Turkey pushes to reopen seminary

July 2, 2004

A theological higher education seminary on an island off the Turkish coast could be about to reopen after more than 30 years.

Abdullah Gul, the Turkish foreign minster, said "work is under way" to reopen the Halki seminary, which served the Greek Orthodox Church for more than 300 years until it closed in 1971.

The Patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Istanbul has been lobbying the European Union and the US to put pressure on Turkey to reopen the school.

The seminary, on the island of Heybeli, has educated most of the patriarchs and bishops of the Greek Orthodox Church for the past 150 years.

Officially, the school closed when rules forbidding any private higher education establishments were introduced, but the closure was closely linked to political tensions between Turkey and Greece.

Erdogan Tezic, the new head of Turkey's higher education authority (Yok), is critical of the moves. "A religious school cannot be opened within the body of Yok," he said.

The government has indicated that the seminary could be given a unique status, placed directly under the control of the Minster of Education. A ministry source said new legislation was being prepared.

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