Armenian Patriarch of Turkey Promotes Country's Entry in EU

Has Audience with John Paul II

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 9, 2002 ( John Paul II today received Mesrob II, the Armenian patriarch of Istanbul, who is touring Europe to win support for Turkey’s entry to the European Union.

The patriarch has been entrusted with the pastoral care of the Armenian apostolic community of Turkey, which has some 80,000 faithful. In virtue of a tradition dating back to 1461, he is also civil head of his community.

Vatican Radio explained that the patriarch is carrying out his mission on behalf of all religious minorities in Turkey.

The patriarch recently told Haratch, the Armenian newspaper of Europe published in Paris, that various European embassies consulted the Christian churches and the Jewish community in Turkey to know their position on the country’s entry to the European Union.

«We have understood that it is not enough for us to express our position individually, but that it is necessary to take a joint position,» the patriarch explained. «We have seen that the greatest obstacle is a religious reason, as, in the great majority, Turkey is a Muslim country.»

Should Christian Europe proffer this as a reason for exclusion, it would be a contradiction with Christianity itself, the patriarch continued.

«This fact would become a provocation for the Muslims» in Turkey, he said. «The Muslim 99% would become the enemy of that 1% that is Christian.»

This is why the Turkish religious minorities, represented by the patriarch, are requesting that «religion not be used against Turkey as a factor to deny it membership» in the European Union.

A few days ago, the patriarch addressed this issue in Brussels with Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission.

Vatican Radio reported that religious minorities in Turkey enjoy freedom of worship, but there are ethnic problems and others linked to the legislation that governs real estate.

«When I return from this trip, I will go to Ankara to congratulate the new Prime Minister — chosen following the last elections in which the neo-Islamic Justice and Development Party won,» Patriarch Mesrob said in statements reported by Vatican Radio.

«I will explain our problems, asking for effective parity between Muslims and Christians,» he said. «Indeed, it is what Europe asks for: equality of rights among all citizens.»

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