OKTAY EKSI: LAST WORD ON THE HEYBELIADA SEMINARY FROM GUL?

Hurriyet, Turkey
May 2 2006

There seems to be something different about Foreign Minister Abdullah
Gul these days. He appears to be backing away from his former "well,
if that's how it is, that's ok, oh, and that's alright too" diplomatic
style. It was precisely this style which used to give the impression
that he was indecisive.

But just yesterday, we read in the news what he said to French Foreign
Minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy about the claims of Armenian genocide,
and the French plans to prosecute those denying them: "Let's say either
I or the President of Turkey came to France. And let's say that,
while there, reporters asked one of us about the Armenian claims,
and we denied them. What would you do? Throw us in jail?" Douste-Blazy
did not respond.

And in the same way, at the same Sofia, Bulgaria unofficial meeting of
NATO ministers, Gul went outside his usual relaxed style of diplomacy
in responding to Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni's pressing on
the question of whether Ankara would allow the Heybeliada Seminary to
open. As you know, the Halki Seminary on Heybeliada Island has been
closed since 1971. This decision was made neither by the Turkish
government nor by YOK (the Turkish Board of Higher Education) but
instead by the Orthodox Fener Patriarchate itself. It derived from the
emergence at that time of a law requiring all private institutions of
higher learning to be connected to universities in Turkey. Following
the emergence of this law, the Ministry of Education informed the Fener
Patriarchate that the Halki Seminary too would have to link itself
to a university in Turkey. It was after this that the Patriarchate
decided instead to close down the seminary.

According to reports, Gul told Greek FM Bakoyannis in Sofia that
"the offering of a religious education at the seminary is anathema
to our Turkish Constitution," and then went on to stress that
religiously based education in Turkey was only authorized under
certain guidlines. Following this, he reportedly repeated the Turkish
government's suggestion that the Halki Seminary open up in a capacity
linked to Istanbul University.

If these words by Gul put the final note on the question over whether
or not the Heybeliada Seminary will re-open, we will all breath a
sigh of relief. That being said, the pressure to re-open the seminary
is not only coming from the US or EU countries. As you might know,
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is very soft on this matter,
and has even made statements to Patriarch Bartholomeus which could
be interpreted as promises. Even Education Minister Huseyin Celik
has said things like "If it were up to me, I would open that school
in 24 hours." In any case, it looks like prudence in Turkey does,
from time to time, do its duty.