ANKARA – Turkey is planning to re-open a Greek Orthodox seminary that was shut down nearly four decades ago, Turkeys culture minister was quoted as saying Sunday.
The European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join, and the United States have long pressed Ankara to re-open the theology school on the island of Halki, off Istanbul, to prove respect for the rights of its tiny Christian minority.
Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay said the government was inclined to re-open the school, even though a final decision was not yet made, the mass-selling Milliyet daily reported.
“Both my personal conviction and the general inclination I see is that the school will be opened,” Gunay was quoted as saying.
“The school does not currently fit into our university system, but another formula will be worked out… There is no political problem,” he said.
The minister explained the authorities were grappling with “the technical problem” on whether the seminary should have the status of a university or a vocational high school.
The century-old seminary was closed down in 1971, depriving the Eastern Orthodox Church, seated in Istanbul since Byzantine times, of its only facility to train clergy in Turkey.
The closure was the result of legislation bringing institutions of higher education under state control, an arrangement into which the seminary did not fit.
Gunay conceded that Turkish-Greek tensions over the island of Cyprus at the time were also a prominent factor behind the move.
“What happened in the past is left behind… We need to say new things now,” he said.
Keen to boost its struggling EU membership bid, Ankara has in recent years moved to improve the rights of its tiny non-Muslim minorities, mainly Greeks, Armenians and Jews.