In a letter published by a group of members of the US Congress on Thursday, they called on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to work with partners worldwide in a continued and concerted effort to hold the Turkish government, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accountable for violations of religious freedom and human rights.
“Despite international condemnation, the state of Turkey continues to engage in chronic, egregious, systematic violations of the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” said the members of the Congress.
“In addition, the Turkish state continues to reject the legal status and the identity of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”
In the stern letter, it is stated that Turkey, which rejects the ecumenical character of the Patriarchate, violates not only the freedom of conscience, faith and religion for all Greek Orthodox Christian citizens of Turkey but also of the 300 million Orthodox Christians in the world, which fall under the spiritual guidance of the Ecumenical Patriarch as reported by capital.gr.
The members of the US Congress, John Sarbanes and Gus Bilirakis led the bilateral group, including Dina Titus, Charlie Crist, Chris Papas, Nicole Maliotakis and Victoria Spartz.
The letter also raised the issue of the conversion of the emblematic, Byzantine Cathedral of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, revoking the previous status of the museum, saying: “The state of Turkey’s arbitrary conversion of the Hagia Sophia to an active mosque in July 2020 is a violation of Turkey’s obligations under international law and, specifically as a signatory to the UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.”
“Serious transgressions against a religious symbol of the stature of our Ecumenical Patriarch and Patriarchate must carry major consequences,” mentioned the members.
In March, more than 170 members of the US Congress, including the leadership, published a letter in which they urged US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to accuse Turkey of “grave human rights abuses” and “democratic setbacks.”
Legislation to hold Turkey accountable for violating the religious freedoms of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Greek Orthodox Christians and other religious minorities was introduced in the US Congress in early May.