Greece-Turkey relations could improve by reopening a historic seminary, is the title of an article of the British magazine The Economist.
The article refers to the recent visit of the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to the closed since 1971 School, a visit characterized as “encouraging”, as ANA-MPA mentions.
As the British magazine stresses, “It is here, within the walls of the school, that a diplomatic dispute has been brewing for nearly five decades. Despite pressure from America, the European Union and Greece, successive Turkish governments have refused to reopen it. Halki remains a school without students. Hopes of a breakthrough have come and gone. The latest arrived on February 6th, when Alexis Tsipras, accompanied by the current Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, became the first sitting Greek prime minister in history to visit the seminary. An aide to the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was also on hand since Mr. Erdogan’s government has engaged with Turkey’s Christian minority more readily than its predecessors.”
“Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Tsipras enjoy some personal chemistry, but Turkey’s relations with Greece remain marred by disputes over maritime borders, gas reserves in the Aegean, the reunification of Cyprus and the fate of eight Turkish troops who escaped to Greece after an abortive coup in 2016”, writes The Economist.
Essentially, the fate of the School is up to Turkey’s commitments regarding its religious minorities, and not a bilateral affair. Nevertheless, Mr. Erdogan did not hesitate to make it a bilateral one. During his Press Conference, he linked the reopening of the School with the rights of Greek Muslims in West Thrace.
Greece is unlikely to engage in such barter, says Dimitrios Triantafyllou, a Greek academic who works in Turkey. However, there is a chance that the first move shall be made by Erdogan, because during the past decade his image in the West has taken a battering, and he appears increasingly eager to placate foreign critics, especially with the Turkish economy now facing recession.
The time for the Historic School may be running out. The Greek population of Turkey, hostage of historic tensions and other disputes, has been reduced from 100.000 during the 1950’s to 2.000 today. The Patriarchate, whose officials, including the Patriarch, are bound by law to be Turkish citizens, struggles to find clerics to serve its churches.
“Mr Erdogan can do more. Turkey’s President has a knack for summoning (and burnishing) the legacy of the Ottoman Empire, including its laudable record on religious freedoms. He might want to do so again, and reopen Halki”, concludes the British magazine.