By Orhan Kemal Cengiz
01 October 2013
I do not like to focus on the negatives when there are steps forward being taken. I always tend to welcome any development and any steps toward democratization, even if they are not strong or radical enough.
Do not think that I underestimate the package Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on Monday. It ends a serious injustice our covered women have suffered for a long time when it comes to public employment, it includes promising changes about the electoral system and it certainly gives more space for Kurds' linguistic rights, though I wish an education in Kurdish would be allowed in public schools as well as private ones. I am glad that our children are now free and do not have to recite every morning, “How happy is he who calls himself a Turk.” I am glad that Kurdish politicians can now speak in Kurdish when they're talking to their electorates and so on.
But I also have to be honest and share some of my other thoughts with you. When I first heard the package would include the reopening of the Halki Theological School, I said to myself, “This is a big step, will they really do it?” Even if it were opened, I thought there would still be little tricks sabotaging the reform itself. I was waiting for something like this: They would open the school, but they would allow it to only accept students who have Turkish citizenship, which would mean that in practice, the school would only accept students from the some 3,000 of Greek Orthodox descent living in Istanbul. When I say “they,” I not only refer to this government, but anyone in this country in a ruling position and infected with the Turkish state's deep-seated hostile attitude to non-Muslims. This government may be the friendliest government ever to non-Muslims, but they are not immune to this virus of suspicion, distrust, fear and unfriendly feelings about non-Muslims.
And what was in the package was beyond my worst pessimistic estimates. They took the opening of the Halki School out of the package entirely. Is it surprising? Well, opening it and recognizing the ecumenical character of the Ecumenical Patriarchate by allowing the Halki school take students from all over the world would be a nice surprise and prove that a serious, fundamental change in mentality has started to take root in Turkey. Unfortunately, that is not happening. Everyone concerned, including this government, knows that opening of the Halki seminary is a fundamental part of the revival of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is at the edge of total extinction. Regardless of the excuse the government will come up with to explain why they took out this out of the package at the last minute, the real reason, at least at the unconscious level, is ambivalent feelings about the possibility of taking the noose from the neck of the patriarchate, giving it relief and providing momentum for it to start to heal. It is not happening.
I, of course, very much welcome provisions regarding hate crimes being added into the Turkish penal code and the idea of creating the Council for Equality and Combating Discrimination, provided that they will produce results in reality.
I am also very happy to hear that the properties of the Mor Gabriel Monastery will be returned to their original owners. I wish there were legal provisions in this package guaranteeing that all properties taken from non-Muslim foundations would be given back, eradicating some obstacles that came to existence in this regard.
In the same vein, I very much like the idea of creating an institute for Roma language and cultural rights. I really hope this will work and create awareness about the discrimination our Roma citizens face in all aspects of their life in Turkey.
But as I said, I wish we could see Halki reopen as a part of this package, which would mark a fundamental change of perspective in Turkey. The lack of it is a real pity.