Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Ecumenical Patriarchate

Theodore G. Karakostas is a Greek-American who has written previously about the crisis in the Balkans and the situation facing the Orthodox Church. He returns today with an essay on a similar theme.

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The Ecumenical Patriarchate
by Theodore G. Karakostas


The fall of ConstantinopleIt is very rare when contemporary realities serve as a near repetition of events that took place five and a half centuries ago. In the years preceding the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, the Greeks undertook a variety of diplomatic measures to gain support from the West in order to forestall the impending tragedy.

While the Christian Empire fell, and its last Emperor Constantine Palaeologos died resisting the conquest, one Byzantine office survived and continues to barely survive up to the present. The Ecumenical Patriarchate today is the “First Among Equals” among the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and his holiness Bartholomaios I has “Primacy of honor” among the various Patriarchs and Archbishops of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches. Today, the Ecumenical Patriarch seeks relief from the West in order to forestall a tragedy that appears increasingly inevitable as was the case with the last Christian Emperors.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate is in a state of crisis. The Patriarch’s flock is nearly extinct as a result of the genocidal policies of the Turkish government. During the First World War, the Young Turks began their policies of exterminating the Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Assyrian Christians of Asia Minor.

The destruction of SmyrnaIn the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Greece was briefly permitted to liberate the Christian City of Smyrna and other portions of Asia Minor in order to protect the surviving Greek Orthodox. In September 1922, the Turks under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal conquered the liberated City of Smyrna, and slaughtered the Greek and Armenian Christians. Among the casualties was the Greek Archbishop Chrysostom who was slaughtered by Muslim fanatics on the orders of a Muslim General named Noureddin Pasha.

The new Turkish leadership presided over the extermination and mass ethnic cleansing of Greek Orthodox in Eastern Thrace and other regions such as Pontus and Cappadocia. Further ethnic cleansing against the Greek Orthodox population of Constantinople followed which reduced the number of Greeks living in the Patriarchal City from nearly half a million to just over 100,000. Under the Turkish Republic, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has endured endless harassment and persecution.

The suffering of the flock of this institution that Greeks reverentially refer to as “the Great Church of Christ” included extreme taxation and subsequent deportations to forced labor camps in Anatolia. A subsequent campaign of terror on September 6, 1955 in which the entire Greek population was set upon by fanatical mobs of criminals and resulted in a pogrom which has burned itself into the collective memories of all Greeks was the beginning of the end for the Christians of Constantinople.
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The fall of ConstantinopleMany Greeks compare the events of September 1955 with the atrocities that accompanied the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The primary difference is that the horrors of the later period — in which Greek Churches and their sacred chalices and Icons were profaned in unspeakable ways, and priests and Bishops were set on fire and beaten to death — occurred in a country that was a member of the NATO alliance and the recipient of American economic and military assistance.

Most of the surviving remnants of the Patriarch’s faithful were forcibly driven from Turkey in 1964, and by 1971 the Patriarchal School of Theology was forcibly closed on the orders of the Turkish government.

Between 1993 and 2004, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was bombed or attacked by arsonists on at least five occasions, with the murder of his holiness Bartholomaios I being the primary aim. In July 2007, it was revealed by Turkish news reports that retired Turkish military officers planned the assassinations of the Ecumenical Patriarch, and that of the Armenian Patriarch.

All this is of extreme importance to the United States because Washington claims to be waging a “war on terror”. A campaign of terror against a defenseless minority continues in Turkey as can be seen by the discriminatory laws against Greeks, and the continued seizure of property. In the past three months, a Greek Orthodox Monastery in Turkey was demolished, and a Greek newspaper editor was beaten.

This tragedy that continues to play out does not bode well for democracy in Turkey. Nor does it bode well for the United States and its image. The message that Turkish nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists have heard loud and clear is that American administrations will tolerate any amount of violations of human rights, religious freedom, and terror in the name of appeasing Turkey.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate is honored by Greeks with the title “The Great Church” which is also used to honor the empty Church of Hagia Sophia, which itself was named for Christ (meaning literally the Holy Wisdom of Christ). The displacement of one of the great institutions of Christendom from what was once the supreme Christian City is a defeat for democratic values, and a major victory for the intolerant fanaticism that the West claims to be fighting against.

7 comments:

Paul Green said...

“The message that Turkish nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists have heard loud and clear is that American administrations will tolerate any amount of violations of human rights, religious freedom, and terror in the name of appeasing Turkey.”

Unfortunately, the U.S. has been disgracing itself in this way for a long time, as this passage from a 1951 Ivy-League tome demonstrates:

“By 1918, with the definitive excision of the total Armenian Christian population from Anatolia and the Straits Area, except for a small and totally insignificant enclave in Istanbul city, the hitherto largely peaceful processes of Turkification and Moslemization had been advance in one great surge through the use of force. How else can one assess the final blame except to say that this was a tragic consequence of the impact of Western European nationalism upon Anatolia? Had Turkification and Moslemization not been accelerated there by the use of force, there certainly would not today exist a Turkish Republic, a Republic owing its strength and stability in no small measure to the homogeneity of its population, a state which is now a valued associate of the United States.”

– Lewis V. Thomas, in “The United States and Turkey and Iran” (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1951), p. 61. Cited in Vahakn N. Dadrian, “Warrant for Genocide” (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1999).

Maryann said...

And the US has recently supported the creation of a muslim majority country hostile to it's orthodox inhabitants...in the unilateral recognition of Kosovo where Orthodox Christians live behind barbed wire compounds , where their centuries old churches and monestaries are desecrated, thier priests beaten and their graveyards desecrated. Even the dead Christians of Kosovo cannot rest at the hands of the majority muslims living there. May God have mercy upon each and every one of the suffering souls.
http://www.kosovo.net/

PRCalDude said...

Maybe we really are the Great Satan.

Vasarahammer said...

"Maybe we really are the Great Satan."

It is fair to say that ignorance, geopolitical interests and short term political gain have over time influenced American foreign policy.

This is unfortunately the way the world works. All we can do is to highlight the suffering of minorities under Turkish rule and perhaps question the importance of Turkey as an ally. If Turkey is indeed an invaluable asset to America, there is certainly something that the US can do to put pressure on Turkey if there is enough political will.

Gringo_Malo said...

During the Cold War, the U.S. would have been afraid to pressure the Turkish government for fear of pushing Turkey into the Soviet camp. That would have meant Soviet fleets steaming unimpeded through the Dardenelles and into the Mediterranean.

I'm not sure how much influence Washington really has in Ankara now. Recently, for example, the Turks invaded the Kurdish part of Iraq despite initial U.S. protests.

As a paleoconservative, I'm personally opposed to sending our (i.e., America's) armed forces off on human rights crusades. Has any other nation ever been expected to do that? Certainly, America's founders counselled us against such foolish policies.

In any case, Turkey belongs to the Turks by right of conquest. Throughout history, conquerors have imposed their language and religion on the conquered. Being conquered is not supposed to be fun. To my knowledge, there's been only one nation capable of conquest but too effeminate and brain-dead to exploit its conquests. Guess which nation that is.

Lex said...

PRCal--in the case of the horrors of what happened in Smyrna, most of the Western powers were rather the "Great Satan", as most had ambassadors there at the time (many lovely pro-Turk, anti-Christian statements are on record). The Western warships sat in Smyrna Harbor with orders not to help. The Brits poured boiling water on those trying to swim to the ships for help when they would approach their ships, actually. One Japanese cargo ship's Captain dropped his cargo to be able to take on the refugees and ferry them to safety (the relative safety of nearby islands such as Lesbos).

I must agree with Gringo here though that if we recognize conquest by our own Western countries then we cannot deny the Turks their conquered Asia Minor. In the case of the Greeks there though, the matter of distinguishing them as "Greek" was linguistic. They spoke Greek and continued to up to modern times (well, except for descendents more assimilated like myself; I have studied ancient Greek extensively in college, but know no modern--I'm an American, despite my heritage).

PRCal--I almost never do this. Never. However, since I wrote so extensively about this subject I dusted off an older article I wrote on this very subject and re-published it. This may be of interest to you and answer more of your questions about the minorities under Turkish rule. The comments also came back when I re-published, and there are some rather kind comments from Baron there, actually, as well as "American Crusader" whom I believe comments here on occasion. It was funny to see praise from some of you on one of my old posts (my comments are under the old display name of this account, "Pim's Ghost". Please take the time to read this if you can, PRCal.

One other extensive source for links (and the pics now missing from my article) on this subject, hosted by Greeks but in many languages is here. This is the most extensive collection of links on the history of we former Byzantines and on all attacks and persecution of Orthodox Christians. Links to everything on the subject of this post and anything else about the subject you could want to look up. Please check this out, you will learn quite a bit PRCal and others here.

Adios

Henrik said...

Important historical knowledge.

As a little aside, Philip Claeys and myself worked to nominate the Ecumenical Patriarch for the Sakharov Prize of the European Parliament 2007.

The ITS group nominated him, for which he was thankful, but some pulling strings (presumably by Turkey) made him withdraw standing for the nomination, and it went to someone else.

The ITS group, protesting these Byzantine games, abstained from voting on the 2007 Sakharov Prize.