A European Parliament member on Thursday called on Turkey to allow a Greek Orthodox theology school closed 34 years ago to reopen. Hans-Gert Poettering, the leader of the European Parliament's Christian Democratic group, spoke at the opening of a conference organized jointly by his group and the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate, the seat of the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians.
The EU is pressing Turkish authorities to reopen the Halki Theological School, on an island near Istanbul, which was closed in 1971 under a law that put religious education under state control.
The government has expressed support for the reopening of the school but Orthodox leaders complain that little progress has been made so far.
Saban Disli, deputy chairman of Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party for international relations said Thursday the government needed time, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Turkey opened membership talks with the EU earlier this month and is under pressure to press forward with democratic reforms, such as expanding the rights of minorities, including Greeks.
Camiel Eurlings, an EU legislator from the Netherlands, said that the recognition of such rights "isn't only important for minorities, but also to show that Turkey is becoming a new Turkey. It's important to show that Turkey truly wants to be a part of Europe," Anatolia quoted him as saying.
Istanbul, once Constantinople, the capital of the Orthodox Greek Byzantine Empire, was captured by the Muslim Ottoman Turks in 1453. Istanbul's Greek population has dwindled to less than 3,000 in recent years, but the Ecumenical Patriarchate remains in the city. A.M.