The Hurriyet Daily News recently reported on 'Hagia Sophia, Halki mark religious freedom panels' by Vercihan Ziflioğlu.  The Hurriyet Daily News is the oldest current English-language daily in Turkey.

Hagia Sophia, Halki mark religious freedom panels
By Vercihan Ziflioğlu

Read this article on the Hurriyet Daily News »

An international conference on "religious freedom in Turkey," was held in Berlin, focusing on the Hagia Sophia and Halki Seminary issues, which have remained problematic for decades.

The two day long conference's theme was "Tearing Down Walls: Achieving Religious Equality in Turkey."

"Equality, state neutrality and pluralism" were issues evaluated by politicians, diplomats, religious leaders, human rights lawyers, scholars, journalists, and religious minority representatives from Turkey. Former U.S. Secretary of State, Senator Hillary Clinton, also joined the conference by video.

The Directorate General of Turkey's Minority Foundations Representative, Laki Vingas, made a speech on minority issues in Turkey at the panel. Vingas emphasized the "legal personality problems" for both the Fener Greek and the Armenian Patriarchate in Turkey.

"In light of our historical experiences as Turkey's minorities, we need projects that can be implemented in macro dimensions for us to become equal, free citizens who can express what we think in a free environment," Vingas said.

He also brought the Halki Seminary issue to the agenda, saying the theology school had been closed for 42 years, which "damaged the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as the Orthodox world and Turkey."

The Halki Seminary was opened in 1844 and served as a school for theology for years. However, as a result of a 1971 Constitutional Court ruling, all private institutions of higher education either became state universities or were closed down.

Halki's Board of Trustees refused to become part of Istanbul University. Consequently, the seminary section of Halki was closed down.

The high school section is still open, but no longer has any students. During the conference, another hot topic was the centuries-old Hagia Sophia and the debate on whether it should be converted to a mosque or not.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç had previously expressed his hope to see Istanbul's Hagia Sophia Museum converted into a mosque.