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AHI Appalled by U.S. Commission’s International Religious Freedom Report Upgrading Turkey
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Georgea Polizos
May 2, 2013—No. 35 (202) 785-8430

AHI Appalled by U.S. Commission’s International Religious Freedom Report Upgrading Turkey

Turkey Upgraded by Two Tiers despite Unresolved Issues

WASHINGTON, DC — The American Hellenic Institute is appalled by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) two-tier upgrade of Turkey from a designation as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) in 2012 to a less harsh status of “other countries and regions monitored” in its 2013 Annual Report which the commission released April 30. 

“We are deeply troubled with the commission’s complete reversal of position on Turkey’s treatment of religious minorities,” said President Nick Larigakis.  “In fact, the reversal is so drastic; it raises an eyebrow and calls into question whether or not the commission was susceptible to outside lobbying or political coercion.  Obviously, we disagree with the commission’s conclusion on Turkey.” 

Larigakis added, “Despite very limited progress, the Turkish government continues to tolerate assaults upon its many minority populations, including the Greek Orthodox Christian minority and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  All outstanding issues remain unresolved, including the illegal closure of the Greek Orthodox Halki Patriarchal School of Theology and the Turkish government’s interference in the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s and Greek Orthodox community’s internal governance, among others. These are all actions that violate the founding principles and laws of the United States.” 

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 when it visited there in February 2011. 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.

“Clearly the commission found little discernible improvement in the treatment of religious minorities in Turkish-occupied Cyprus which further lends to a questionable report status for Turkey,” said Larigakis.

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.  

Four Commissioners, Hon. Elliott Abrams , Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon, Dr. Robert P. George, and Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, issued a dissenting opinion that although they felt the 2012 designation of Turkey as one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom was in error that Turkey’s 2013 designation as a country merely to be monitored was an error “in the opposite direction.”

“Although AHI strongly believes the commission should have maintained Turkey’s designation as a ‘country of particular concern,’ the Institute appreciates the dissenting opinion of these four commissioners who acknowledge that the commission erred in the opposition direction,” said Larigakis.  

Finally, Larigakis expressed disappointment that two commissioners dissented with the commission’s decision to include Turkish-occupied Cyprus in the report.  The two dissenting commissioners were: Dr. Rev. William J. Shaw and Dr. Azizah al-Hibri.

“We strongly disagree with the dissenting opinions of these two 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.”

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 Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at [email protected]. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org.