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Address of Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexis Tsipras at the Theological School of Halki (6 February 2019)

Wednesday, 06 February 2019

Your All Holiness, ladies and gentlemen, representatives of the Turkish government, Mr. Representative of the President of the Republic of Turkey, Your Eminences, friends, it is a great joy, a great honour, and with much emotion that I am with you today, feeling that I am taking steps that bear historic weight.

Today, I had the pleasure and blessing to tour important monuments of Hellenism and Orthodoxy here in Istanbul, which are also monuments of global cultural heritage. Monuments that now belong to all of humanity, universal monuments.

But, we don’t overlook the fact that they are Hellenic monuments; of Hellenism and a of a Greek community, a Greek and Orthodox minority here in Istanbul, which went through many trials and tribulations. It was wounded, hunted down, decimated, but it did not forget its roots. It may appear like the trunk of a wounded tree, but the roots exist, breathe, are present.

And of course, it is with great emotion and joy that I am here today at Halki, the historic island of Halki, in this historic and holy place. In Halki where, in the 9th century, St. Photios, Patriarch Photios at that time, founded the Stavropegial Monastery of the Holy Trinity and where, later, the Theological School of Halki was housed, having been founded by Patriarch Germanus IV in 1844. A school where great men studied, scholars, Orthodox theologians, priests, with great knowledge and a very significant contribution, as well as great figures who later became important hierarchs. Many of them also sat on the Ecumenical throne, among whom present day Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, whom I thank for giving me a tour of those places to which he came to study, as a youth of 15, from Imvros.

Therefore, having all these memories, great and emotional memories, I had the opportunity to enter the same halls where at one point learning took place, which unfortunately stopped from 1971 onwards. But also to take a tour of an ark of wisdom and knowledge in this unbelievable wealth of knowledge and wisdom that is the Library of the Theological School, with more than 100,000 books, to see the great and remarkable effort which is being made, also with the assistance of the Hellenic Parliament, in order for these to be catalogued and digitised to be read and become the object of knowledge for the whole world, from wherever one may originate, through the possibilities that new technologies provide us with.

I would like, therefore, given the opportunity of my being here, to say that beyond the historical nature of this visit, which coincides with an important celebration for Halki and the Theological School and the Greek Orthodox minority - today I had the pleasure to discover that the presence of all of us here at Halki, my own, that of the Ecumenical Patriarch, as well as all the visitors, was not the subject of discord but was the subject of hope, joy, a positive response by the citizens of this historic place, Turkish citizens, who rushed to the wharf as soon as our boats arrived, by the dozens, the hundreds, to greet us, to shake our hand, to express their love. A love which is sincere and is at the heart of the friendship between Greeks and Turks, which we wish to build upon.

And the message we wish to send today here, from this historic place, is that re-opening of the School of Halki will not constitute a subject of discord or conflict, differences or divides, but it will serve as a message of friendship, mutual understanding, and fraternity between our peoples.

I firmly believe that religion, faith in our differing religions, monotheistic religions which place man at their centre and therefore love for man and our fellow humans, regardless of what and in whom one believes, both religion as well as minorities, the Muslim minority in Greece and the Greek minority in Turkey, must serve as bridges between our peoples, and not as a battlefield.

And I say this, dear friends, because the voluntary obligation of our governments to uphold and defend the interests, the claims, and the rights of the minorities in each country separately is not the subject of a bilateral agreement, negotiation, transaction, or exchange. It is not the subject of bilateral negotiations but a voluntary obligation and proof that we are states and governments that respect the principle of egalitarianism, the principle of equality and the religious freedoms of our citizens.

We have nothing to prove to one another. Rather, we have something to prove to our ourselves, to the International Community and to the principles and values we stand for. It is only to ourselves that we have something to prove.

As such, I believe that today sends the correct messages, and I too wish to convey these correct messages. And I would like to say that points of contention do exist between the two governments and the two countries, which we can only resolve through dialogue and good will.

I would like to acknowledge that the Turkish government has taken steps in recent years, especially with regard to the issues of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s property, a large portion of which has been returned. And I would like to believe that we are approaching that day when these steps will become even greater. I would like to believe, Your All Holiness, that we are approaching that day when in these halls, of which you gave me a tour just moments ago, the happy laughter of students will resound, who will be taught by worthy individuals so as to become worthy preachers of Theology as well as friendship and fraternity between our peoples.

I would also like to thank you for your kind words and your hospitality. And I would like to say that the Ecumenical Patriarchate constitutes a repository of universal human values and is an institution which the Greek Government supports. And I would like to congratulate you on your work, because we have the pleasure and the luck to have this unique institution being headed by a dynamic figure with international recognition. And I would like to believe that your presence and contribution will serve as a catalyst so as to put into practice what we believe in. In other words, for religions to bring people together and not what divides people; for religious faith to be that which brings people together and not that which divides people.

So, with these thoughts, Your All Holiness, dear friends, I would like to sincerely thank you once again for your reception, your warm words, and your gifts. Mainly, though, I would like to thank you for the tour of this historic place; and to tell you that I can feel this great weight of History bearing down on my shoulders. I am also optimistic that the next time I will step over this threshold, I will not be alone, but with President Erdoğan, and with you, Your All Holiness, to declare a glorious day for friendship and mutual understanding between our peoples, for the re-opening of the Theological School of Halki.

My warm thanks.