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U.S. Commission’s International Religious Freedom Report Downgrades Turkey
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Georgea Polizos
May 23, 2014—No. 32 (202) 785-8430

U.S. Commission’s International Religious Freedom Report Downgrades Turkey

Turkey Receives “Tier 2” Category Designation

WASHINGTON, DC — The American Hellenic Institute calls the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) downgrade of Turkey from a status of “other countries and regions monitored” to a “Tier 2” designation in its 2014 Annual Report a step in the correct direction.  The commission released its annual report on April 30, 2014.

“We view the commission’s Tier Two designation for Turkey as a step in the correct direction following 2013’s very disappointing designation,” President Nick Larigakis said.  “The commission’s 2014 designation is a more accurate reflection of Turkey’s treatment of religious minorities. However, we believe the 2014 report does not go far enough as many outstanding issues remain.”

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.  In addition, we welcome the report’s inclusion of the ‘persistent rumors’ of Hagia Sophia’s conversion to a mosque and the disheartening impact it has had on Christian communities. However, we are disappointed the report is silent on the conversation of the historic Church of Saint Sophia of Trabzon from a museum to a mosque in 2013.”

Furthermore, at the direction of H.Res.1631, which passed the House of Representatives on September, 28, 2010, the commission includes in its report on Turkey the violations of religious freedom in Turkish-occupied Cyprus.  Although this section is not as specific as it has been in previous reports, it notes that minority communities were denied access to places of worship and cemeteries “that are within the boundaries of Turkish military zones or bases.”

“The inclusion of the treatment of religious minorities in Turkish-occupied Cyprus is appreciated,” said Larigakis. “However, there clearly could have been more detail about the desecration of Cyprus’s religious heritage in the Turkish-occupied area.”

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. 

One Commissioner, Reverend William J. Shaw, issued a dissenting opinion with the decision to place Turkey on Tier Two.  “I think that the events over the past years of examination justify the category of ‘other countries and regions monitored.’”

“We strongly disagree with his dissenting opinion,” Larigakis said.  “The commission’s report presents Turkey’s abysmal record on religious freedom, including in Turkish-occupied Cyprus and Turkey has not done anything significant to justify the category Reverend Shaw suggests.  If anything, there should have been a commissioner issuing a dissent because Turkey’s atrocious record on religious freedom deserves a return to Tier One designation.”

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 Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at pr@ahiworld.org. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at http://www.ahiworld.org and follow us on Twitter @TheAHIinDC