogan has promised Patriarch Bartholomew that the seminary would reopen, perhaps even this fall, although analysts are wary.
Erdogan has previously offered to reopen the seminary in exchange for the building of a mosque in Thessaloniki.
According to Fuat Bekiroglu, the head of the Halki Department for Religious Affairs, Turkey’s first step should be to transfer the island’s pine forests to the department. The forest lands previously belonged to the St. George Monastery of the Jerusalem Patriarchate and the Transfiguration Hermitage of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, until they were confiscated by Ataturk’s government in 1920.
Meanwhile, Halki residents are not happy about the plans. The island has already become crowded during tourist season they say, so they are not looking forward to a large influx of Muslim students.