By Theodoros Karakostas - 4/7/2008
Last July, Army officers in Turkey were arrested for planning the assassinations of Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I and Mesrob II, Patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The targeting of the spiritual heads of these two ancient Christian communities is symbolic considering the genocide of Armenians and Greeks in Anatolia by Turkish regimes earlier in the twentieth century. Human rights abuses against the Christians of Turkey, harassment, and violations of religious freedom continue unabated in Turkey. What is just as appalling as the relentless assault on Christianity in Turkey, is the silence and lack of diplomatic protests emanating from the international community.It has become a matter of dogma for the foreign policy establishment and much of the American media that Turkey is a "secular democracy". On the basis of strategic considerations and mythical views about the alleged moderation of Turkey, the Western world has stood by and tolerated acts of terror and violence against peaceful Christian communities that would have been denounced and opposed had they occurred elsewhere. A case in point are the notorious September 6, 1955 pogroms that occurred in the historic Christian City of Constantinople. For most of the world this tragic date has no significance, but for Greek Orthodox Christians this date remains forever locked in our consciousness and represents heartbreak and mourning over the final stage of the destruction of Greek Orthodox civilization in what was once the Capital of Christian Byzantium.Heartbreak also because of the realization of younger generations of Orthodox Greeks born and raised in America years after these events that neither the United States, nor Europe, nor the NATO alliance acted to defend democratic and moral values. On that terrible September night, the Turkish government actively encouraged its criminal and extremist elements to attack the Greek community. Turkish police stood by while mobs of rioters physically assaulted Greek men, sexually assaulted Greek women, and enthusiastically destroyed Orthodox Churches while violating their sanctity in the most appalling manner. A 90 year old Greek Orthodox priest was doused with gasoline and set on fire. There were dozens of deaths, and in the aftermath of this evening of terror thousands of Orthodox Greeks fled from their ancestral homeland in terror.The purpose of recollecting these horrors emanates from the fact that the last vestiges of Greek Orthodoxy in Turkey are still under attack as a result of the policies of the Turkish government. In late 2007, a Greek Monastery on the island of Heybeliada was demolished, and an editor of a Greek minority newspaper was beaten by thugs. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the victim of State sponsored discrimination and is unable to operate the only Seminary inside Turkey that would enable this historic Church to survive. The Western democracies took no action to protest or condemn the Turkish pogroms of September 1955, and that has been the active policy of the Western governments up to the present day. Between 1993 and 2004, there have been at least five arson attempts or bombings at the Ecumenical Patriarchate.Less than a century ago, Anatolia was populated with millions of Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek Christians. The genocide of these Christian peoples has been well documented by foreign diplomats, missionaries, relief workers, and many others. In September 1922, while American, British, French, and Italian warships were docked in the harbors of Smyrna, the Greek and Armenian populations were slaughtered by the armies of Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal. The future Turkish dictator Mustafa Kemal is well known in the West and is falsely represented as a liberal, despite his responsibility for the mass exterminations of Greek, Armenian, and Assyrian Christians throughout Asia Minor.There are many heroes and martyrs who deserve to be remembered by free societies everywhere. Among them is the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostom of Smyrna who sacrificed his life for his flock, and was subsequently murdered in the most horrific fashion on the orders of a Turkish General named Noureddin Pasha. There are a great many Americans from this period such as Consul General George Horton and relief worker Edward Hale Bierstadt who were present in Asia Minor during this tragedy and have left behind documentary evidence about the destruction of the Christians in Asia Minor.Unfortunately, official US policy toward Turkey has taken an indifferent position toward the Christians, and this remains the case up to the present day. Greek Orthodox Christians pray and hope for the security of the Ecumenical Patriarch, and for the last vestiges of Greek Orthodox faithful in Turkey who continue to live under excruciatingly difficult conditions even as their numbers dwindle to the point of near extinction. Furthering the devastating attacks on Greek Orthodoxy is the Turkish occupation of Cyprus where 200,000 Greeks have been ethnically cleansed by the Turkish Army, and where over 550 Orthodox Churches have been desecrated or converted into Mosques.If democratic principles are to mean anything in reality, Ankara must begin to receive serious scrutiny from Western media and the democracies led by the United States must begin imposing serious sanctions on Turkey for ongoing atrocities.
Theodoros Karakostas has a degree in Political Science and History. He's presently working toward a Masters degree in Eastern Orthodox Theology. He writes extensively on issues pertaining to Eastern Orthodox and Hellenic affairs, and contributed to the Boston Globe, Washington Post, Washington Times, Boston Herald, USA Today, the Financial Times, and the National Review, as well as to Greek publications and to various Eastern Orthodox News Sources.