Turkey Uncensored: Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople Accused of Being Behind Turkish Coup AttemptThursday, October 6, 2016
Ever since the coup attempt took place to topple Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on July 15, the Turkish government has blamed certain groups for being behind it – including Gulenists, the supporters of the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, and the United States government.
The latest target of the pro-government media is Bartholomew I, the 270th and current archbishop of Constantinople (Istanbul) and Ecumenical patriarch.
It all began when a story circulated in certain international media outlets that Bartholomew was involved in the attempted coup to overthrow the Turkish government. The rumors were based on a letter purportedly written by retired U.S. Ambassador Arthur Hughes, who disavowed any connection to this in an open letter to Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America:
On Aug. 16, 2016, an organization known as Oriental Review, www.orientalreview.org, placed on its website an article concerning the Patriarch of Constantinople and attributed it to me. I have subsequently learned that this article has been submitted to other journals.
I can state categorically that I did not write this article, contribute it to Oriental Review or elsewhere, nor do I have any knowledge of the statements alleged in the article.
The fabrication and false attribution of the article in question are of great concern to me. I have consequently conveyed these facts to all who have inquired or, without proper due diligence, used the article.
The perpetrators who spread these rumors remain unknown. But given Turkey’s continued actions against its Greek-speaking Christian (Rum) citizens throughout history, one can conclude that there is real concern for Bartholomew’s safety.
The Turkish newspaper Aksam also accused Bartholomew of being an accomplice in the failed coup. On Aug. 30, Aksam published a story claiming that Bartholomew is affiliated with Gulenists and backed the coup attempt on July 15.
The title of the story was “Patriarchate – CIA-Gulen Alliance.” Aksam based its report on claims that Hughes said, “Fethullah Gulen wanted to carry out a coup with the support of the CIA and the Greek Patriarchate.” The report said that Hughes shared the following statement on his personal Facebook account: “Does Turkey need Greek Orthodox patriarchate? The coup was staged by CIA, Gulen and Greek Orthodox patriarchate.”
Bartholomew responded via a written statement sent to the Armenian-Turkish newspaper Agos:
This unfounded story caused deep sorrow within the Greek community in Turkey and especially for our Patriarch. The editors of Akşam Daily should have known that this unfounded story, which was published for the purpose of inciting hatred against His Eminence, could lead to grave consequences. We state that this story is really regrettable and grievous for us.
A similar column titled “CIA-Gulen-Fener [Greek Orthodox patriarchate] Connection and the Secret Partners of 15 July” was also published in the pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak on Sept. 6. In an attempt to back up his views that Bartholomew was behind the coup, author Ibrahim Karagul also referenced the statements that were attributed to Hughes.
Some government authorities have also accused Christian and Jewish citizens of Turkey of plotting the coup. On Aug. 7, the Turkish government organized “a democracy and martyrs” rally, a million-strong anti-coup demonstration in Istanbul, which Turkey’s Jewish and Christian religious leaders also joined. During that demonstration – in an attempt to denounce the coup plotters – some of the speakers insulted religious minorities by calling the coup plotters “seeds of Byzantium,” “crusaders” and a “flock of infidels.”
Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople: A Target of Turks for all Seasons
The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, or the Rum Orthodox Patriarchate, as Turks call it, has been one of the most “popular” targets of the conspiracy theorists in Turkey – by both Islamists and Turkish nationalists.
According to this view, the Greek Ecumenical Patriarchate in Turkey is a “source of treason, disorder and trickery” and often has a hidden agenda that serves “imperialists” such as establishing a new Vatican, restoring Byzantium, or dividing and destroying Turkey.
Some of the books published about these topics include “The Plan to Destroy the Turks and the Role of Local Greeks;” “The Dagger Inside: The Fener Greek Patriarchate;” “Hagia Sophia and the Secret Games Played on the Patriarchate;” “Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate and the Project of Byzantium;” “The Patriarchate and a Project of 551 Years: A New Roman Empire in Istanbul;” “The Monastic Power and The Orthodox Card of Imperialism;” “Will they Get the Secular Turkish Republic Destroyed by the Patriarchate?;” “The Spies of the Patriarchate;” and “The Claw of Greece, the Patriarchate and Orthodoxy,” among others.
Patriarch Bartholomew on CBS News: “I Feel Crucified”
In 2009, Bartholomew was asked in an interview with CBS News, “Why does the leader of so many millions of Orthodox Christians in the world live in a country that is 99 percent Muslim?”
He answered, “Because we are here before this country becomes a Muslim country – much earlier. Since ever. Since the very beginning of the foundation of our church, of the church of Constantinople.” He added that Orthodox Christians in Turkey are treated as second-class citizens. “And we don’t feel that we enjoy our full rights as Turkish citizens.”
When he was asked if he personally feels that he is sometimes being crucified, Bartholomew answered, “Yes I do.”
“Justice and Respect are Essential for Peace”
Despite all of the grave pressures to which Bartholomew has been exposed, the humanitarian values that he publicly upholds as the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians are not present in any Islamic leader in Turkey or the wider region in the Middle East.
A speech that he recently delivered at a prayer service in Italy is another reminder of what he stands for. According to the newspaper Catholic Register, on Sept. 20, Bartholomew said that “the richness of the diversity found within humanity and in the created world at large is something that must be respected and never destroyed. In these years, we can again see ethnic, religious and cultural majorities sense their respective minorities as alien bodies, dangerous for their integrity, as something to be marginalized, expelled and sometimes, unfortunately, annihilated.
“God did not want to have one plant, one animal, one single person, one planet, one star. He wanted many of them – all different – each with its own specificity and peculiarity, interconnected in a communion of purpose and love. This is the richness we need to proclaim, safeguard and live together.”
Bartholomew added that believers must be “capable of dialogue with the other, capable of seeing the riches of the other, capable of not overpowering the other, of not feeling above or below our neighbor.”
But his opponents’ worldviews represent the complete opposite idea. The promotion of diversity, mutual respect and a “communion of love” flies in the face of the moral failure of those who aim to annihilate non-Muslim communities in Anatolia and the Middle East.
The Greek and Christian Roots of Anatolia
The Greek-speaking Orthodox community of Istanbul and Anatolia is one of the ancient and indigenous peoples of the region. Even the names of the region come from the Greek language.
“Asia Minor is a geographic region in the south-western part of Asia comprising most of what is present-day Turkey,” wrote Professor Joshua Mark. “It was called by the Greeks ‘Anatolia’ [literally, ‘place of the rising sun,’ for those lands to the east of Greece]. The name ‘Asia Minor’ [from the Greek ‘Mikra Asia’ – Little Asia] was first coined by the Christian historian Orosius [c. 375 – 418 CE] in his work ‘Seven Books of History Against the Pagans’ in 400 CE to differentiate the main of Asia from that region which had been evangelized by the Apostle Paul [which included sites known from Paul’s epistles in the Bible such as Ephesus and Galicia].”
In 1071, Seljuk Turks invaded and began to capture Anatolian territories. “Starting as far back as 1071,” wrote journalist Kerry Kolasa-Sikiaridi, “Turks began their settlements in Anatolia, and shortly after, dominated the vast majority of the region, excluding the Marmara Sea and some areas surrounding the sea. At that time, the indigenous population of Anatolia spoke and wrote in Greek and were Greek Orthodox. The Turks referred to all orthodox Christian communities in the Ottoman as the ‘Roman community,’ and labeled the people ‘Rum,’ meaning Roman, a term which is used until this day.”
In 1453, following a bloody military campaign, Ottoman Turks invaded and captured Constantinople (modern Istanbul), the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire since 330 AD.
Under the Ottoman rule, Christians and Jews of Constantinople became “dhimmis” – conquered, subjugated peoples barely tolerated in their dispossessed land.
During the past few centuries, the demographic character of Constantinople and Anatolia has been totally altered by Turkish governments, and year after year, atrocity after atrocity, the Greek-speaking Orthodox community of Turkey has almost become extinct.
Greeks of Turkey: A History of Persecution
The biggest blow to the Greek community of Anatolia was the Greek genocide between 1914 and 1923, and the forcible population exchange between Turkey and Greece, in which many of the survivors of the genocide were forcibly driven out of Turkey.
Twenty-three years later came the next blow to the Greek Orthodox community. The attacks of Sept. 6 – 7, 1955 were a series of riots instigated by the government against the Greek minority of Istanbul – their homes, schools, businesses, offices, cemeteries, monasteries and churches. More than a dozen people died during or following the attacks as a result of beatings and arson. The violence greatly accelerated the emigration of Greeks from Turkey and from the Istanbul region, in particular.
Even decades after, in 1992, when there were only approximately 2,500 Greek-speaking Orthodox citizens left, Turkey continued to persecute them. “The Greek community is dying, and it is not a natural death,” a middle-aged Greek man told Helsinki Watch in Istanbul.
“The Greek community in Istanbul today is dwindling, elderly and frightened,” Helsinki Watch reported in 1992. “Their fearfulness is related to an appalling history of pogroms and expulsions that they have suffered at the hands of the Turkish government. The problems experienced by the Greek minority today include harassment by police; restrictions on freedom of expression; discrimination in education involving teachers, books and curriculum; restrictions on religious freedom; limitations on the right to control their charitable institutions; and the denial of ethnic identity.”
As a result of these attacks and pressures, Anatolia’s once-flourishing Greek community is fading away.
“Our community has already become almost extinct due to many pressures we have been subjected to for years,” said Mihail Vasiliadis, the editor-in-chief of Apoyevmatini, the only remaining Greek-language newspaper in Turkey.
Vasiliadis stressed that “threats against the Ecumenical patriarchate, which is respected worldwide, have recently been on the rise once again. The Ecumenical patriarch has been presented by some national Turkish media outlets to the Turkish public as if he was the ringleader of the organization named ‘FETO’ [Fethullah Gulen Terror Organization]. I think that such media coverage would be impossible without manipulation by a mastermind.”
Vasiliadis called on the Turkish government to implement policies to mitigate the wounds that Turkey has inflicted on the Greek community for decades. Sadly, the Turkish government does not seem to be about doing that.
“Erdogan has clearly shifted away from his previous policy of dialogue with the patriarchate,” said author Patrick Theros. “Now he has embarked on a purge of all real or imagined domestic opposition and no longer benefits from a benevolent policy towards the patriarchate. In fact, he may see benefit from doing Moscow some favors, such as crippling the patriarchate, which have no internal cost. He could figure that he has the whip hand over the [European Union and Greece], threatening to unleash hordes of refugees across the Aegean. He has already demonstrated the United States will do nothing to threaten Turkish cooperation against [the Islamic State], however problematic in execution.”
But if Turkey had chosen to respect and appreciate the Hellenic roots of Anatolia instead of being hateful to or jealous of it, it would not aim to exterminate its indigenous Hellenic and Christian communities. It would cherish these rich traditions and learn from these civilizations to which the West and the rest of the world owes so much.
But Turkish-Islamic supremacists do not seek to learn from other cultures or communities, or peacefully coexist with them. They prefer to destroy and annihilate them. And sadly, the world community just keeps watching – just as it watched the extermination of natives of Anatolia for centuries.
It seems that Turkey’s apparent plan to exterminate the Greek community of Anatolia is about to reach its “successful” conclusion. But with such hatred rarely found elsewhere, the Turkish government still keeps disparaging the almost extinct native Greek population. And its continued target has been Bartholomew I, the living embodiment of an extirpated nation.