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New Europe Newspaper Reports On 'EU Membership And Religious Freedom

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  • New Europe Newspaper Reports On 'EU Membership And Religious Freedom


    New York

    Order of St. Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

    The New Europe newspaper published an article by Amanda Paul, an
    analyst for the European Policy Centre in Brussels, on 'EU membership
    and religious freedoms in Turkey'.

    New Europe - the European weekly, published since 1993, is a unique
    product carrying news and analyses from 49 countries with a particular
    emphasis on the EU institutions and EU-World relations.

    Its print edition is distributed to 66,000 readers in Europe and
    beyond. In addition New Europe's website has approximately 150,000
    visitors per month.

    New Europe is an ongoing project; apart from the International Edition,
    New Europe has launched the first of a string of Regional Editions
    with the Bulgarian Edition and has recently launched its European
    Careers Portal.

    Furthermore, New Europe has served as a quality partner with main
    European conferences, media, think tanks and academia in the field
    of EU Affairs.


    EU membership and religious freedoms in Turkey by Amanda Paul

    Read this article on New Europe's website

    Freedom of religion is considered to be a fundamental human right. It
    is also something that the EU places great importance on and therefore
    those countries that are looking to join the Club need to meet EU
    standards on this.

    The EU should recognise that while much remains to be done in Turkey,
    the country is taking the necessary steps to tackle past deficits.

    Clearly, Turkey is not the country is was ten years ago; it recognizes
    the need to change and its process with the EU is acting as a vehicle
    to nudge the process along. Therefore the EU needs to keep pressure
    on Turkey.

    Turkey has been negotiating membership with the EU since October 2005.

    Freedom of religion has been quite a problematic area with Turkey
    having something of a patchy record - principally the result of the
    rather restrictive and oppressive policy carried out for decades
    following the birth of the Republic in 1923. Indeed under the Ottoman
    Empire (particularly during late 19th century), freedom of religion
    was far less restrictive for many of the Empire's minorities than
    under the Kemalist regime that followed. For decades demands for
    greater religious freedoms fell on deaf ears. Only as Turkey began
    negotiations with the EU did change start to occur.

    The anchoring of Turkey to the EU has facilitated changes in the
    country with Ankara coming under pressure to improve the situation and
    urgently boost religious tolerance and expand rights, particularly for
    non-Muslims (Syriac, Catholic, Greek, Jewish and Armenian communities
    in particular) but for others too including the Alevi's (a Muslim
    sect numbering some 20 million).

    Each year the situation is assessed by the European Commission. The
    Commission's 2009 Progress Report contained quite a lot of criticism
    including continuing difficulties in relation to places of worship
    - non Muslim communities frequently reported discrimination with
    applications for allocation of places of worship with Protestant
    churches and Jehovah's witnesses prayer halls often facing court cases;
    the Alevi's places of worship (Cem houses) also had pending court
    cases even though many municipalities had recognized Cem houses as
    places of worship; personal documents such as ID cards, still included
    information on religion, leaving potential for harassment; judicial
    proceedings continued against conscientious objectors on religious
    grounds; the continued closure of the Greek Orthodox seminary
    on Heybeliada; non-Muslim communities - as organized structures
    of religious groups - still facing problems due to lack of legal
    personality; restrictions on the training of clergy; the Ecumenical
    Patriarch was not free to use the ecclesiastical title 'Ecumenical'
    on all occasions.

    Furthermore many members of minority religious groups claimed that
    their worship activities were monitored and recorded by security
    forces, the Armenian Patriarchate's proposal to open a university
    department for the Armenian language and clergy continues to be
    pending and the Syriacs can provide only informal training, outside
    any officially established schools. Turkey also fails to recognize
    and protect the Syriac people as a minority, which is indigenous to
    south-east Turkey, in conformity with the Lausanne Treaty including
    developing their education and carrying out religious services in
    their Aramaic native language. The list could go on.

    It would be na´ve to believe that change would happen overnight and
    the process of granting further religious freedoms has been slow
    with many of the above issues remaining unresolved. Nevertheless
    progress is being made although the ruling Justice and Development
    party (AKP) faces stiff opposition from many circles including from
    the nationalist opposition which believe it is against "Turkishness
    and the Turkish-Muslim nature of Turkey".

    They believe that by opening up in this way, particularly to
    non-Muslim minorities, it will quickly snowball into demands for
    Turkish territory. These day non-Muslim minorities represent only 1%
    of the population so this could hardly constitute a major threat.

    2010 has seen some groundbreaking developments. Firstly the historic
    service at the Sumela Monastery in the Black Sea province of Trabzon.

    Three-thousand Orthodox Christians gathered for the mass. Although
    allowed only one day in the year, the service was the first in Turkey's
    republican history.

    A second big moment took place at Lake Van when the first Armenian
    Orthodox ceremony in nearly a century was held. The church, which has
    been closed for services since the 1915 Armenian genocide becoming
    a symbol of Turkey's troubled past with Armenia. And after years
    of opposition the government has recently agreed to return a Greek
    orphanage to the Orthodox Patriarch. It took courage to take these
    steps which should be viewed as part of the progress of the opening
    up of the country.

    Efforts are also underway to improve relations with the Alevi's and
    AKP initiatives, such holding meetings to discuss the Alevi problem
    and Prime Minister Erdogan attending an Alevi Iftar dinner - the first
    ever Turkish Prime Minister to so - should be viewed very positively.

    However there is still some way to go with many Alevis believing their
    demands are not being met. In October there was a sit-in organized by
    the Alevi community protesting against the "constitutional mandated
    religious culture and moral knowledge classes" which they view as a
    state sponsored assimilation process.

    Turkey is slowly shredding its old skin and breaking the taboos of the
    past. The fact that people can debate the issues openly is already
    a huge step forward. Turkey needs to ensure that everybody has all
    of their religious freedoms and is able to exercise their religions
    properly. There should be no need to fear different cultures and
    religions, rather they should be seen as enriching and therefore be
    embraced. What is important is that these steps are followed by more
    and that the EU plays a strong role in continuing to support and push
    Turkey on this issue.

    From: A. Papazian