Turkish Foreign Minister Visits Metropolis

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                          Contact: Rev. David G. Bissias
May 23, 2012                                Special Assistant to the Metropolitan
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Turkish Foreign Minister Visits Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago


CHICAGO, IL: On Tuesday, May 22, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and his wife paid a formal visit to Metropolitan Iakovos, spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, comprised of 59 parishes in six Midwestern states.  Also in attendance were Greek Orthodox clergy and lay leaders, as well as members of the Turkish Consulate in Chicago.  He is the highest ranking Turkish official to make such a visit to the Metropolis.

The Metropolis of Chicago, as part of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, falls under the jurisdiction of the ancient Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, headquartered in modern Istanbul, Turkey.  Many ethnic Greeks trace their ancestry to Anatolia (Asia Minor), now the modern Republic of Turkey.  

The meeting is a sign of warming relations between the Turkish and Greek communities, both here and abroad, a relationship known more for its conflict than the cultural similarities of modern Greeks and Turks that both Mr. Davutoğlu and Metropolitan Iakovos fondly shared.

Mr. Davutoğlu reported on the status of concerns held by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and shared by Orthodox Christians throughout the world.  Noting the significant return of a major property to the Patriarchate, a former orphanage, long contested, he also affirmed the will of the Turkish government to find the legal means to permit the re-opening of the Greek Orthodox seminary of Halki, the only such school of the Orthodox Church in Turkey, forced to close in 1971.  

Likewise, he has recently directed all Turkish ambassadors to formally welcome the Ecumenical Patriarch when he travels abroad, an acknowledgement of his importance as a world religious leader—which former governments of Turkey have downplayed or ignored.  Such moves, Davutoğlu noted, are signs of Turkey’s growing cultural confidence, domestic stability, and a progressive foreign policy that has been the hallmark of his tenure as Foreign Minister.  

He also expressed Turkey’s concern for Turkish and Muslim minorities in Greece and Europe, observing that churches and mosques that have been confiscated from religious minorities should be respected as houses of worship even if they cannot be returned for practical or political reasons.   

Metropolitan Iakovos and attending Greek Orthodox community members expressed to the Minister their praise for the present and former Turkish Consuls General of Chicago and their staff, for the increasing goodwill and cooperative efforts in the Chicago area between the communities.  This is the result of an initiative spearheaded with the blessings of the Metropolitan by the Metropolis Chancellor Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos and prominent Turkish-American Mr. Mehmet Celebi, president-elect of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations and a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador.

Bishop Demetrios noted that the Metropolis’ annual “Fall of Constantinople” program to be held on May 29 at the Chicago History Museum will highlight the common cultural inheritance of Greeks and Turks with both music and the premier of the documentary Hello Anatolia, a film by a Greek young adult who follows the footsteps of his ancestors in modern Izmir (ancient Smyrna), Turkey.

Both the Foreign Minister and the Metropolitan agreed that the hostilities of the past and the challenges of the present can be overcome with the spirit of goodwill and the appreciation of a common cultural legacy shared by Turks and Greeks, to the benefit of all but especially to the ethnic minorities of Greeks in Turkey and Turks in Greece.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Foreign Minister presented the Metropolitan with a commemorative plate of the visit, and the Metropolitan presented Mr. Davutoğlu and his wife with a pictorial album featuring all the Greek Orthodox churches of the Metropolis.

Welcoming the Foreign Minister with Metropolitan Iakovos and Bishop Demetrios were Rev. David G. Bissias of Hammond, IN; Mr. Harold Peponis, Regional Co-Commander of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a lay group dedicated to the defense of the Church of Constantinople; Mr. Chris P. Tomaras, founder of the Pan-Hellenic Scholarship Foundation; Mr. Andrew A. Athens, President and Founder of hellenicare; Mr. Nicholas Harisiadis, graduate of the Halki seminary; and well-known Greek-American journalist John Kass.