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The National Herald - March 27, 2012

Hopes Disappointed but Not Dashed
Regarding Halki Seminary Re-Opening

   By Constantine S. Sirigos

NEW YORK - After the initial excitement over a statement by President Obama that seemed to indicate that the doors of the Halki theological seminary near Constantinople will finally reopen, it appears that there is nothing new to report on that important front in the struggle for religious freedom.

During remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey after their bilateral meeting at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Seoul, Korea, Obama said:

"I congratulated the Prime Minister on the efforts that he's made within Turkey to protect religious minorities. I am pleased to hear of his decision to reopen the Halki Seminary."

Caitlin Hayden, Deputy NSC Spokesperson, placed the statement in the context of past positive signs from Ankara, however. She told TNH, "The President welcomed efforts that Prime Minister Erdogan has undertaken to advance the rights of religious minorities in Turkey, and underscored the importance of reopening the Halki Seminary. We believe that a decision by Turkey to reopen this vital institution of learning would serve a significant demonstration of its commitment to strengthening religious freedom in Turkey."

Andy Manatos, President of the National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes and an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, told The National Herald that after communicating with the White House and the State Department, it was clear that the President's statement does not constitute a breakthrough.

"Although it's a positive sign that the President raised the issue, and a positive sign the Prime Minister apparently is still on track, it's unfortunate that the statement does not reflect any new constructive steps that have been taken."
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Rev. Father Alexander Karloutsos, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and spiritual advisor to The Order of St. Andrew, told TNH, "The good thing is that the president said it. It shows that religious freedom is a top priority. Imagine: He is in Korea," and he brought it up. He noted that Halki is an important example of religious freedom issues. For Turkey to move forward, he added, "It's either a stumbling block or a stepping stone." He said Turkey must decide which it will be.

Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, Assistant Professor of International Relations at Boston University and who just completed eight years of service as a member of The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), described the initial reporting as a misunderstanding because it was not tied to any new developments.

"There has been absolutely no change in the policy of the Turkish government, and President Obama, as far as I know, was simply re-iterating the US position, which is to encourage Turkey to follow through on its stated willingness to reopen Halki," Prodromou said.

Hayden told TNH, "I would refer you to the Turkish Government for any comments on their plans regarding the Seminary."

One observer pointed out the Erdogan-Obama meeting took place on March 25 and noted the Turks are not in the habit of making friendly gestures on Greek Independence day. He maintains hope however, along with others, that concrete progress towards the reopening of the renowned Orthodox school may still take place this year.

[ Orthodox Truth | www.orthodox-truth.bugs3.com/art_2012_halki.html  -  March 27, 2012 ]