The Daily Star, Lebanon
April 1 2012

Rai says Turkey model for Arab Spring governments

April 01, 2012 12:49 PM The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai praised Turkey's secularism
Sunday, describing it as an example worthy of emulation by governments
emerging out of the Arab Spring.

During his sermon on the occasion of Palm Sunday, Rai said: `Turkey
can present a model for the desired Arab Spring.'

`The Turkish Muslim ... state, with a population of 79 million,
separates religion and state completely, respects all religions,
practices religious freedom and follows a democratic system,' he said.

Rai, who arrived in Beirut Sunday following a three-day official visit
to Istanbul, added that Turkey is concerned with dialogue between
cultures and religions and appreciates the Christian presence in its
country and in the Middle East as an element of peace and stability.

Rai has said that violence and bloodshed were turning the `Arab
Spring' into an Arab `winter,' threatening Christians and Muslims
alike across the Middle East. He has also said that Christians feared
the turmoil was helping extremist Muslim groups.

During his visit, Rai said he met with several officials including
President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and
Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and and discussed with them
various issues related to the presence of Christians in the region.

`We discussed Muslim-Christian dialogue on societal and cultural
levels in Middle Eastern countries for the sake of unity, justice and
peace,' he said.

They also discussed the presence of Maronites in Turkey and their
property, the situation of Maronites in Cyprus who migrated from their
four villages in the Northern Turkish sector during the 1974 Turkish
invasion and the guarantee of their return to invest in their lands.

The patriarch delved even further back in history in discussing with
Turkish officials the fate of Armenians in the waning days of the
Ottoman Empire. `We discussed the massacres carried out against
Armenians at the hands of the Ottomans in 1914 and 1915 during the
First World War,' Rai said.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their ancestors were killed in 1915
and 1916 by the forces of Turkey's former Ottoman Empire.

Turkey disputes the figure, saying that 500,000 died in a bloody war,
and denies this was genocide.