Thursday, August 18, 2016

Will Ankara take aim at Patriarch Bartholomew?

Against the background of the failed coup in Turkey and the ongoing crackdown on sympathisers of Fethullah Gülen, Ankara might take aim at the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, or try to win him, writes the US Ambassador (retired) Arthur H. Hughes.

Arthur H. Hugues has served as US Ambassador to Yemen in 1991-1994, after which he became the Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. He has also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asia and has held numerious other posts with the U.S. Foreign Service, including as Deputy Chief of Mission in Tel Aviv.

At least since Mustafa Kemal’s time, Orthodox Christians in Turkey have witnessed repressions from the state. Thousands of Turkish-tongue Christians had to emigrate. In 1971, the Halki theological seminary was closed down. The dissemination of orthodox literature and missionary activities of any kind are banned. In an attempt to foster patriotism and obtain a wider support of the conservative part of society, the Turkish government tried to build relations with nationalists, most radical of whom even made several attempts at Patriarch Bartholomew! [Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople is the 270th and current Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch, since November 1991.]

It’s no wonder that such a situation induced the Patriarchate to establish close ties with the American political elite. Congregations in the US and the donations from American businesspersons of Greek origin are the main sources of income for the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In its turn, Washington considers the condition of religious minority in Turkey an ace in the diplomatic game to put pressure upon Ankara. Moreover, being primus inter pares among the heads of the other Autocephalous Churches, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople can affect the whole Orthodox world. And, obviously, the US intelligence couldn’t have missed such a chance.

Thus, one of the members of the American-Israeli lobby in the Constantinople Patriarchate is Father Alexander Karloutsos, Public Affairs Officer close to Archbishop Demetrios. Thanks to his ties with high-level officials and Greek-American billionaires, he is basically the only person who controls the money flows from the US to the Phanar, and that gives him wide possibilities of exerting pressure upon the Ecumenical Patriarchate. On the other hand, Karloutsos is also in good relations with former CIA Director George Tenet, and with the preacher Fethullah Gülen cooperating with the American intelligence. That means the amount of financing is directly bound to how successfully the Patriarchate’s heads accomplish the tasks they receive from their US supervisors.

Besides that, Patriarch Bartholomew personally has met with Gülen, or Hoca Efendi, as he calls him, quite a number of times. For instance, they met on 6 April 1996 to discuss the prospects of interfaith dialogue. This was before Gülen fled to the US with the assistance of the diplomat Morton Abramovitz, CIA agents Graham Fuller and George Fidas, and the above-mentioned Fr. Alexander Karloutsos.

The Patriarch of Constantinople praised Gülen in 2012 when he took part in a meeting of Journalists and Writers’ Association (GYV) founded by the Turkish preacher. About a month before the event, the Chicago Tribune published an interview with Bartholomew in which he highly appreciated Gülen’s efforts to develop interfaith dialogue and foster intimacy among faiths “for the benefit of humankind.” Then, a week past the Association’s meeting, on 13 May 2012 in an interview dedicated to the award Bartholomew received from Roosevelt Institute, the Patriarch publicly mentioned his friendship with “Hoca Efendi” [Gülen]: “We really love him. We hope he comes back soon.” Should anyone wonder than why the Patriarch of Constantinople touched upon the inadmissibility of Muslim services in Hagia Sophia only on 11 July – a month after they had begun – and just 4 days before the attempted coup?

Does the Turkish government realize its failure after the recent coup attempt? Would they try to win the Orthodox patriarch over or crackdown on him? Obviously, it would be much easier for Erdogan to cut off the foreign financing of the tiny Turkish Orthodox community to get rid of it for good. On the other hand, the cooperation with its own Orthodox Patriarch could give Turkey new possibilities to improve its reputation and expand its influence in the Orthodox world. Should the authorities recognize the Ecumenical status of the Patriarchate of Constantinople at last?

Unfortunately, it would be extremely hard to ground such a decision at this moment. Instead of consolidating Orthodox Churches, the Council held in June on Crete simply alienated them. We saw Patriarch Bartholomew incapable of uniting the Orthodox world. Moreover, it turned out that his influence doesn’t affect even a half of Orthodox Christians! The reasons are his authoritarianism, pertinacity and hostility towards the Russian Orthodox Church.

Such a fact diminishes the Patriarchate’s value for those in power in Turkey. And Patriarch Bartholomew seems to have not that much time to attempt to change the situation.

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