ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News – 30/11/13
EU Minister Egemen Bağış hosts religious leaders of minorities at a dinner in Istanbul prasing the relations between the leaders and the state. Bağış also says problmes will be solved ‘together’
Turkish EU Minister Egemen Bağış hosted religious leaders and prominent figures from minority communities at a dinner on Nov. 28.
Speaking at the event, Bağış praised Turkey’s development in dealing with the problems of minorities and said issues would be “solved together.”
“Ten years ago, holding this meeting would have been impossible, for so many reasons,” he said.
Bağış also took the opportunity to praise the government’s “democratization package,” which was announced by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sept. 30.
“Plenty of sad incidents were experienced in this country. Many people from different parts of society endured great pain. But we will leave this pain behind. We are not just talking about problems, we are also trying to find solutions to them,” he added.
During the meeting, civil members of minority communities directly and confidently brought their issues onto the agenda.
Director General of Foundations Adnan Ertem, Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew, Deputy Armenian Patriarch Archbishop Aram Ateşyan, Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva, and Istanbul Syriac Orthodox Church Metropolitan Yusuf Çetin participated in the dinner. U.S. Greek Church Archbishop Dimitrios also joined the reception, having recently arrived in Istanbul. It was also noteworthy that representatives of the Latin Catholic and Protestant Churches were present as well.
Bağış said Turkey needed the support of the religious leaders of minorities in the country. “If we need support, we are requesting help from Patriarch Bartholomew and Chief Rabbi Haleva. Recently, Patriarch Bartholomew gave support to us during the 2020 Olympic Games bid,” he said.
Bağış also offered a memory about Chief Rabbi Haleva to those gathered. “Ten years ago, during a visit to Turkey, U.S. President Clinton met with the Chief Rabbi and spoke of the strong lobby of the U.S.’s Jewish community. He added that if the Turkish Jewish community had a problem, they should tell him. The Chief Rabbi gave an answer, saying, ‘We have been living in Turkey for 500 years. If we have any problems we can solve them together, but if you have any problems in the U.S., please tell us,’” he said.
The EU minister also emphasized the recent law on foundations, which allows for the return of minority foundations to their communities, and also mentioned that Trabzon’s Sumela Monastery and Van’s Surp Hac Armenian Church had been opened to worship.
“Turkey has taken a step. Former President Turgut Özal couldn’t even speak about his real [Kurdish] identity, but today people can make their defenses in courts in their mother tongue. Yes, EU standards are important, but the most important thing is talking about our problems together. We will carry Turkey to 2023 together,” Bağış said.
Meanwhile, the minority foundations representative, Laki Vingas, was both self-critical and critical of the wider political situation. “We became familiar with an anti-democratic situation, but now we have to establish democracy in our foundations and communities. In Turkey, they are still looking at us as ‘foreigners’ and because of this situation we are still facing bureaucratic problems. This should end,” he said.
Vingas also brought the legal entity problems and minority foundations election regulations of both Greek and Armenians to the agenda.
Foundations head Adnan Ertem also spoke about the recent Foundations Law, saying that due to the law the minority communities had gained their rights to their foundations and were even turning them into valuable investments.