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04ANKARA6871 2004-12-10 14:38:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Ankara
Cable title:  

GOT POSITION ON PATRIARCH'S STATUS HAS NO LEGAL

Tags:   PGOV PREL PHUM TU 
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1. (U) Summary: There is no legal basis for the GOT's policy
of denying the ecumenical status of the Greek Orthodox
Patriarch in Istanbul, an MFA official acknowledged. Though
PM Erdogan and other GOT officials assert that the 1923
Lausanne Treaty establishes the Patriarch as the spiritual
leader of only the Greek Orthodox community of Istanbul, the
treaty in fact makes no reference to the Patriarch.
Ecumenical status was first granted to the Patriarch in the
sixth century by a holy synod. End Summary.



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GOT Officials Cite Lausanne...


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2. (U) We met on December 8 with Nesrin Bayazit, head of the
MFA Department of Greek Relations, to discuss the reasoning
behind the GOT position that the Patriarch in Istanbul has no
ecumenical status. As reported reftels A-B, GOT leaders
protested the use of the term "Ecumenical Patriarchate" on an
Embassy invitation to a December 2 event held for a group of
visiting American Orthodox laymen. PM Erdogan, commenting on
the invitation, asserted that the 1923 Lausanne Treaty denies
the Patriarch ecumenical status.



3. (U) Similarly, State Minister Atalay in October publicly
chastised the Vatican Ambassador for referring to Patriarch
Bartholomew I as the "Ecumenical Patriarch." Atalay claimed
that the Patriarch's status as leader of only the Greek
Orthodox community of Istanbul is "clearly defined under
Lausanne." However, we noted, the Lausanne text makes no
reference to the Patriarch whatsoever. We asked whether
there is any legal basis for the GOT position.



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-
...But MFA Concedes Treaty Silent on Patriarch


--------------------------

-



4. (U) Bayazit, immediately and offhandedly, acknowledged
that neither the Lausanne Treaty nor Turkish law defines the
status of the Patriarch. It is, however, State policy not to
recognize the Patriarch as ecumenical.



5. (U) Bayazit showed us portions of the minutes of the
Lausanne Peace Conference indicating that the Turkish
delegation proposed abolishing the Patriarchate in exchange
for allowing Istanbul's Greek population to remain in the
city. She noted that the Patriarch had given support to
invading Greek troops after the First World War, and was
considered an enemy of the new Republic of Turkey. In the
end, the Turkish delegation at Lausanne was forced to accept
the Patriarchate's continued presence in Istanbul. The
Treaty guarantees the rights of "non-Muslim minorities" to
"establish, manage and control" religious institutions. But,
she averred defensively, the treaty -- the "founding document
of the Republic" -- does not state that the Patriarch has
ecumenical status, and the GOT therefore maintains that he
represents only the Greek Orthodox of Istanbul.



6. (U) We noted that the Lausanne Treaty is an 80-year-old
document and that it does not reflect contemporary Western
values. There is nothing preventing the GOT from expanding
the concept of minority rights beyond the bounds of Lausanne.
Bayazit claimed that relations between the GOT and Patriarch
have improved steadily over time. The GOT long ago ceased
interfering in the internal affairs of the Patriarchate or
restricting the Patriarch's travel. However, the issue
remains sensitive. The GOT will have to move carefully in
any further efforts to loosen restrictions on the
Patriarchate, lest "nationalists and other marginal groups"
use such reforms to stir political controversy. "People
don't forget that the Patriarchate is an institution that
tried to destroy the State," she said.



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Ecumenical Title Dates to 6th Century


--------------------------





7. (U) According to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the term
"ecumenical" was first granted to the Patriarch of
Constantinople in the sixth century by a synod, and has been
used ever since. The Ecumenical Patriarchate currently has
competence and jurisdiction over the Orthodox churches of a
number of countries in Europe and the Americas, as well as
Australia. The Ecumenical Patriarch provides spiritual
leadership for approximately 40 dioceses, including thousands
of churches, philanthropic and educational institutions, and
millions of Orthodox faithful. In addition, the Holy Synod
of the Ecumenical Patriarchate conducts the elections of
bishops and archbishops for the dioceses under its authority.



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Comment


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8. (C) Ideally, discussions with the Turks on minority issues
should not revolve around the Lausanne Treaty. As a GOT
human rights board recently reported (reftel C), Lausanne is
an outmoded document. However, the GOT constantly refers to
Lausanne, relying on a gross misinterpretation of the treaty
to support its positions on a number of religious freedom and
minority rights issues. It is worth noting that Article 39
of Lausanne states that, "No restrictions shall be imposed on
the free use by any Turkish national of any language in
private intercourse, in commerce, religion, in the press, or
in publications of any kind or at public meetings." The GOT
ignores this article -- Turkish law has long restricted the
use of minority languages -- while aggressively upholding a
non-existent article on the status of the Patriarch.



9. (U) Bayazit betrayed another inconsistency in the Turkish
position by charging that the Patriarchate tried to destroy
"the State." Her remark reflects Turkey's attempt to blur
the sharp legal break between the Ottoman Empire and the
Republic of Turkey -- the "State" she refers to pre-dated the
Republic. Though 80 years have passed since Turkey's War of
Independence, the Turkish State continues to view the
Patriarchate with deep suspicion -- a reality underscored by
the fact that GOT relations with the Patriarchate are still
handled by the MFA Department of Greek Relations.



10. (C) Bayazit was first puzzled, then dismissive when we
expressed concerns that the spiritual center of Orthodoxy
might be pulled to Moscow if the Ecumenical Patriarchate
fades away. Her reaction illustrates another aspect of
Ankara's lack of analysis and strategic planning on the
matter.



11. (C) Much of the press commentary on the "ecumenical"
controversy served to spread the common misperceptions about
the Patriarch's status. But several columnists criticized
the GOT's position and called attention to the fact that
Lausanne does not address the issue. A number of writers
rhetorically asked why the Turkish State insists on rejecting
the Patriarch's ecumenical status; Radikal columnist Ismet
Berkan offered an answer: "Because we do not like the
Greeks."
EDELMAN