Cablegate: Ecumenical Patriarch Appoints Non-Turks to Church

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: In an attempt to ensure the viability of
his institution in the face of the declining Orthodox
community in Turkey, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I,
first among equals in the Orthodox world, appointed six
non-Turkish citizen metropolitans to the church's Holy Synod.
The twelve-person body has ultimate authority over
theological policies of the patriarchate and the eventual
election of Bartholomew's successor. Though the Treaty of
Lausanne and other legal precedents suggest no direct problem
with the appointments, the move raised the ire of Turkish
secularist nationalists and sparked a wave of attention in
the Turkish press. How the Turkish Government and State (not
always the same thing) respond to the appointments will be a
test of Turkey's understanding of, and willingness to
practice, religious freedom. END SUMMARY.

"Metropolitan Crisis"

2. (U) Bartholomew's move represented the first time in the
80-year history of the Republic of Turkey that non-citizens
have been included in the Synod. The six new appointments to
the 12-member body, which went into effect on March 1,
include metropolitans from Greece (Crete and Rhodes), the UK,
New Zealand, Finland, and the United States (Metropolitan
Demetrios). Six Turkish citizens remain members. The
appointments sparked a flurry of attention in the Turkish
press, with several articles alleging that the Patriarch was
in violation of the Lausanne Treaty. To date, Bartholomew
has been careful to avoid the appearance of "challenging" the
Turkish state, and has not yet responded to many requests for
interviews on the subject.

3. (U) However, as a number of press commentators pointed out
below the sensational headlines, the Treaty of Lausanne makes
no mention of either the Patriarch or of the Holy Synod, nor
does it discuss the nationality of people serving in
theological capacities in Turkey. In fact, the well-known
requirement that the Patriarch and those who elect him be
Turkish citizens dates from a 1923 edict from the Istanbul
Governor's office, and is thus not formal Turkish
legislation. Since that time, no non-Turkish citizens have
been Synod members, though the current Patriarch's
predecessor, Athenagoras, was a U.S. citizen who was
automatically naturalized upon arrival in Istanbul in 1948.
It is noteworthy that Athenagoras' situation was a unique
confluence of interests, in that his Patriarchal status was
approved by Greece, Turkey, and the United States. He
reportedly arrived in Turkey on a plane lent to him by
then-President Harry Truman.

4. (U) Press coverage, while initially somewhat
sensationalist, has not been bombastic. However, a series of
inaccuracies in press reporting has clouded the issue.
Papers variously (and inaccurately) have reported that: the
new appointees have been "hired" by the Patriarch and will
work in Turkey; the appointees will live in Turkey and cannot
simply enter as tourists; Turkish citizens were "removed" to
make way for foreigners (partially true: the previous
incumbents were too old or infirm to carry out their duties,
and were retired); the appointments are a direct
contravention of the Lausanne Treaty (no specific articles

Demographic and Political Concerns

5. (SBU) Poloff met March 6 with Metropolitan Meliton, Chief
Secretary of the Holy Synod. Per Meliton, the appointments

were intended as one way to deal with Turkey's shrinking
Greek community. With around 2,000 Greeks left in Turkey,
few able Metropolitans remain. The six newly-appointed Synod
members are filling spots previously held by Turkish citizens
now too old and infirm to participate effectively. Though
none of the new appointees are young, per Meliton,
establishing a precedent for non-Turkish citizen
participation in the Synod is crucial to the continuance of
the patriarchate in Turkey. Meliton reports that in August
2003, prior to the new appointments, the Patriarch sent
letters to both the MFA and Prime Minister's office which
outlined his proposal for putting non-Turkish citizens on the
Synod. No reply has been received to date.

6. (SBU) Though neither the GoT nor any organ of the Turkish
State (e.g. the MFA) has given a public reaction to date,
Meliton says he has heard that both the Turkish National
Intelligence Organization (MIT) and other portions of the
Turkish security establishment are unhappy with the new
appointments. Separately, former Foreign Minister Ilter
Turkmen confirmed to poloff that some within the GoT will
find the appointments objectionable, and expressed some
surprise that the Ministry of the Interior hasn't spoken out
to date. Turkmen speculated that there may be legal problems
with the appointments, though he said he was not an expert in
minority legal matters.


7. (SBU) The appointment of six non-Turkish citizens to the
Synod is a bid to lengthen the life-span of the patriarchate
in Istanbul. With only 2,000 Greeks left, finding qualified
senior theologians in Turkey is becoming impossible.
Appointing foreigners to these posts also strengthens the
Patriarch's hand within the larger Orthodox world, and helps
the Patriarch appear in touch with his far-flung communities.
The appointments represent no threat to Turkey's interests;
indeed, by strengthening the Ecumenical Partriarchate, Turkey
enhances its position. However, elements of the Turkish
secularist-nationalist establishment are likely to challenge
the appointments. Demonstrating flexibility toward the needs
of Turkey's minorities could be very beneficial in the run-up
to possible EU accession talks. But, by choosing a path of
continuing intransigence on Halki, refusal to recognize the
ecumenical status of the patriarchate, and objection to
participation in the Holy Synod by non-Turkish citizens, the
Turkish establishment is shooting itself in the foot.

© Scoop Media

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