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AHI Commends U.S. Commission’s International Religious Freedom Report For Designating Turkey a “Country of Particular Concern”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Demetra Atsaloglou
April 11, 2012—No. 24 (202) 785-8430

AHI Commends U.S. Commission’s International Religious Freedom Report For Designating Turkey a “Country of Particular Concern”

Calls for Enforcement of International Religious Freedom Act

WASHINGTON, DC — The American Hellenic Institute commends the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on the release of its 2012 Annual Report which designates Turkey a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC). By designating Turkey a CPC, the USCIRF is recommending Secretary of State Hillary Clinton designate it a CPC as well.

“We applaud the Commission for correctly identifying Turkey as a ‘country of particular concern,’ meaning the Turkish government has engaged in, or has tolerated, particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” said President Nick Larigakis. “Also by designating Turkey as a CPC, the Commission reaffirms the Turkish government’s continued tolerance of assaults upon its many minority populations including the Greek Orthodox Christian minority and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. These are all actions that violate the founding principles and laws of the United States.”

The Commission’s report specifically cites Turkey’s policies that: deny non-Muslim communities the right to train clergy, including the closure of the Greek Orthodox Halki Patriarchal School of Theology; officially do not accord the ecclesiastical title “ecumenical” to the Ecumenical Patriarch, interfere in the internal governance of the Greek Orthodox community, and retain the power to expropriate religious minority properties.

Furthermore, at the direction of H.Res.1631, which passed the House of Representatives on September, 28, 2010, the Commission investigated violations of religious freedom in Turkish-occupied Cyprus. The report cites Turkey’s military control over Turkish-occupied Cyprus which “supports numerous arbitrary regulations implemented by Turkish Cypriot authorities.” According to the Commission, these regulations “limit the religious activities of all non-Muslims living in northern Cyprus, deny these religious communities the right to worship freely and restore, maintain, and utilize their religious properties, and threaten the long-term survival of non-Muslim religious communities in the area.” Specifically, the report found three main issues in Turkish-occupied Cyprus:

  1. The inability of Orthodox Christians, other religious communities, and clergy to access and hold services at their places of worship and cemeteries in the north, particularly those in Turkish military bases and zones;
  2. The disrepair of churches and cemeteries and issues relating to the preservation of religious heritage, such as iconography, mosaics, and other religious symbols; and
  3. The lack of schools and opportunities for young people in the north, which has led to an exodus of Greek Cypriots and other religious minorities.

“We commend the Commission for following through with the House resolution’s call to investigate religious freedom violations in Turkish-occupied Cyprus and documenting them for the record,” said Larigakis.

He continued, “The purpose of designating Turkey a country of particular concern is so policymakers will have the opportunity to engage it in an effort to diminish the violations that are being tolerated by that country’s government. The question is, ‘Will United States policymakers proactively engage the Turkish government on these egregious issues, and more importantly, enforce the provisions of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, under which this annual report is prepared in compliance? Will Secretary Clinton follow the Commission’s recommendation and designate Turkey a CPC nation?’”

Under the International Religious Freedom Act, the president of the United States 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. AHI has repeatedly called for enforcement of the Act in addition to calling on the U.S. government to urge Turkey to:

  • recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its nonpolitical religious mission;
  • ensure the continued maintenance of the institution’s physical security needs, as provided for under Turkish and international law, including the Treaty of Lausanne, the 1968 Protocol, the Helsinki Final Act (1975) and the Charter of Paris;
  • provide for the proper protection and safety of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Patriarchate personnel;
  • promptly return the numerous illegally confiscated properties from the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Turkish government since 1936; and
  • reopen the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Halki Patriarchal School of Theology.”

 

AHI condemns Turkey’s toleration of assaults against its Greek Orthodox Christian minority, the limited progress so far on the protection of the human and minority rights of the non-Muslim communities in Turkey, its continuing illegal closure of the Greek Orthodox Halki Patriarchal School of Theology and its illegal seizure of property of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox Christian minority of Istanbul, Imbros and Tenedos.

Larigakis also commended the report for highlighting the Ergenekon plot that included the alleged plans to include assassination attempts upon Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Armenian Orthodox patriarch, and a prominent Jewish business leader all as part of an alleged overthrow of the Turkish government.

Finally, Larigakis expressed disappointment that four commissioners dissented with the Commission’s decision to designate Turkey as a CPC. The four dissenting commissioners were: Felice D. Gaer, Dr. Rev. William J. Shaw, Dr. Azizah al-Hibri, and Ted Van Der Meid.

“We strongly disagree with the dissenting opinions of these four commissioners,” Larigakis said. “The Commission’s report accurately presents all the evidence pertaining to Turkey’s abysmal record on religious freedom, including in Turkish-occupied Cyprus that correctly ascribes Turkey’s designation as a country of particular concern.”

Commissioners Dr. Don Argue, Dr. Richard Land, Nina Shea, Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, and USCIRF Chair Leonard Leo voted to designate Turkey as a CPC.

  • To download the USCIRF Annual Report, click here.

The American Hellenic Institute is a non-profit Greek American think-tank and public policy center that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.


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For additional information, please contact Demetra Atsaloglou at (202) 785-8430 or at [email protected]. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at http://www.ahiworld.org.