Sunday, February 26, 2012

Religious minorities invited to comment on new constitution

For the first time Turkish religious minorities can give their contribution to the reform of the Constitution. 

More than a year after the referendum of 12 September 2010, commissioned by Erdogan for constitutional reform after his 12 June 2011 re-election work on the new constitution has resumed. 

It will be the first to be made by democratically elected political forces and not imposed by the military.

Consequently, it is both important and significant that minorities who live on these lands since time immemorial were called before the committee that is drafting the new charter. 

Minorities recognized by the 1922 Treaties of Lausanne, such as the Orthodox, Armenians and Jews, were invited to express their views behind closed doors. One should note that the Treaties of Lausanne do not recognize non-ethnic religious entities.

The first guest, the other day, was the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, head of the Orthodox Christian minority, which for centuries was the center of Christianity in these lands, is now reduced to a few thousand people because of the persecutions suffered.

During the meeting Bartholomew spoke as a citizen of the Turkish Republic who thinks, lives and fights for defending the rights of his fellow-citizens of any religious and ethnic background.

He spoke of the sufferings and hardships of those who, although a citizen of this country, are discriminated against because of their different origin from the Turkish. In this sense, he blamed the regime-system that has dominated Turkish political affairs, but not Turkey as a state and ethnic entity. He added that as such Turkish minority citizens can not be denied access to public offices.

He highlighted how the system-regime used the Treaty of Lausanne, which was established to protect the rights of minorities, against the minorities themselves. He asked that minorities be given access to funding enjoyed by the Muslim majority in Turkey

At the end of his speech to members of the Committee - which has a memorandum of 18 pages - Bartholomew said that Christians do not want to be second-class citizens and that we must avoid a repetition of the injustices they have suffered in the past. "We leave this meeting - he concluded - confident, full of hopes and feelings of gratitude. A new Turkey is being born."

Politicians and press have broadly welcomed this initiative. What has most surprised, according to diplomatic circles in Ankara, is the positive feedback to the Ecumenical Patriarch, even among right-wing circles, notoriously hostile to the Fanar.

The committee hearings will include meetings with Armenians and Jews, and perhaps other minorities not mentioned in the Treaty of Lausanne, like the Catholics.