Address of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: ‘‘The Relationship Between Turkey and the European Union: European Identity, the System of European Values and Turkey’’ at the Center of Turkish Studies, The University of Essen

Esteemed Panel Members, Participants, Host Committee and Guests:

In addressing you and opening the discussion on a subject of such intimate and far-reaching concern to us, we think back to our student days at the Theological School of Halki, where there is an engraving quoting the father of the country, Kemal Ataturk, which reads, “Peace at home, peace in world”. It harkens back to a tumultuous period in Europe, marked by strife and war, but one in which the founder of the modern Turkish state could join with his bitterest enemy, the Greek leader Eleftherios Venizelos and pursue the promise of peace.

We have addressed many gatherings related to the European Union and European integration. We have noted before that this great historic mission to organize the unity of the peoples of Europe in peace, justice and democracy, has a sacred aspect in its struggle for the sharing of a common understanding of life, of the sanctity of the human person, and in the reconciliation and solidarity of diverse peoples, religions and cultures.

The Judaeo-Christian values embedded in this historical process direct us to the world at large, not simply to the confines of a 12-nation European Union, or even to a 25-nation European Union.

Our tradition of some 17 centuries of caring and struggling for the salvation of the world and unity of European civilization, sitting as we do at the crossroads of East and West, North and South, illuminates the understanding that political unity separated from civilization, that is without a fundamental comprehension of human relationships, cannot lead to the achievement of a true union of peoples. We do not see, as has become fashionable today, the clash of civilizations, but rather the challenge of civilization.

We are compelled by our very nature to meet that challenge. The Ecumenical Patriarchate belongs to the living Church, which was founded by the God of love, whose peace surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7).

With respect to Turkey, we stand at a critical juncture. A secular state that is the heir to great civilizations, Christian and Muslim, that saw the development and defining of the great undivided Church, the flourishing of a tolerant Islam that became a refuge for the Jewish people, as well as other Christian and Muslim groups, Turkey shares in those fundamental human, political and social values upon which European societies were so successfully built. Values derived from the great Abrahamic faiths and from Athenian democracy.

While Turkey’s road has been difficult and the full implementation of these values imperfect, not unlike earlier phases in the history of Europe proper, this vibrant nation is no less a part of the European journey.

After September 11 and with the continued turmoil in the Middle East, it is even more incumbent upon us to bring unity and peace to all, based on the fundamental belief that the human person is created in the image and likeness of God. We are all God’s children. Hence, we must categorically reject all forms of intolerance, racism and violence.

Our times demand the greatest efforts on all of our parts to work in collaboration with all religions, with all secularists, with all people, without distinction. More than ever, we must seek to break down the walls that separate us. Germany is a great example. A nation that has seen the extremes of nationalism and imperialism, yet the greatest of achievements in human thought and culture, embarked on a great experiment in breaking down the wall between what we then called East and West. But however significant that was, and it was significant, as a united Germany became a good neighbor and a refuge for millions from Eastern Europe and around the world, including many Turkish workers, the breaking down of that wall was symbolic of the end of an internal Western conflict.

Today, we have before us an even greater challenge - to truly break down the wall between East and West, between Muslims, Christians and Jews, between all religions, all civilizations and all cultures, to bridge the great divide and recognize our common humanity and common values.

The peace, stability and consequent national prosperity, along with the securing of individual rights, freedom of religion and freedom of expression, achieved through cooperation in the European Union helped remove the poison of hate and suspicion that once characterized the European continent. This solidarity and cooperation must be extended in love and understanding to what may appear to be a different and more complex society. We believe that “God is love”, which is why we do not fear to extend our hand in friendship and our heart in love, as we proclaim that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18).

We believe that a Europe without Turkey will be in danger of becoming a European fortress without bridges, without that universal aspect and philanthropic ideal that is the very nature of its civilization. We believe that Europe faces a truly spiritual challenge to open its door. Already the union is a union of minorities that have learned to live with common values.

With Turkey anchored to Europe, we can anchor the world and extend peace and love and justice East and South. Turkey, for its part must rejoice in those values, reaffirming the rights and freedoms of all its citizens no matter what their ethnic background or religion. We are confident that Turkey is moving in this direction, perhaps imperfectly, sometimes imperceptibly, but inexorably.

In this great country one can see the majestic Aghia Sophia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom of God, and the Blue Mosque that evokes divine serenity. But there is another church from deep in our history - Aghia Eirene - the Church of the Holy Peace of God. We must continue the European journey together, East and West, North and South to that appointed time and place in God’s Kingdom of Peace.

May the peace of God be upon each and every one of you, upon all participants and upon all who strive and struggle in love for unity, peace and justice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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