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American Hellenic Institute Draws Attention to Continuing Restrictions on Religious Freedom in Turkey
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Nick Larigakis
July 14, 2008—No. 41 (202) 785-8430

American Hellenic Institute Draws Attention to Continuing Restrictions on Religious Freedom in Turkey

Washington, D.C.—In its latest effort to raise awareness about Turkey’s continuing restrictions of religious freedom against the Ecumenical Patriarchate as well as Turkey’s ongoing destruction of religious heritage in the occupied area of Cyprus, the American Hellenic Institute recently attended a July 8 forum on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus Task Force on International Religious Freedom.

“We are pleased that the U.S. is paying attention to the lack of religious freedom in Turkey, and we hope that this continued attention will lead to greater reforms that ensure the ability for Greek Orthodox Christians to practice freely,” says Larigakis, executive director of the American Hellenic Institute, which works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus.

At this forum, titled “Religious Freedom in Turkey: With a New Government in Power, Has Anything Changed for Religious Believers?”—Mr. Larigakis, during the question and answer segment, spoke about the unlawful treatment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Turkey. The Turkish government has seized nearly 7,000 properties of the Church and closed the Halki Patriarchal School of Theology while also placing extreme restrictions on the spiritual leader of 250 million Orthodox Christians around the world, including 5 million in the U.S. These actions are all in violation of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which allows the free exercise of religion by Turkey’s ethnic Greek minority, Larigakis said. Similarly, in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, more than 500 Orthodox Churches have been looted, desecrated and in some cases converted to hotels, casinos, stables, mosques and military facilities.

“If Turkey continues in its current path as it relates to the Patriarchate, it is a mathematical certainty that this Holy See will become extinct,” Larigakis told the audience of about 50 Congressional staffers and advocates. Speakers at the event included Patricia Carley, policy director for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and Ziya Meral, a Turkish researcher.

The American Hellenic Institute’s presence at the Congressional forum is a continuation of its efforts to draw attention to the plight of Turkey’s Greek Orthodox Christian minority. In an April 2, 2008 letter to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, AHI urged the commission to consider incidents of religious intolerance, including personal assaults, murders and incarceration of Christians. The letter also pointed to the lack of legal status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, prohibiting the Church from owning its own headquarters. “We recommend that you urge in your report to have the President designate Turkey as a country of particular concern under [the International Religious Freedom Act] for severely violating religious freedom and to impose appropriate sanctions,” wrote Larigakis on behalf of AHI. “Failing to do so makes the U.S. complicit in Turkey’s insidious efforts to extinguish its Orthodox Greek minority and the Ecumenical Patriarchate...”

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The American Hellenic Institute is a nonprofit public policy organization that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and also within the American Hellenic community. For more information, visit www.ahiworld.org.