Orthodox Observer - April 20, 1998

New Desecration of Orthodox Cemetery in Turkey

NEW YORK.- His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon has called on Members of Congress and national, civic and religious leaders to respond to the latest attack against the Greek Orthodox community in Istanbul, Turkey. On March 31, over 70 graves in the Greek Orthodox cemetery of Saint Eleftherios, in the Kurtulus region of Istanbul were vandalized.

It was the fourth incident in recent months: On Dec. 3, 1997, a bomb attack against the Patriarchal compound in the Phanar district of Istanbul seriously injured a deacon and damaged the Patriarchal Cathedral. On Jan. 13, the Church of St. Therapon was pillaged and the sexton murdered. There was also an incident on the island of Imvros, a historically Greek Orthodox region, where the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation was robbed. Vandals desecrated the Greek Orthodox cemetery at Neohorio on the Bosporus in September 1993, while another cemetery in the Istanbul suburb of Kanitili was the target of desecrators last year. No arrests were ever made.

His Eminence continues to urge the political and spiritual leadership of the United States to come to the defense of the people and the institution of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the world-wide center of Orthodox Christianity.
In a letter to President Clinton, Archbishop Spyridon wrote:

"Mr. President, this most recent attack upon even the dead causes great pain to all people. I need to ask: What is the sin of those who repose in the hope of Resurrection? What is the sin of those fathers and mothers who lay at peace and cause no offense? Ultimately, where is the righteousness in attacking the bones which sanctify the earth in which they were placed?

Let us leave to God that which is God's, and let us who live ask God to illumine our hearts, minds and souls that one day all people may live together in the light of reconciliation and mutual understanding."

In a public statement on the incident, His Eminence further stated:

"I am shaken and very concerned regarding the recent desecration of over 70 Greek Orthodox graves in Istanbul, Turkey. In the very recent past the compound of the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been bombed, resulting in casualties and property damage, a church was broken into and a sexton was murdered, and now even those who lie in the tombs have been attacked, yet another time. As a Christian leader, I call to all people that love, reconciliation and peace must be our one heartfelt resolve. We must do everything in our power to always strive for better understanding between people and cultures so that we may live in peace with one another.

At the same time, though, the violent attacks perpetrated upon the Greek Orthodox Christian minority living in Istanbul must be brought to the attention of all people everywhere who are concerned about the basic issues of human rights, religious freedom and the inalienable dignity of every human being. We are not dealing with political issues or political opinions in cases such as these. We are being confronted in a very dramatic and unfortunately violent way with events which show a complete lack of basic human respect.

During these days, just prior to Easter when we see Christ Resurrected from the dead and the grave become the fountain of life, I can only feel pain in my heart when I hear that the bones of our fathers and mothers have been taken from their place of repose and their peace is being shattered. Do not those who rest in the tombs somehow share in the silent vigil of the Resurrected Lord? Do not those who rest beneath the earth deserve to be respected as they await the glory which is to come? And finally, how can anyone who lives and breathes be offended by their peaceful silence?

Let us come together in the dark shadow of these recent events in order to walk together, step by step, with all people, of all cultures and religious backgrounds into the dawn of a new day where human dignity and religious freedom are fully respected and honored."

[ Orthodox Observer | VOL. 63 - NO. 1143 | April 20, 1998 | p. 2 ]