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Greek American Organizations’ Policy Statement on Turkey’s Suppression of the Religious Freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: C. Franciscos Economides
May 17, 2005—No.45 (202) 785-8430

Greek American Organizations’ Policy Statement on Turkey’s Suppression of the Religious Freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

WASHINGTON, DC—American Hellenic Institute president Gene Rossides announced today that the major Greek American membership organizations endorsed the policy statement on Turkey’s Suppression of the Religious Freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate prepared by the American Hellenic Institute. These are: the Order of AHEPA, the Hellenic American National Council, the Cyprus Federation of America, the Panepirotic Federation of America, the Pan-Macedonian Association of America, the Evrytanian Association of America and the American Hellenic Institute. The endorsed statement, which is part of the 2005 Greek American Policy Statements, follows:

Turkey’s Suppression of the Religious Freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

Turkey’s restrictions on the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its brutal assaults against its Kurdish minority reveal that democratic norms have still not taken root. In view of Turkey’s horrendous human rights record, U.S. policy toward Turkey should be driven by forceful incentives for democratic reform. These include an arms embargo and economic sanctions.

His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in North America led a panel discussion at the U.S. Helsinki Commission on March 16, 2005 which presented "a clear picture of how religious human rights violations by the Turkish government have been working to exterminate the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Christian community in that country." The panel briefing "highlighted Turkey’s systemic efforts to undermine the Orthodox Church, violating numerous international treaties to which it has agreed."

U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Congressman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) stated: "The concern of this Commission in the protection of religious rights and freedoms. Turkey’s treatment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate violates its obligations under international human rights law." Mr. Smith blamed Turkey for systematically attempting to prevent the activities of the Patriarchate by disallowing the opening of the Halki Theological School forcibly closed in 1971, destroying churches by creating hurdles preventing their repair, denying the Patriarchate the opportunity to purchase and or sell property and not recognizing the Patriarchate’s "Ecumenical" status, in effect, denying its universal status.

We commend the Bush administration for its prompt and full support of the universality of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Archbishop Demetrios and Dr. Anthony Limberakis "detailed the severe restrictions on property ownership which have allowed the government to confiscate nearly 7,000 properties from the Ecumenical Patriarchate since 1936. Behind them stood placard-size photos of the most recently seized property, an orphanage on Buyukada island which once housed hundreds of homeless children."

We condemn Turkey’s toleration of assaults against its Greek Orthodox religious minority, its continuing illegal closure of the Greek Orthodox Halki Patriarchal School of Theology in Istanbul and its illegal seizure of Greek Orthodox Church property. We call on the U.S. to press Turkey to enforce strictly the guarantees of religious freedom set forth in the Treaty of Lausanne, the UN Charter, and other international agreements. In accordance with U.S. law expressed in Section 2804 of the Fiscal Year 1999 Appropriations Bill, we urge the U.S. government to use its influence with the Turkish government to safeguard the Ecumenical Patriarchate, its personnel, and its property, and to reopen the Halki Patriarchal School of Theology.

Turkey has a notoriously dismal human rights record, which is well documented in numerous credible reports. Of special interest is the November 1999 report "Arming Repression: U.S. Arms Sales to Turkey During the Clinton Administration," produced jointly by the World Policy Institute and the Federation of American Scientists. Other reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and successive State Department Country Reports on Turkey have stated that "extrajudicial killings, including deaths in detention from excessive use of force, ‘mystery killings,’ and disappearances continued. Torture remained widespread." Thousands of political prisoners cram Turkish jails. Dozens of journalists have been assassinated, and many others are in jail.

Presidential Actions under the Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (22 USCA § 6441, 6445)

Under the Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the President is obligated to oppose violations of religious freedom in any country whose government "engages in or tolerates violations of religious freedom and promote the right to religious freedom in that country". The Act further obligates the President to take one or more of 15 enumerated actions with respect to any such country. The following are among those enumerated actions under 22 USCA § 6445:

  1. An official public demarche.
  2. A public condemnation to the country or within one or more multilateral fora.
  3. The denial, delay or cancellation of one or more working, official, or state visits.
  4. The withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of United States development assistance.
  5. Directing the Export-Import Bank of the United States, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, or the Trade and Development Agency not to approve the issuance of any (or a specified number of) guarantees, insurance, extensions of credit, or participations in the extension of credit with respect to the specific government, agency, instrumentality, or official found or determined by the President to be responsible for violations
  6. Direct the United States executive directors of international financial institutions to oppose and vote against loans primarily benefiting the specific foreign government, agency, instrumentality, or official found or determined by the President to be responsible for violations.
  7. Order the heads of the appropriate United States agencies not to issue any (or a specified number of) specific licenses, and not to grant any other specific authority (or a specified number of authorities), to export any goods or technology to the specific foreign government, agency, instrumentality, or official found or determined by the President to be responsible for violations.
  8. Prohibit any United States financial institution from making loans or providing credits totaling more than $10,000,000 in any 12-month period to the specific foreign government, agency, instrumentality, or official found or determined by the President to be responsible for violations.
  9. Prohibit the United States Government from procuring, or entering into any contract for the procurement of, any goods or services from the foreign government, entities, or officials found or determined by the President to be responsible for violations.

Given the obvious and egregious violations of religious freedom by the Turkish government, Congress should urge the President and the Secretary of State to invoke the foregoing provisions of the Act against Turkey.

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For additional information, please contact C. Franciscos Economides at (202) 785-8430 or at [email protected]. For general information regarding the activities of AHI, please view our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org.