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04ANKARA1752 2004-03-23 15:20:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Ankara
Cable title:  

MINORITIES BOARD REVIEWING APPOINTMENT OF

Tags:   PGOV PREL PHUM TU 
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1. (U) Summary: Caught off-guard by Ecumenical Patriarch
Bartholomew's appointment of six non-Turkish citizens to his
Holy Synod, Turkish officials are not certain how to react,
but say GOT is reviewing the move. Part of the difficulty
the authorities face is that Bartholomew's move exposes the
law of rule vice rule of law approach the Turkish State has
used since 1923 to keep the Ecumenical Patriarchate boxed in:
there is no Turkish law governing the Synod and the State has
relied on decrees from the Istanbul governorate and
enforcement by a heretofore secret watchdog subcommittee.
End summary.




2. (U) Nezih Dogan, Interior Ministry SecGen, told us March
19 the GOT is awaiting a report from a newly formed
minorities board before responding to the pathbreaking
decision of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to appoint six
non-Turkish citizens to the Orthodox church's Holy Synod
(reftel).




3. (U) The GOT in January abolished the Minorities
Subcommittee, established by secret regulation in 1962 to
monitor minorities as potential threats to the Turkish State,
and replaced it with the Board to Assess Problems of
Minorities (the new Board regulation was also secret, though
it was leaked to the press). The former Subcommittee
included representatives from the Turkish National
Intelligence Organization, the Turkish General Staff, and the
National Security Council, among other government agencies.
The military and intelligence agencies were excluded from the
new Board, which includes representatives from MFA, the
Education Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and the State
Ministry overseeing the Directorate General of Foundations.
Dogan said the GOT has been slow to respond to the Synod
issue because it is still in the process of establishing the
new Board. Nevertheless, Board members met for the first
time the week of March 8 for the express purpose of reviewing
the Synod issue. At the meeting, various members were tasked
with specific areas of research.




4. (U) Dogan averred that the Board considers the matter
urgent, and will move "as quickly as possible," though it is
unlikely to take action before the March 28 local elections.
The Board will review Turkish law, the Lausanne Treaty and
its deliberations, and international law. If the Board
determines that the law either prohibits or protects the
Patriarch's actions, it will render a final decision.
Otherwise, it will submit a recommendation to relevant
Cabinet officials for a political decision. Dogan asserted
the standard line that Turkey, since Ottoman times, has
always been tolerant of different religions. He said the GOT
will be as flexible as possible under the law, but cannot
accept a "fait accompli" from the Patriarch: "We will see if
this is being done with good will, or if there is another
intention behind it."




5. (U) Mustafa Yurdakul, first secretary in the MFA
Department of Greek Affairs, told us the Board will not find
a solution in the law. He said there is no law governing the
Synod, and that even the edicts from the Istanbul Governor's
Office requiring that the Patriarch be a Turkish citizen and
setting rules for Patriarchal succession do not establish
clear citizenship requirements for the Synod. Nevertheless,
until now the Patriarch had appointed only Turkish citizens,
and the GOT will have to adopt a policy regarding this
unprecedented situation. While making their decision,
Yurdakul averred, GOT officials will have to consider the
implications for Turkey's EU-related reform efforts.




6. (C) Comment: The appointment of six non-Turkish citizens
to the Synod is a bid to keep the Ecumenical Patriarchate
alive and viable in Istanbul as much in a physical sense as
in the fact that the Patriarchate represents something beyond
time. The appointments represent absolutely no threat to
Turkey's interests; indeed, by strengthening the Ecumenical
Patriarchate, Turkey enhances its position. However,
reflecting the culture of suspicion lying behind Interior
Ministry SecGen Dogan's words, elements of the Turkish
Kemalist (secularist-nationalist) Establishment as well as
the coalescing Islam-oriented Establishment remain incapable
of seeing the benefits to Turkey.


7. (C) Comment, contd.: In this latter regard, there are two
broader points. First, the cost to Turkey from the secular
and Islam-oriented Establishments' paranoia and lack of
normal analytic abilities. This mentality, combined with
the two Establishments' continuing refusal to acknowledge
both the Patriarchate's ecumenical essence and the
inestimable value of maintaining the Patriarchate in
Istanbul rather than having the Russian Orthodox Church
gain the paramount status it and the Russian State have
sought for centuries reflect both Kemalism's and the
Islam-oriented Establishment's retrograde and inward-looking
definition of state interests. Second, this paranoia is
another measure of how far Turkey still must go before
it understands and practices true religious tolerance.
EDELMAN