U.S. Presses Turkey on Hagia Sophia and Halki School

The United States issued its annual religious freedom report on Tuesday, slamming allies and foes alike for their shortcomings.

In the 2016 report Turkey is singled out for its treatment of religious minorities. Among other concerns, it focuses on two key issues that affect the Greek Orthodox community and, in effect, Greece. The first is the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary and the second is Hagia Sophia.

The report recommends that Washington should keep “Pressing the government of Turkey to fulfill private and public promises that the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary would be reopened, and to permit other religious communities to open and operate their seminaries.

“The Greek Orthodox Theological School of Halki remains closed, as it has been since 1971, and the Turkish government continues to cite the Greek government’s lack of religious freedom for the Turkish Muslim minority in Western Thrace as the primary reason, based on the principle of reciprocity in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne”, the report notes.

It adds that “for several years, the Christian community in Turkey has raised concerns about a potential change in the status of the historic Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Despite its legal status as a museum since 1935, over the years some Greek Orthodox have called for the Hagia Sophia to be reopened as a church, and some Muslims, including at times Turkish parliamentarians, have called for it to be opened as a mosque.

“The Turkish government has told USCIRF that it has no intention to change the Hagia Sophia’s legal status. However, during Ramadan 2016, Turkish state radio and television aired a Diyanet TV-produced series from the Hagia Sophia that included readings of the Quran, and the Muslim call to prayer was broadcast for the first time in 85 years from the minarets of the museum”, the report says.

The 2016 report itself -while required under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act – does not bind the U.S. administration to act.