US President Joe Biden will meet with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of roughly 300 million Orthodox Christians, at the White House in October, according to a report on the Al-Monitor news website on Thursday.
Sources speaking on condition of anonymity told Al-Monitor that the patriarch, a Turkish citizen, would be having breakfast with Turkey’s new ambassador in Washington, Murat Mercan, during his visit on Oct. 23. Mercan, however, will not be present during the meeting between Biden and the patriarch.
Bartholomew will be meeting with Biden at the White House before any invitation has been issued to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had to wait for months for even a phone call from Biden after he took office in January. Biden called Erdoğan on April 23 to inform him about his plans to recognize the mass killings of Armenians in the final days of the Ottoman Empire as “genocide” on April 24. Turkey categorically rejects the genocide claim.
During their meeting, Bartholomew is expected to seek Biden’s support to ensure the reopening of the Halki Seminary, which belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, on İstanbul’s Heybeliada Island.
The closure of the Halki Seminary is a key minority problem in Turkey, closed down in 1971 after the Turkish Parliament enacted a law banning private institutions of higher learning.
On the 50th anniversary of the closure of the seminary on July 29, the United States issued a statement calling on Turkey to respect the right to freedom of religion and reopen the Halki Seminary.
“The United States continues to urge the Turkish government to respect the right to freedom of religion or belief as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and allow the reopening of the Halki Seminary. Moreover, we call upon the government of Turkey to allow all religious groups to again train their clergy within the country,” US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.
Price said the Halki Seminary had operated for 127 years and that its closure deprived the Ecumenical Patriarchate of a training school for Orthodox clergy in Turkey, its home for 1,690 years.
The seminary still remains closed despite criticism and promises by the Turkish government to reopen it. The situation of the seminary has been cited in various reports on the issue, particularly in the annual country reports for Turkey prepared by the European Commission.