This conservative government, however, has almost no connection with this Ittihatist past. This government comes from a completely different social and historical background; its members are mostly conservative, devout Muslims, and they feel they are also the victims of other dimensions of the Ittihatist policies in Turkey. Like religious minorities, they also feel that they have been excluded by the so-called modernist Ittihatist “center.” And this “exclusion” has created the most reformist government Turkey has ever seen. Here we come to a crucial point. This government has indeed made many reforms, including some betterment of the situation of minorities in Turkey.
Why then, I thought, was Bartholomew also angry with this government? This government has made many reforms, but the Halki Theological School is still closed. The patriarchate still suffers from non-recognition. The constraints surrounding the election of a patriarch are still valid and in effect. Here we come to an understanding of the frustration of his all holiness. He may be the last patriarch of this historic institution. This is why he talks about crucifixion, dying and resurrection. The patriarchate is indeed on a cross and on its deathbed. And ironically this government is the last chance for the patriarchate. If this government is replaced with a nationalist one (and it is the only alternative we have) or with an authoritarian regime as a result of the return of military guardianship, then quite difficult days for the patriarchate and all minorities will start again. So from the perspective of the patriarchate, we have in power the only government that can do something for religious minorities, but they are not doing anything significant.
Why is the government so angry with the patriarch’s criticism? Because they are aware of the fact that they are the most minority-friendly government that Turkey has ever seen and they have been fighting against deep state elements that target members of minorities. Everyone knows that minorities, and especially the ecumenical patriarchate, were the number one target for Ergenekon. Members of the government, while expecting to be praised, saw Bartholomew’s criticism and were caught by surprise. If this government takes any significant steps for the betterment of the situation without having a good excuse to do so, they will be in trouble. They will be fighting against the will of the deep state, which wants to see the patriarchate leave Turkey.
The other thing is that they would be doing something that they have not done for their grass roots. It is a surreal scenario, but the wives of the president and the prime minister in Turkey cannot enter some public buildings because of the headscarves they wear. This government could not even solve the headscarf problem, which is the most crucial issue for its grass roots. Can you imagine that it will declare to the whole world that the patriarchate is ecumenical and that it will indeed be treated as such? Every day new conspiracies against the government come to light. Instead of intervening directly in the situation, this government keeps requesting that the chief of General Staff get rid of the “rotten eggs” in the military, but this is not happening. A well-known situation of “learned helplessness” is repeating itself here. Past experience has paralyzed this government, and they cannot fight back against the conspiracy plans of the very officials who work under their authority.
Well, the patriarchate has almost always acted in this same pattern of learned helplessness. Instead of being an active partner in the reform process, they have always waited for the government to change their situation with a magic touch. In the last 20 years the whole Turkish legal system has been changed. The patriarchate could have brought a few pilot cases before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and to other international bodies. A few judgments from the European court regarding their legal status and about the closure of the Halki Theological School would have been extremely helpful for this government and provided them with a useful excuse to make some serious reforms. Instead, the patriarchate assumes a completely passive role in this process; they have become prisoners of their fears, exactly like this government has. As you see, there are too many factors to be taken into consideration if one wants to understand the situation of the ecumenical patriarchate in Turkey. In short, His All Holiness Bartholomew and the patriarchate are crucified, but if we say it Turkish style, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government are also suffering from “hellish torture.” What a pity they cannot help each other!